An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Al Fares (founder and CEO) of CELITECH, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of CELITECH – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
CELITECH was founded out of a lot of frustration from expensive data roaming and disconnected travel. Whether paying 100 euros for sending one email in Paris or getting lost in the streets of Beijing, the awful experiences of discounted travel all contributed to the birth of CELITECH.
When we travel internationally, whether for leisure or business, we typically go on 1-to-2-week trips, so we have a time-limited opportunity to experience a new country, cuisine, or culture, and mobile connectivity helps us unlock these experiences in a very effective and affordable way. Whether we are using digital maps, ride sharing apps, or browsing which local attractions to check out, we always need mobile connectivity to access such services online.
While Wi-Fi is an option to stay connected while overseas, it is mainly restricted to indoor locations and usually not secure, and local SIM cards are inconvenient given the time and language constraints. CELITECH powers travel providers (including airlines, hotels, travel booking companies) to offer premium and digital wireless service to their int’l travelers using eSIM technology. CELITECH platform utilizes over 700 wireless networks in over 200 countries to offer the most convenient, affordable, and secure eSIM service.
While the main reason behind founding CELITECH has been to offer better wireless connectivity for int’l travelers, the bigger “why” is to make mobile internet more accessible to all. This unlocks new experiences for int’l travelers and can unlock new opportunities to those who experience the digital divide, both in the US and globally.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
CELITECH was founded in late 2018 and released its “beta” platform in March 2020, exactly when COVID devastated the international travel industry. In my wildest dreams I never imagined we’d be impacted by a once-in-a-century pandemic!
I was lucky to be in an enabling environment that helped CELITECH survive. Through the support of Santa Clarita Business Incubator, PPP loan, Blue Startups accelerator, angel investors, and cloud computing credits, we managed to survive the worst that can ever happen to international travel: A complete halt of over 2 years.
Another big hurdle was fundraising during COVID. Obviously, no VC wanted to invest in international travel technology during that time, so the only option was to bootstrap our way out of the pandemic. We kept building and making progress, until we could raise our first institutional round from Cove Fund in August 2022.
What does the future hold for CELITECH?
We emerged from COVID stronger than ever. We’ve been pioneering the concept of a programmable and brandable eSIM that can be added to any international trip in one-click. By offering our eSIM as a new ancillary service, our partners enjoy new revenues and mobile engagement while helping their int’l travelers (and employees) save over 80% on data roaming.
CELITECH currently works with most of the top travel companies including Kayak, Expedia, FlightCentre, Booking Group, and JTB. Today, we power thousands of bookings per day and are on track to be powering thousands per hour by year end. We expect to grow to airlines and hotels on top travel-related applications like insurance, events, and fintech. Effectively, we expect to double revenues every few months for the coming few years.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Santa Clarita?
The City of Santa Clarita has been doing a great job promoting SCV as a good location for tech startups. Whether through Santa Clarita Business Incubator, SBDC, and SCVEDC, Santa Clarita has a lot to offer. Other unique attributes of the city include safety, affordability, quality of living, and proximity to top colleges and airports. While west LA is still the “silicon beach”, Santa Clarita has the potential of becoming the “silicon suburb” as it evolves with time. Areas of improvement include faster internet and more local activities/attractions for young professionals.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I come from a humble background and was raised by a single mom at the end of a civil war. My mom worked very hard to help me get an education and break out of poverty. Throughout my professional and entrepreneurial journey that spans over 50 countries and before being honored as a US national with “extraordinary abilities”, there is one piece of advice that always helped me. I learnt it from my mom first, but Denzel Washington precisely articulates it as follows: “Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.” You’ll absolutely fall down many times, but all of what you need is the resilience to get up that one extra time.
Another more fun one from Ted Lasso for the “nay” noise that entrepreneurs will always encounter and need to filter out: “It’s just poop-eh, let it flow.”