PaidContent Founder Raises $500,000 for New Travel Site Skift

Rafat Ali Plans to Build "Homepage" for the Travel Industry

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With his first media startup, Rafat Ali built a site in PaidContent that chronicled the evolution of online-content economics. Now with his new site Skift, he's hoping to take the best of different business models to build a well-diversified media site targeting the massive travel industry.

Rafat Ali
Rafat Ali

Mr. Ali has raised about $500,000 for the venture from 17 angel investors, including former Myspace co-president Jason Hirschhorn, former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz and Associated Content founder Luke Beatty.

Mr. Ali self-funded the initial development of the site, as well as the hiring of a content chief and another editorial employee. The angel funding will be used to hire product and engineering talent.

In its early incarnation, Skift will publish a mix of original, curated and aggregated content with vertical sections such as Transport, Destinations, Rooms and Cruises. On Friday, the homepage featured an Associated Press article on Delta shuttering one of its regional carriers in the main article spot.

The target for this content is a business-to-business audience. Mr. Ali said he expects the site to start running ads in about six months.

"In the first phase we're trying to build the homepage for the travel industry," Mr. Ali said, "which is a relatively old-school way of looking at it, but the travel industry hasn't even gone through the kind of digital transition other industries have gone through."

But perhaps the bigger play here is a data and information business that Mr. Ali hopes travel-related businesses and eventually business travelers will pay for. He said his team is currently pulling in publicly available data, such as arrival and departure times at every airport. Hotel listings would be part of the mix as well.

"We want to build the world's largest repository of travel data," Mr. Ali said. "A lot of it is sitting in government repositories that are not necessarily user friendly."

Once the database is set -- an ambitious project in and of itself -- Mr. Ali says Skift plans to build paid products and services that feed off the data sets. Eventually, the site hopes to lure in business travelers who now count on scattered, forum-based travel sites for information. That audience is also a prime target for advertising, he said.

The idea, Mr. Rafat says, is that the editorial content will help build the brand while the paid services will build a real business. One media property that has inspired Mr. Ali's vision for Skift is Politico, the popular political-news site that publishes ad-supported content for the average reader and paid subscriptions for political-world insiders and political-news junkies.

Mr. Ali sold PaidContent to the Guardian in 2008 Guardian, which then sold it to GigaOM earlier this year.

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