Individual Spotlight: Who is Craig Blair?
When looking into Australian venture capital firm Airtree, Blair seemed to be right at the heart of it, so I did a little research. His career has been quite spectacular and for one person, he has managed to achieve a lot.
Craig Blair is a very talented individual who has worked in a variety of industries and businesses since the 1990s. According to Blair’s LinkedIn profile, “he has founded three software companies, two of which were profitable and one of which was a bitter learning experience.”
Naturally, you are thinking “Which one was the bitter learning experience?”.
From what I can see, the three most likely companies he’s referring to would be Beamly, Travelselect, and PetCircle.
Beamly was a software integrated company, whereas Travelselect and PetCircle are more online services. Perhaps Craig Blair could help clarify in the comments which software company was the bitter experience?. It could also be an entirely different company not mentioned.
Craig is most recently well known for his accomplishments with AirTree and PetCircle but before that, his professional career grew in a number of strategy and investment advisor roles.
Looking at his profile with my recruiter eyes on, I would summarise (make guesses) as to how he transitioned from one position to the next:
- 1987 – 1991 – Completed Engineering Degree in Sydney
- No work history detailed between 1991 and 1998. Perhaps working Engineering roles he didn’t feel necessary to put on his profile.
- 1997 – Completed MBA with INSEAD
- Jan 1998 – Started with Kalchas Group as a Strategy Consultant. Stayed for 1 yr, 10 months until Oct 1999.
- I would imagine he gained a lot of expertise and knowledge in this role advising CEO’s.
- Founded Travelselect – Nov 1999 – Jun 2003 · 3 yrs 8 months. Looks like he may have moved to the UK during this time.
- Sold to lastminute.com.au in 2002. Perhaps stayed on a little after the sale.
- 2 year gap after exit. Could be time off with non-compete.
- Jan 2005 – Oct 2005 · 10 months – Advisor to Expedia on Australian launch. I could imagine he was headhunted here because of his previous experience with Travelselect.
- Dec 2005 – Aug 2006 · 9 mos – Head of Leisure Investment Banking at Macquarie Bank
- Not much information listed. Looks like a full-time role. Only 9 months. Perhaps the corporate working life wasn’t for Blair.
- Jun 2006 – Jun 2011 · 5 yrs 1 mo – Executive Director/Investor at Netus
- This was quite a long stint. Seems he did enjoy this role and investor/advisor life.
- Feb 2012 – Oct 2014 – 2 yrs 8 months – Founder – Beamly Australia
- Grew and sold this business. Looks like he did quite well with this company and the sale.
- Apr 2012 – Present · 10 yrs 6 mos – Pet Circle – Founding Chairman – Started this while still working on Beamly. Perhaps he knew the exit was coming and looked for a new project.
- Jun 2014 – Present · 8 yrs 4 mos – Airtree – Managing Partner and CoFounder
- Only two years after getting involved with Pet Circle, he launched this new venture.
- The investor life got him good. Looks like these two ventures have kept his hands full until now.
The two companies Blair grew and sold were:
Travelselect – Nov 1999 – Jun 2003 · 3 yrs 8 mths
London, United Kingdom
Travelselect.com was one of the first online travel companies in the UK. Blair was responsible for raising venture capital, business development and leading the marketing team. He also led the sale of the business to lastminute.com in 2002 in a transaction, which generated healthy returns to founders and investors.
lastminute.com issued £9m in new shares for Travelselect, its first large scale acquisition in the UK, which Brent Hoberman pointed out would make an “an immediate positive contribution to operating cashflow.” In addition to the initial consideration, lastminute.com will pay up to a further £3m depending on the EBITDA achieved for the year to 31 January 2003.
The deal tripled lastminute.com’s existing UK flights volume creating a UK flights revenue stream of approximately £50 million and providing access to a further 39 airline relationships as well as giving online access to Eurostar.
Crucially, it also moved the company’s flight offering up to a similar scale as lastminute’s hotel portfolio ahead of the addition of dynamic packaging to the site later this year. Mr Hoberman said: “We are already growing at 110% year on year and this deal makes sense across all metrics. It will particularly help when we introduce dynamic packaging later in the year.” According to Atinera’s Stuart Winter, the ability to put together holiday packages is going to prove crucial to online travel sites as suppliers take control of their own inventory and commission levels fall.
As of now, the Travelselect domain seems to be parked with no active content.
Beamly – Feb 2012 – Oct 2014 – 2 yrs 9 mths
Launched Beamly (formally zeebox) Australia. Lead the product strategy, built the team, raised 2 rounds of capital and commercialised the business. Chaired the Australian board.
Beamly was a technology company based in London, UK and New York City, United States. The company was founded in April 2011 as tBone TV, later renamed to Zeebox, by Ernesto Schmitt and Anthony Rose. It was started as a social discovery and engagement platform with 2nd-screen TV, creating the concept of social television.
Beamly, then called Zeebox, aimed to provide the optimal platform for connected television, making it a social and interactive viewing experience rather than the standard television viewing format. The platform allowed users to follow and interact with their favourite TV shows, as well as play games and take part in polls. It expanded to the US in September 2012 and into Australia in November.
In October 2015, Beamly was acquired by COTY for an undisclosed amount. Since then, there isn’t a huge amount of information about it. I found one mention saying it is scheduled for dissolution. Topic for a future article – “What happened to Beamly?”.
The early focus of Blair’s career seemed to be helping international companies launch in Australia. I could imagine Blair would have gained incredible insight into international markets and how to capitalise on gaps in the Australian market.
Blair worked full-time at Netus from June 2006 to June 2011, where he rose to the position of partner and had a global track record.
Netus partnered with international technology companies to establish operations in Australia while also supporting excellent Australian founders. It became one of the best VC funds in Australia, achieving a 4x return on investment.
Allure Media (Gawker, Sugar Publishing), Wayfair, Switchwise, The Video Company, Ourdeal, and Travel.com were represented in the portfolio along with Downstream Marketing.
Very interesting career. I’ve made a number of assumptions here about timeframes, mindset and career gaps. All positive but purely speculation. I think it’s interesting to read between the lines of “what happened when” in relation to each other to gain an insight into how careers evolve and what risks and pathways different people take to achieve success. There’s always low and high points in everyone’s journey.
A lot of the time we aren’t aware or exposed to other ways of life unless we really dig in and search for answers. Craig Blair’s journey is a great insight into Australian startups, and the evolution of various tech businesses over the past 15 years.