An Interview with Kristina Liburd, Co-Founder of Viageur

Meet Kristina, Co-Founder of Viageur, an AI travel tool that aims to help cities safely rebuild their travel economy. She is an inspiring go-getter with a mission to redefine traveling post-COVID. We sat down with her for a conversation about her journey; read below to learn more.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Be patient. Everything is not what it seems. A lot of first-time founders dream about the idea of immediately shooting up to 1000-kilowatt success, but it takes grit, confidence, and patience for things to fall into place.
— Kristina Liburd, Co-Founder of Viageur

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey leading up to Viageur.

First and foremost, I’m actually an IP attorney. I’ve been an IP attorney for the last 10 years and I believe that really started me on my path of entrepreneurship. Essentially, me being the fixer in a lot of these positions and being the IP corporate attorney for a multitude of different organizations—both large and small—allowed me to see the sorts of things that people are looking to do to streamline their processes. In particular, what I’ve done in the last several years is working with travel brands, so when COVID hit, it was particularly devastating. The travel industry overall has greatly suffered. Some companies are not even going to be returning back, so they shut down within a month or two because they knew they had no particular path forward.

This really led to a pivot for my startup. We built a tool that would curate the perfect trip for our consumers using bits of information that would allow our AI models to create a whole itinerary for you based on your preferences. So just as we were getting ready to ramp up, COVID made us think about what exactly we were building here, and we had to make sure we had something defensible because at this point no one is really looking to plan any trips.

I am speaking to my clients because I’m still working as an attorney for them, and it came to be that they’re asking two major questions: “Where can people go?” and “Is it safe?” And that’s how we pivoted our product to add a safety feature, which analyzes your particular risk based on the COVID numbers or other crime statistics that we’re looking at. So we are now offering this as a B2B enterprise software for cities that are looking to reinvigorate and entice people to come back and explore their city.

We are in the process of closing another deal with a European city—a female-led organization that focuses on female travelers. We’re really excited about that and we’re trying to bring it back to the States arguing that Europe is already looking for ways to revitalize their economy.

It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least. Along with Viageur, I am a mother to a very rambunctious two-year-old, and I still practice as well, so I have three full-time jobs! So it can be maddening, it can be challenging, but at the end of the day, I can find really passionate travelers who revalidate Viageur and my purpose. I've been able to build a really great team of people that I haven’t had to look anywhere else. We are a group of 11, including engineers, marketers, and growth hackers. My advisors are incredible, namely the former CFO of Klarna, the President of the Black Travel Association. So I’m really thankful for the rooms I’ve been able to go into and the people I’ve been able to network with. I now realize that there is a path forward—there’s always going to be a path forward—and I’m really excited to continue finding it.

How did you find your co-founders and further build your founding team?

Initially, my first co-founder was my husband, and his friend from his MBA program came on as our CTO because he had a particular skill set in cybersecurity and also as a full-stack engineer. Once things began to move forward, we had to realize that we were looking for different skills and the skills we had weren’t really as fitting. I knew what skills I had, and I knew my limitations. For instance, I know I can comfortably speak to people and put together a really killer agreement. So we ended up going on AngelList, posted a few positions, and really started testing people out in terms of how much pressure they could handle.

We told every person who joined the group, “We’re going to put you on a trial basis, and both have to agree that at the end of the trial basis, this is what we both want so there are no hard feelings.” We’ve had people come in and out, and that’s fine because there was a lot of mutual understanding. Essentially, it’s all about trial and error; I knew that, as a first-time founder, I wouldn’t hit it out of the park immediately.

Tell us a little bit more about your first customer.

I definitely think I had a little bit of unfair advantage because I was already working within the travel industry as a legal consultant. I already had a core group of customers from my legal practice who I could immediately turn to and say, “Hey, would you be interested in something like this?” And they gave me really great and available feedback about what they like to see.

My first official customer is actually one of my legal clients; she runs a destination marketing agency in Portugal. Essentially, my idea was to make my own pool of legal clients my buyers and clients for Viageur, as well as involving their connections to open up more doors for me. So now we’re in talks with other cities as well to begin this pilot.

How are you thinking of approaching funding?

We have actually done a number of things. We’re approaching angel investors and VCs, we’re applying to accelerators, and we are also waiting for a final decision on an NSF grant that we’re hoping will come in time for our pilot.

There has been a concern about investing in travel at this point in time because of the pandemic, and it’s making some investors uncomfortable. So currently, we’re hopeful that we will find angel or VC investments sooner than later, but I know that they’re looking for further traction for us. I can see other startups who have less traction than us getting $1.6 million in pre-seed funding, whereas we have a full-fledged team yet we still have to fight a lot harder. My team understands that this is an unfortunate situation and we’re ready to push forward.

We’re actually quite excited because we also signed a partnership with a major aggregator that allows us to go into over 1000 cities immediately this summer. So just from this summer alone, we might be in a place where we could make enough revenue that we may not even need to search for funding. That’s optimistic, but because I’m a lawyer, I always think of the “What if?” So I would rather get some funding in to feel comfortable to be able to say, “Okay, we’re solid.

What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self when starting Viageur?

Be patient. Everything is not what it seems. A lot of first-time founders dream about the idea of immediately shooting up to 1000-kilowatt success, but it takes grit, confidence, and patience for things to fall into place.

One thing I would have told myself is to have the grit to get this done, as well as the ability to see it through completely. And I’ve learned that specifically since COVID hit because the pandemic has changed a lot. That pause of COVID actually allowed us to put together a product that I think is going to do a lot better. Essentially, it’s part patience-part luck, and you have to find common ground in order to do really well.

Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Kristina.

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