Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Rafat Ali 2.0: Meet Skift, the Travel Industry’s Version of PaidContent

What do you do after you build and sell a pioneering digital media start-up? Take two years off, and start building another media start-up.

That’s the short version of Rafat Ali’s story. The slightly longer version: The guy who started paidContent in 2002, sold it to the Guardian in 2008 and took off in 2010, is back with Skift. PaidContent covered the business of digital media; Skift covers the travel business, with an emphasis on that industry’s digital transformation.

Ali has raised a $500,000 round from mediacentric angels like former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, former Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer and former Myspace co-CEO Jason Hirschhorn.

The pitch is pretty straightforward: No one does a very good job of covering the travel business, and there’s a wide range of people who want to read smart takes, from industry executives to start-up investors to savvy consumers who want to figure out what’s happening behind the scenes. And Ali has ambitions to build a stockpile of travel data that he figures will be at least as important as the stories he publishes and aggregates.

I’ve admired Ali for a long time — and competed with him for a portion of it —  so I’m not a neutral observer here: I hope Skift* kills it. I’m also interested in the notion of Skift as a second act, and in watching Ali try to apply hard-won lessons from his first go-round.

Here’s a longish interview we conducted last week in the offices of his old company, now owned by GigaOM.


*The name is Swedish for “shift,” and Ali picked up the domain during his paidContent days, but never figured out what to do with it. By the time he got around to putting his new business together, every derivation of “travel” had long been snapped up.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus