eLab Featured Startup: MilesAhead
MilesAhead, an eLab class of 2017 student startup, is not your typical travel agency. Launched by Cornell student Rob Karp (BS '19) when he was just 14 years old, MilesAhead represents a new, revolutionary type of organization, called a travel advisory firm.
Founder and CEO Rob Karp calls MilesAhead a “high-end travel advisory firm focusing on reward point optimization. In short, we design upscale travel, provide impeccable customer service, all while helping our clients to optimize the frequent flyer miles and credit card points they have accumulated.”
From a young age, Karp had a passion for aviation and loved to fly. Soon enough, he became interested in traveling and how to utilize their frequent flyer miles to fly for free. He started helping family and friends to redeem their miles for airfare.
Karp says, “They encouraged me to go out and start a business, so on November 26, 2012, I did. Today, MilesAhead is beyond what I ever dreamt it would be.” As a referral only business, MilesAhead grew out of relationships with family and friends who began spreading word of the agency.
The mission statement on the MilesAhead website emphasizes that "we provide all the services of a full-service travel agency and use our one-of-a-kind relationships, logistical mastery, and travel wizardry to curate unforgettable experiences for our clients." Karp states that “the trips we plan are each unique, and they range from booking a $200 hotel room to planning a $130,000 vacation to Iceland.”
One of the very first MilesAhead clients was Jeff Bershad (BA ’90). Like Karp, Bershad was an entrepreneur while a student at Cornell. He was the CEO of Cutting Edge Computers, a computer rental business that was funded by the Cornell Student Venture Fund, an investment pool managed by Student Agencies in the 1980s and 90s that supported new businesses initiated and run by Cornell students. Because of his business’s affiliation with Student Agencies, Bershad operated out of the Student Agencies office.
Seeing the same lust for business in Karp as in himself, Bershad reached out to MilesAhead and began using Karp as his own travel agent. He speaks highly of his experiences with MilesAhead over the last four years: “the MilesAhead staff are friendly, responsive, have saved us money and sent us to great places we would never have thought of on our own.” Bershad and Karp had their first face-to-face interaction by pure coincidence while at an airport terminal when Bershad and his family were waiting for a flight to the Caribbean—a trip that MilesAhead had planned for them.
Upon arriving at Cornell, Karp joined eLab, and he now runs MilesAhead out of eHub, the shared space with Student Agencies, reminiscent of Bershad’s time operating Cutting Edge Computers.
Over the past few years, the MilesAhead team has visited over 300 hotels, making important contacts along the way. Additionally, through its partnership with Valerie Wilson Travel, a top world-wide travel management firm, MilesAhead has formed an even greater network of contacts and strong relationships around the world.
For clients interested in travelling, you can submit an inquiry on their website then one of their advisors will connect with you to build an itinerary, using their expertise to assist and add value. Once the itinerary is perfected, everything is booked and confirmed. MilesAhead coordinates all logistics and provides full support throughout their client's trip.
By focusing on creating memorable experiences for its clients, MilesAhead distinguishes itself as a personal and unique travel advisory firm summed up in three points: “We are an immediate response team; we are experts in the field of miles/points; and we have incredible relationships around the globe thanks to our partnership with Valerie Wilson Travel.”
Karp describes the most challenging aspect of founding MilesAhead as the skepticism he received from the outside world about trusting a 19-year-old (or 14-year-old!) to manage their travel arrangements. He says, “We put our heads down, block out the noise and keep doing what we do best.”
Currently, the MilesAhead team consists of 10 individuals. Karp says, “From 19- to 56-year-olds, we have a variety of perspectives and talents. The team is super motivated and loves delivering the MilesAhead advantage to our clients.”
Karp credits eLab with improving his business. MilesAhead was able to drastically increase their revenues over the past year. From booking $2 million dollars worth of travel in 2016 to $3 million dollars worth of travel so far in 2017, the team is well on their way to meeting their goal of $5 million dollars worth of travel. In total, they have worked with over 500 different clients.
He asserts, “eLab provided us with the mentorship and advice on how to step back and think about what we want MilesAhead to be.” The best tools MilesAhead got from eLab were improved business organization, efficiency, and access to professors and teachers. Ken Rother was an important mentor for MilesAhead, and “he was always accessible to provide meaningful advice that has played a role in where we are today.”
Karp discusses the ups and downs of being both a student and entrepreneur, which challenges you to experience both the real world and college life in unison. Karp enjoys being his own boss with the freedom to make decisions in creative and innovative ways; however, as a 19-year-old student, it can be a huge responsibility. Karp works with high power clients and must be available 24/7 to ensure that travel plans go smoothly. Because of MilesAhead, Karp receives over 500 text messages a day from clients and employees.
After graduating, Karp plans to make MilesAhead his career. He says that the MilesAhead team “takes it one day and one step at a time . . . we are learning to walk before we run.”
He says, “At this point in your life, you have the opportunity to take risks, be bold, and make mistakes. It’s exactly how you learn. And, if you think you have a great idea, pursue it! If you don’t try you’ll never know.”