Three months after its initial launch, a St. Petersburg startup designed to make organizing group trips and itineraries a breeze is now offering its services throughout the United States.
Like many young adults, Chase Harris, a Sarasota native who relocated to St. Pete three years ago, frequently encountered problems when trying to plan group trips. Whether it was bachelor parties, couples trips or a group of college buddies enjoying a weekend away, there were always issues with planning itineraries and settling the bills at the end.
“It’s just kind of a pain, especially when you’re in a new city,” said Harris. “And then just keeping it organized.”
So Harris decided to create a solution and co-founded Takeoff in April 2021.
When the Takeoff mobile application launched in February, it offered users the ability to book and explore restaurants, golf courses, nightlife and other activities. However, Miami and Las Vegas were the only two destinations. While those cities are among the most popular places to travel in the U.S., the burgeoning company is rapidly expanding.
“We actually just unlocked the entire United States,” said Harris. “If you wanted to book a trip to Springfield, Illinois, we could facilitate it.”
While other apps allow users to plan itineraries or split payments, he explained there were no “one-stop-shops” that allowed groups to collaborate through the process and pre-pay.
Instead of offering transportation and lodging options like many other companies, Harris said Takeoff focuses on experiences or the “meat and potatoes of a trip.”
“There’s no one out there capturing that and helping everybody make it a little easier to book,” he added. “That’s kind of our high-level goal.”
After downloading the app, which works for Apple and Android, an organizer selects a location, and Takeoff provides a link that adds participants. The group then chooses an itinerary based on their interests, budget and dates from a list of about 15 different activities, which they rank according to importance. Users can also request a custom outing.
Takeoff books the itinerary and splits the total, allowing each member to pay separately and incrementally. That ensures everyone has paid their share long before the check comes.
“So, you don’t have to put 10 credit cards down to split a dinner and figure out who got what,” said Harris. “It’s all taken care of to eliminate a lot of the headaches that come around with planning these trips that aren’t just a couple.”
Organizers must have a minimum of four participants, and Harris said the largest group to date consisted of 21 people.
Takeoff provides a curation of sorts, said Harris. While the national expansion increases the workload for the startup, he said Takeoff is building relationships with businesses throughout the U.S., which will ultimately lead to a better user experience.
“We saw that we were missing out on a good amount of revenue because a lot of people didn’t just want to go to Miami or Vegas,” said Harris. “So, we made the decision to open it up and kind of let the flood gates fly open.”
Harris said the reception for Takeoff’s services is positive, especially in the 21 to 41-year-old demographic. He said young adults appreciate the ability to “get all that sticky stuff out of the way” and pay before leaving their homes.
Currently, Takeoff charges users a small service fee, but Harris hopes to eliminate any costs for customers as the company grows its relationships with vendors. The startup earns most of its revenue through lead-generation fees and commissions.
“It’s like we’re charging a little bit now to be able to charge nothing here in the future,” said Harris.
Harris said Takeoff grew organically, mainly through personal networks and without much advertising. Now that the startup is expanding, he plans to increase the marketing aspect and “spread the word to the world” over the following months.
Following some more fine-tuning of his product, Harris plans to offer Takeoff internationally. He noted Airbnb found success using the international model, and payment processing company Stripe, which Takeoff currently utilizes, exchanges foreign currency.
Harris, who left his career in real estate to launch Takeoff, believes the startup’s early success is due to timing and location.
“All of the resources that are in Tampa and St. Pete for startups and first-time founders like me has literally given me the ability to take a big risk,” said Harris. “I don’t think I would have done it if it weren’t for where I was located – and kind of the culture there.”