WayBlazer postmortem: Why did travel's highest-profile AI company fail?
According to Terry Jones, co-founder of WayBlazer, what brings down a company is seldom a single cause and that the final factor that shutters a technology company might have more to do with financial engineering than with software engineering.
Among the reasons many of us were surprised last month by the demise of WayBlazer, travel's highest-profile artificial intelligence initiative, was that we had become habituated to the success of enterprises operated with Terry Jones' oversight.
He had compiled an impressive track record, introducing multiple generations of automated travel booking. As Sabre's chief information officer, he nurtured Eaasy Sabre, a self-booking tool featured through dial-up services in the 1980s.
Still working for Sabre, he headed up Travelocity as its founding CEO. During the period he ran it, Travelocity was king, larger than competitors Priceline and Expedia (the latter would eventually acquire the company, long after Jones took it public and departed).
Every company, tech or not, finds its initial assumptions challenged and makes course corrections, even revolutionary directional changes. WayBlazer's launch customer was the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). Although during our first WayBlazer conversations four years ago Jones cited theoretical case-usages for hotels and airlines, he also believed CVBs were the first big market opportunity.
WayBlazer's programmers moved chat into web ad units and demonstrated significant improvements in interaction vs. flat ads. The web ads also moved consideration from the information technology budget to marketing budgets, where decisions were made more quickly. Emirates Vacations liked the new direction and signed on, as well.
WayBlazer had made enough progress that under normal circumstances, Jones said, it could have been possible to attract more investment capital. But with the debt overhang, most investors took one look at the balance sheet and were scared away; two said they would invest, Jones said, but only if the debt were extinguished.
The technology's future will be decided by a bankruptcy court; it's possible it could surface again in a travel-related company.
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