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Covid-19 effect: SAIF-backed Airblack pivots from travel to beauty

Covid-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on travel and hospitality businesses. While large ventures in the sector are waiting for the situation to improve, early-stage startups who do not have significant capital reserves have been either struggling to survive or taking drastic steps.

Influencer-led travel company Airblack has made its move: a pivot from travel to beauty. According to Entrackr’s sources, the company is forced to change direction due to the pandemic. “The pivot has been in progress since May. Airblack’s team waited for things to improve but there is no clarity about opening up of travel-related activities,” said one of the sources on condition of anonymity.

Airblack used to be a social-travel commerce platform which pointed travellers to experts and influencers it identified via WhatsApp and Instagram. The SAIF Partners-backed firm had over 2,000 paid subscribers at its peak. 

“Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we have stopped accepting any requests from new travellers. As a brand, we care for the safety of our members and do not advise anyone for non-essential travel at present,” mentioned Airblack’s website.

With a new purpose, Airblack now provides virtual tutorials around makeup and skincare and lets users connect with experts in private groups. According to its website, it will launch a two-sided community soon. It also has a paid club that offers two subscriptions programs – VIP and Gold – for makeup artists and enthusiasts.

Founded by former SAIF Partners executives Pulkit Pujara and Videt Jaiswal, Airblack raised $1.5 million seed capital from Saif in 2019. “Airblack is left with half of the money it raised in May last year. It’s using the left resources to build an influencer-led community in beauty,” said the person quoted above. 

Queries sent to Airblack on Thursday did not elicit any response until the publication of this story. We will update the story as and when they respond.

The pivot by Airblack is a natural step as travel activities are unlikely to resume in the near future. The space is geared to see more companies changing their tracks for survival. While large companies such as MakeMyTrip, Oyo, Treebo and TravelTriangle have been resorting to layoffs and salary cuts, smaller startups have been facing existential crises. 

Industry analysts have been emphasising about bloodbath, consolidation and pivots across early-stage startups in the travel and hospitality domains. Looking at the rising cases of coronavirus with every passing day, domestic travel activities are unlikely to resume anytime in 2020. 

The prevailing situation in the sector will drive many small firms out of business while some will manage to survive by making strategic reorientation or pivot.

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