Why we invested in Junglebee

One of our primary areas of focus at Earnest Capital is software as a service built by and for specific industries. We’ve made several investments in the B2B SaaS space and feel it’s a great market that aligns with our model. One of our more recent investment was in Junglebee, software for connecting local tour suppliers directly to activity desks, agents, and their customers.

Junglebee is laser-focused on the Caribbean market where day cruises, fishing expeditions, scuba diving, catamaran trips, and other day tours are still primarily booked in a time-consuming fashion via email and WhatsApp, and are not yet directly accepting credit card deposits to reduce no-shows. Junglebee is an all-inclusive software package for tour operators to manage their activity availability, reservations, bookings, and payments. With Junglebee, operators can accept bookings via an embedded widget on their own site, from activity desks and agents (who also have their own version of Junglebee custom-built for their needs), or via integrations with third-party sites like Viator.

The opportunity to get 100,000s of tour operators using software for bookings is vast, but we invested in Junglebee first and foremost because the founder Michael Rouveure lives and breathes the Caribbean tour industry. He grew up in St. Maarten, working in the family catamaran business. Later he developed his own online agency for booking tours in St. Maarten and finally, after experiencing first hand the difficulty in managing reservations, gathered a group of tour operators on the island to invest in and co-develop the first version of Junglebee’s reservation management software.

Jungle Pay: Credit Card Processing for the Caribbean

Right away Michael noticed another pain point in the industry. Whereas credit card payment processing kept getting cheaper and easier in major markets like the US and Europe, Caribbean islands’ small isolated banking systems were not keeping pace. After raising a small investment from payment processor Stripe, Junglebee launched Jungle Pay, a seamless way for operators in the Caribbean to directly accept credit card deposits for tours from their own websites.

The power of industry-focused founders

Over time, we’ve noticed something special about founders who grow up in and deeply understand the industry they are serving that contrasts with entrepreneurs who just picked an industry at random to deploy a startup playbook. The tour industry is shockingly complicated. Experienced investors and entrepreneurs often underestimate the complexity of the different business models involved, but Michael speaks them fluently as a first language. Even now he is driving himself around Costa Rica, St. Lucia, and Barbados having one-on-one discussions with business owners. The recently launched support for private charters and iPhone app are a direct result of consistently listening to tour operators and hearing what they need to run their businesses better.

If you’re not the customer, you’re the product

Junglebee has competitors—some owned by travel giants like Booking and TripAdvisor, and others that have raised tens of millions in venture capital. We think tour operators, tour desks, and local agents will continue to choose Junglebee over these alternatives for a few key reasons.

These large players will have to execute on one of two standard playbooks in order to justify their sky high valuations and provide a return on the capital they have raised. One route is to “disrupt” the industry and cut out all the “middle men”… While direct booking has been a success for more commoditized products like hotel rooms and rental cars, we think it falls flat for experiences. We love Airbnb for booking a room but, while we definitely would like the process to be as smooth, the idea of filling up our holidays with tours plucked right of TripAdvisor or Airbnb just doesn’t do it for us. The second playbook for this big competitors is to capture all the booking traffic and then squeeze tour operators on pricing. When we were initially researching our investment we saw a few booking software options that were free for operators to use, which reminded us of the classic warning: if you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

Another CEO in the industry argued: “TripAdvisor and Booking.com are running these systems at a loss in order to capture and monopolize data from tour operators. This is not in suppliers’ best interest.”

We aren’t predicting these players will fail, but they have committed themselves to an all or nothing bet. Either they need to gobble up huge chunks of the market or they’ll just shut down. We think many tour operators will not want to run their whole business on software that could vanish overnight.

Junglebee is making neither of these bets and is totally focused on software to make everyone’s life easier and smoother, not start cutting folks out or squeezing prices. Junglebee takes a community-first approach that incorporates booking agents, tour operators, tour desks, and OTAs.

In it for the long haul

Like all Earnest companies, Junglebee has focused on not raising too much capital and building a profitable, sustainable business that doesn’t need to consume the whole market to be successful. We think at the end of the day this will resonate with business owners throughout the tour industry who want to focus on delivering a great experience for their customers without disrupting the entire industry.

We’re excited about the future of Junglebee and also trying to figure out how we can join the door-to-door (err… dock-to-dock?) sales team to work out some business trips to Barbados.

Learn more about Junglebee on their website here.

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