Thursday, March 21, 2019
ed silver Ed Silver has been in corporate travel and hospitality technology for much of his career, most recently serving as executive vice president of operations at Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). He was named president of on-demand car company iCARS—founded by industry veteran Gary Bauer—in June 2016. Six months later in January 2017, the company announced that it had acquired competitor Limos.com. Together, the brands operate as iCARS Powered by Limos.com with Silver at the helm and with Bauer as Chairman and CEO. We spoke with Silver about the integration of the networks as well as the future of the brands. 

Chauffeur Driven: You were named iCARS’ president a little less than a year ago in June 2016. Can you describe your role?
Ed Silver: I came from GBTA where I was executive vice president of operations across all of GBTA globally. I spent seven years talking and listening to corporate travel managers and professionals, getting to know what is important to them when choosing a ground transportation provider—or actually when choosing any of their corporate travel partners. I have a very good connection with that marketplace, and so I was brought on specifically to help iCARS grow further into that corporate space. All of iCARS’ systems were built from the ground up to support business travel professionals, and it’s my role to fine-tune that message and drive out demand in the corporate travel space. I also have a background in technology and technology startups. In the mid-’90s, I started an online hospitality firm called Lodging.com, so I had both experience with startups—which iCARS is—and good connections within organizations like GBTA. All of that combined was a really good fit to take on a leadership role at iCARS.

CD: What has been your biggest challenge thus far?
ES: I’m just having so much fun learning the industry and getting to know operators, so our biggest challenge is finding enough time to talk to these fantastic business owners and help explain who we are so that we can help them to be better businesspeople and provide the tools they need in running their companies.

CD: What is it like running iCARS in the backyard of one of the most successful startups in history?
ES: Actually, it’s very positive. San Francisco and Silicon Valley are fantastic places to try out new innovations and tools. The teams here and the corporations that we talk to are very receptive to new models, open to A-B testing, and understand technology. It’s a very creative area to be a part of—and that competition, both large and small, inspires us.

CD: What can you tell us about the recent acquisition of Limos.com?
ES: Discussions had been on and off for well over a year, even before I came on board. Not long after I got here, we started serious talks.

CD: Why was it a good fit?
ES: Limos.com to us was more than an app or a website. They had a corporate side, a leisure side, a specialty vehicle side—many different components that were appealing. Everyone talks about synergy models when merging businesses, but the true nature of combining these two businesses really did add up to something bigger than what either one could have done independently. So when you merge the advanced technology tool set of corporate risk management and duty of care of iCARS with the vast affiliate network, marketing engine, and leisure side of Limos.com, we think you end up with one of the most powerful B2B corporate transportation networks in the marketplace.

CD: How are the two companies operating?
ES: We merged everything. We took two great teams and combined them into one incredible team. Our backends are now integrated, and all operators who were on either platform are now being merged into one platform. We just tore through the integration like a Silicon Valley company should, and I’m very proud of how rapidly we were able to complete it.

CD: What about the websites? Will they be merged?
ES: No, we will continue to operate both websites, but over time the brands could merge further. One of the things that I think you’ll see is the operator community leaning more on the Limos.com side because it’s a great brand when you’re talking to a supplier and thinking about services and tools. When we’re talking to corporations, we tend to talk more about iCARS, which has really good traction on the corporate B2B side. We’ll be opportunistic about how we use each one.

CD: How did the acquisition affect operators on either platform?
ES: From an operator perspective, this is positive news because iCARS represented consistent demand from high-end corporations and travel management companies with very predictable work and good clientele. They now have access to leisure traffic that is coming through a marketing powerhouse domain with terrific functionality (Limos.com). They both have a funnel of traffic which they didn’t have before. Operators on our platform benefitted doubly by the combination of these brands. They can focus on providing great service while we focus on a tremendous amount of activity behind the scenes that they don’t have to worry about—from generating corporate or leisure client demand to marketing services. Everything comes together to make it a very powerful network and efficient affiliate system.

CD: What markets are you currently operating in?
ES: Since the acquisition of Limos.com, we are now nationwide and have global connectivity. ICARS started in the Bay Area and then grew into seven cities, but we’re now worldwide.

CD: How many operators are currently in the combined system?
ES: Combined, we’re in 500 cities, representing some 15,000 vehicles, and 2,500 operators across the globe.

CD: Vertical industries in travel have adopted technology in a big way—hospitality, airlines, rental cars. Why do you think there’s a disconnect in this industry to adopt apps?
ES: It’s fascinating for me as a little bit of an outsider to the ground transportation industry. I’ve seen the genesis of online travel since the very early days. In other industries, particularly hotels, when each hotel was individually creating their own website, trying to build out their own booking engine, and finding ways to market themselves, they fought online aggregation in the beginning and then they realized that joining networks can actually be a positive experience. Yes, they had to give up some controls but they gained tremendous scale.

Ground transportation, I would say, is late to the aggregation game. I do think you are now seeing the turning point as many competitors are coming together. The power of on-demand tools, driver tools, passenger tools, white label tools—the convergence is pulling the industry in a new direction. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge two major market factors: One, ground transportation is one of the most fragmented industries I’ve ever seen; on top of that, you have TNCs driving a new type of business model that has been putting pressure on this industry in a way that I don’t think anyone knew would happen. All of these factors bring the industry into a new scope and they realize that they have no choice but to finally compete. Platforms like ours give those small or midsize operators the ability to look and feel like a powerhouse, to be a part of a community and a network that is bigger than them.

CD: Where do you see the industry in five years?
ES: I continue to see consolidation throughout the industry. So you’ll see networks like ours continuing to consolidate and add services that make it easier and easier for operators to run their businesses. We talk a lot about empowering small fleets and small businesses to compete as, and look like, a big business. In order to do that, you have to have all of the same functionality to compete against the large affiliate networks and, in some cases, TNCs.

CD: How have you been marketing iCARS and Limos.com to corporate travel professionals?
ES: We’re a month or so into the Limos.com acquisition, so having all of integration done at this point makes us one of the largest B2B networks, and we are out there every day talking to corporate travel professionals and management companies. We tend to use tools like GBTA and regular chapter meetings—which seem to be the most efficient way to meet and spend time with corporate professionals. We are also involved and participate in Meeting Professionals International (MPI), procurement organizations, and some local executive assistant organizations.

CD: What is next for the company?
ES: Right now it’s about absolute accelerated growth in the corporate marketplace as well as the supplier community. We have a number of things up our sleeve that we’ll announce in the next six to eight months, from both a marketing and technology perspective, so we’re excited about the upcoming shows. Sometimes it will be on the corporate side like new corporate tools, or new marketing initiatives and value-added services that help an operator run their business like dispatcher tools. We’ll just continue rolling out all of the services that help to grow both sides of the business.

Everyone should benefit and the circle should continue to grow itself as we develop demand from each side. It’s really going to be a fantastic year. [CD0417]