Uplift raises $123M to bring flexible payments to the travel industry

Travel financing startup Uplift is announcing that it has raised $123 million in Series C funding.

Uplift has been relatively quiet about its business until now. Its founder and CEO is Brian Barth, who previously sold his travel startup SideStep to Kayak for $200 million.

“We’ve been exceedingly low-profile, because it’s a really good idea and we wanted to keep it a secret,” said President Robert Soderberry. “But now we’re at a size and scale where we’re ready to raise our visibility.”

Besides, he acknowledge that it would be hard to “keep a $123 million Series C financing round a secret.”

The idea is pretty straightforward: Uplift works with partners like the vacation package sites of United Airlines, Southwest and American Airlines, as well as Allegiant Travel Company and Kayak, to offer financing to travelers, allowing them to pay for their trips in monthly installments. (It has a bank partner for the loans.)

For example, Soderberry said that if a family is considering a trip to Disneyland for a price of $2,000, Uplift might be able to offer a one-year financing plan with monthly payments of $189 a month.

“We make it really easy for consumers to understand,” he said. “It’s a convenient way to book travel, it reduces the upfront cost and encourages them to book more often, which in turn drives conversion for our travel partners. It’s really a win-win.”

It’s an idea that’s spreading in retail through companies like Affirm — and in fact, Affirm has been moving into travel. But Soderberry said Uplift is is the only lending company focused entirely on the travel industry.

“Planning and purchasing travel is really different buying a mattress or a gym membership,” he said. “It’s a different kind of product and different technology.”

And although Uplift launched less than two years ago, Soderberry said the company is on-track to drive nearly $1 billion in loans in 2019. He said that for some partners, Uplift represents 20 percent of their business.

The new funding should allow Uplift to bring on new partners, offer new services and otherwise grow the business. At the same time, Soderberry said the company will remain focused on travel, and on reaching consumers through its partners rather than launching a marketplace of its own

“Travel companies want to protect their customers and they don’t want us to be sourcing or acquiring their consumers,” he said. “We stand behind our partners … We don’t bring [customers] to our site to try to create a marketplace, we’re not trying to build a consumer platform, we’re building a platform for travel partners.”

PitchReport reports (membership required) that the funding was at a $195 million pre-money valuation, but an Uplift spokesperson declined to comment on this.

Uplift previously raised $23 million in funding. The Series C was led by Madrone Capital Partners, with participation from Draper Nexus, Ridge Ventures, Highgate Ventures, Barton Asset Management and PAR Capital.

Uplift’s focused business model of bringing flexible payments to travel is a winner,” said Madrone’s Jamie McJunkin in a statement. “Our confidence to invest was driven by an experienced management team, a very large market opportunity and the competitive advantages driven by the innovations Uplift has brought to the travel market.”

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