Naman Budhdeo, CEO
"I'm afraid of going bust at times."
It's not what you'd expect to hear from the CEO of a company with yearly sales of $470 million. Since he launched in 2005, Naman Budhdeo has brought Flight Network from a one-employee venture to the second largest online travel site in Canada, while maintaining 100% ownership.
Most would consider this fairly rapid growth, yet Naman says if he could start over again, he would be more aggressive. "I would have tried to get some funding and I would have tried to grow quicker in the earlier part of our business. But I was growing with that one employee, instead of starting with a great idea in technology with 20 or 30 employees."
The reason Naman was so risk adverse can be traced directly to the software company he started in 1999. Netfaresonline.com was a business-to-business travel booking engine. In 2001 he sold it to a publicly traded Welsh company called World Travel Holdings for ten million dollars — in stock. Six months later the Internet bubble burst.
"My stock was worthless," he says. "I went from paper rich to poor in 6 months. And I was still stuck running the company for two years."
Naman also owed his parents a lot of money. They had funded his startup to the tune of $500,000. "At 26 you think you know everything. I was like, don't worry Dad, the stock's trading at a dollar. It's going to be three dollars in a year. And he was saying, get cash."
After finishing his contract with World Travel Holdings, Naman started another software company, creating efficiencies for travel agents, but it was a tough sell to many of his tech-leery customers. Then he revisited a small, simple website he'd started in 1998 but had allowed to go dormant. It was called Flight Network.
"I realized I had fantastic technology from the last two companies," says Naman. "Instead of trying to sell software BtoB, I decided to market it directly to the consumer."
Flight Network's powerful booking engines utilize content from airline companies that don't participate with other online travel hubs. Meanwhile, the site also mixes carriers to give better pricing and flight time options. The company makes 90% of its revenue from flight sales, no easy feat with the airline industry's miniscule profit margins. Grown organically from profits, Flight Network now has 350 employees. The only travel website in Canada with more traffic is Expedia.
Still, Naman has a long list of expansion plans, including hotel bookings and the all-inclusive holidays arena. He also wants to increase brand awareness. Yet even as he considers private equity to pursue more growth, he pauses.
"It's a unique example to own a hundred percent of a company, to not have debt, to not have had any funding and to be where we are," says Naman. "The failure of my first company and what happened there really contributes to the success we have with Flight Network now."
by YouInc Columnist Tiffany Burns