Of course, the latest moves from the industry’s Teslas, Apples, and Googles tend to dominate the tech news space — and with good reason. Yet tech titans aren’t the only ones bringing innovation to the industry.
In an effort to shine a light on promising startups, Built In launched The Future 5 across 11 major U.S. tech hubs. Each quarter, we’ll feature five tech startups, nonprofits, or entrepreneurs in each of these hubs who just might be working on the next big thing. You can check out the last quarter Chicago roundup here.
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Launched about two years ago, Out of office has already helped thousands of people plan their vacations, and the Chicago-based startup is just getting started.
Jan Seale and Coabi Kastan both worked at Trunk Club, an apparel subscription startup that was later acquired by Nordstrom, as sales executives. When they weren’t working grueling hours, they were traveling. Whether they traveled together or not, they always asked each other for recommendations. This resulted in multi-page documents full of recommendations and travel websites for every trip.
“It was so disjointed. We said, ‘The‘s must be a better way to get travel recommendations from people you care about who are reliable and personal,‘Seale, co-founder and CEO of Out of Office, told Built In.
In 2015, Seale and Kastan came up with the idea and the name Out Of Office but delayed the launch. It wasn’t until the pandemic started that the couple continued to flesh out the idea. They finally launched their travel recommendations app in August 2020, at a time when people were still not traveling regularly due to the pandemic.
We said, ‘The‘s must be a better way to get travel recommendations from people you care about who are reliable and personal.‘”
According to Seale, they were launched during the pandemic — a time when travel was slow — so they could grow the platform and grow the brand.
“[We wanted to] build something interesting for when the world reopens. We always knew it was going to reopen. It was‘the question of if, it was a question of when,” recalls Seale.
Today, the Out Of Office app helps people plan their trips by aggregating recommendations for hotels, restaurants, activities, and more in one platform. Users can leave reviews of places and upload photos for future trips to view on the go. The app also has a social feature where users can follow another user and see their recommendations.
Integrations are built into the app and enable in-app restaurant reservations. Features like in-app hotel reservations are coming soon.
The social aspect of Out Of Office is really important when it comes to recommendations. Having friends or people with similar interests recommend restaurants and hotels makes more sense than reading reviews online, and it’s more likely to result in a positive experience, according to Seale.
In April, the company closed a $3.5 million funding round, bringing its total funding round to $5 million. Out Of Office’s success with venture capital funding has not only bolstered the company’s platform, but has also been a testament to raising capital for women of color-founded startups, as there still exists. a funding disparity in the tech startup industry.
“We try to be advocates for women in the tech space, and especially here in Chicago. [Funding] is really limited in the consumer and tech space,” Seale said. “It’s a big part of Coabi [Kastan] and my mission to make sure we help other people access the capital and networks we have.