Cat Jones is the founder and CEO of Byway, the world’s first flight-free travel booking technology. She founded the company in 2020 just as lockdown was announced in the UK – a wild idea, but one that has proven very successful. The company is currently growing 7X year on year, with 2023 already surpassing £1M in bookings and all while maintaining its 5 star rating on Trustpilot.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
My background is in startups and sustainability, but I didn’t start my career in travel. My degree was in physics, with an emphasis on climate science, and after university I took some time out to travel. I lived in Kuala Lumpur for a while creating a web app for booking Bolivian tours alongside my then boyfriend (now husband).
When I returned home, I joined video tech startup Unruly, where I stayed for ten years, through growth and acquisition. While there I gained an MSc in Sustainable Development, which helped me understand the social and environmental impact of travel and tourism. I then moved to Founders Factory as Managing Director for Travel and Media where I was investing in startups and coaching the founders of early stage travel businesses. This was the time I really got involved in the travel sector at scale.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
I’ve always been a ‘slow traveller’ myself, and have never owned a car, but it wasn’t until I was watching travel trends and speaking to industry experts as an investor that I saw that
the sustainable travel trend was growing enough to at last bring flight-free travel into the maintream. Slow travel is the perfect antidote to high carbon flying and overtourism. It not only takes people out of the skies and away from hotspots but is also a highly enjoyable, enriching experience overlooked by jetsetter travel cultures.
I went in knowing first hand just how complex organising multi-stop, multi-modal trips can be.. I was frequently asked to share travel itineraries with confused friends who don’t want to do the planning.
To accelerate the adoption of slow travel we needed two things – technology to make it easy and a cultural movement to travel differently.
Covid was our catalyst. I bet that the travel lockdowns would make us rethink travel. The day after lockdowns were announced I resigned from my job, incorporated the company and started building the technology needed to make slow travel easier. Three years of rapid growth later – I think it was a good bet!
How did you achieve awareness?
We’re still on a journey to mass awareness and that’s the goal. We want slow travel to become mainstream, which means we need a lot more visibility. Our current traction is driven by widespread press coverage, partnerships (like Intrepid, Exodus, Kuoni, The Man in Seat 61), word of mouth and performance marketing.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Because we’re a tech company working in the climate space and are a certified B Corp, we’ve found many investors keen to support our vision. In a somewhat frosty investment landscape we see money moving towards companies who are thinking about the impact their business is having on the planet. Along with our superb line-up of Angels we’ve also won £275k of grant funding from InnovateUK. Add this to the revenue we’re making from our bookings and we’ve got a good amount in the bank to fund our growth.
What are the key successes?
Byway has 97% five star reviews. It’s regularly in mainstream media increasing flight-free travel’s visibility; 36% of our customers would have flown if they’d not booked with Byway – our booked trips have saved 180 tonnes of CO2 to date, the equivalent of 1,000 trees. We are currently growing 7X YoY in the UK market (offering trips across the UK, Europe and all the way down to Morocco) and continue to sign mainstream partners, making it easier for them to offer flight free holidays to their customers. We will be expanding sales across Europe and beyond this year.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
The two key challenges to making flight-free travel mainstream when we founded the business were 1) the complexity of researching and booking overland holidays, and 2) a huge lack of awareness.
We’ve already built the technology that makes it easy for our customers to find and book their train/boat/bus trips with accommodation online, so awareness is our biggest current challenge. ‘Flights’ and ‘travel’ are almost synonymous. Travelling overland is 80-90% less carbon intensive than flying short-haul, but Byway’s the only 100% flight-free holiday tech company we know of. It’s not only about carbon, though. Most people have no idea how enjoyable flight-free trips can be. Slowing down and taking the scenic route means you have time to get to know a place – its food, its landscapes, its people, its histories – and enjoy the freedom and unexpectedness of travelling overland.
We plan to bring awareness to this by continuing to grow our business, work with partners across the travel industry and advocate for people flying less. This also comes with advocating for governments to support the rail industry and penalise short haul, domestic flights that ground transportation can easily replace.
What are your plans now/for the future?
Our vision is for a world in which flight-free holidays are the norm, and a vibrant sustainable travel ecosystem flourishes away from the beaten path. We plan to expand our business and awareness of flight-free travel, support more travel companies looking to provide flight-free options and launch services to more regions. Ultimately we’ll be working to deliver on our mission of making flight-free holidays mainstream, and so accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable travel.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Now is a great time for innovation. We can’t keep living the way we do – it’s unsustainable and causing irreparable damage to the world. We need entrepreneurs to bring their boundless optimism and energy to the climate space. Climate tech is such an exciting community, you’ll find a lot of support. Plus, future generations will thank you!
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Love the journey! It’s a long continuing cycle of build, measure, learn, and you can sometimes be so focussed on where you’re going you can forget to celebrate how far you’ve come. Having a long term mission will help align your business and provide clarity of decision making, but regularly take stock and celebrate the wins.
What is your favourite inspirational /motivational quote?
Think big, act small, move fast!
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
The Successful Founder Magazine is the go to feature-rich magazine for founders on all stages of their entrepreneurship journey .