JetBlue established its venture capital arm, JetBlue Technology Ventures, in 2016 and charged it with investing in and incubating startups at the intersection of travel and technology. In the short time since, the company has invested in 19 companies, and some of their technologies have already been deployed by the airline. Aviation editor Robert Silk caught up with Amy Burr, JetBlue Technology Ventures' managing director of strategic partnerships, at the Future Travel Experience Global conference in Las Vegas last week.
Q: Let's talk about one of your partners that has already made an impact for JetBlue. What can you tell me about Gladly?
A: It's an omnichannel customer service tool. What it does is takes all of the communications a customer has with your organization and puts it into a single view. So, say you call the call center, but you've also emailed, you've chatted, you've done a number of different things. The agent sees an entire profile: who you are, your contact information, future flights, past flights and all of the conversations you're having. It's a single view of the customer that allows the agent to interact with them in a more real, conversational way.
Q: You invested in Gladly in 2017, and JetBlue agents have already begun using it. How is it helping?
A: It provides the agent information to lower handling time, which is actually a cost-saver for the organization. But from our perspective, JetBlue really stays focused on customer service and the customer experience, and Gladly really improves the customer experience.
Q: Another interesting investment you've made is in the hybrid-electric aircraft maker Zunum Aero, which is developing planes to fly short-haul routes from small airports. How might that benefit JetBlue?
A: Part of our mandate is to look for what we think are going to be disruptive trends in the industry that may be further out. Zunum and Joby (which is building electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for urban transit) both fall into that category of five-, eight-, 10-years out disruptive chains in the industry that as a company we just wanted to be on top of. It may or may not ever happen that JetBlue uses that technology for the airline itself. We never know what the future might hold. But that wasn't the driver of those investments.
Q: You've also invested in startups across the travel industry that don't directly touch airlines. For example, Recharge helps hotels sell rooms for short time periods with pricing by the hour or even the minute. What is JetBlue's interest in that type of travel innovation?
A: The interesting thing about our mandate is we do look across the entire spectrum of travel. That means the hotel side, vacation rentals, things like that. JetBlue does have a vacation product; a new company has been formed called JetBlue Travel Products. They are looking throughout the travel ribbon at what could be offered to JetBlue customers that may have nothing to do with the flights. That broadens the scope of JetBlue quite a bit in terms of what they may consider and what they might look at. But regardless, we chose to invest in Recharge because we think it's a really interesting concept for travelers. If you're a frequent traveler, the concept of being able to buy hotel room space for two or three hours after a red-eye so you can maybe take a quick nap, a quick shower and then go to your meeting is amazing.
Q: You've also invested in the startup 30SecondsToFly, which uses artificial intelligence to facilitate travel bookings for small- and medium-sized companies that don't have their own booking teams. Why?
A: Those are the kinds of things we do look at. What are the pain points for actual travelers, and what are companies that might change that?
Q: Aside from the obvious goals of making money and of finding ways to assist and improve JetBlue, is there a more holistic view at JetBlue Technology Ventures that if it helps travel it is good?
A: Yes. There's a couple driving forces. One is that if it helps travel it is good, for sure. Our goal is to help travelers have a more seamless, pleasant experience when they're traveling. But the second thing, again, is we really want to stay ahead of the trends in the industry.