BACK ON TRACK

Texas bus biz plans to get on the road again

After a weeks-long, COVID-caused intermission, Texas-based Vonlane is hitting highways with daily routes starting July 1. Photo courtesy of Vonlane

Vonlane buses are revving their engines again. After weeks without service due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Dallas-based luxury bus operator will restart all routes serving Texas on July 1.

In a June 9 message to customers, Vonlane said daily departures resuming July 1 would include:

  • Houston-Dallas
  • Houston-Fort Worth
  • Houston-Austin
  • Houston-San Antonio
  • Dallas-Austin
  • Dallas-Oklahoma City
  • Fort Worth-Austin

Coming soon are routes to Nashville and Atlanta, with details to be announced, the company says.

As the coronavirus started to cripple travel in March, Vonlane temporarily eliminated four routes serving Texas. "While we are significantly impacted by the circumstances of the day," Vonlane founder and CEO Alex Danza said then. "Our goal is to be a solution for your urgent personal travel."

But by April 15, when most of Texas was sheltering in place, Vonlane suspended operations due to lack of demand. Limited routes between Dallas, Austin, and Houston resumed May 29.

Like many businesses, Vonlane also pivoted its operation in new directions during the shutdown.

On Memorial Day, the company announced it was expanding its services to include out-of-state charters. It now offers bespoke charter service to popular destinations across the continental U.S. like Colorado, Florida, and New Orleans, as an alternative to flying.

Passengers who book a private charter have access to up to 22 seats, can leave from a specific departure point of their choice, and travel to any destination, the company says.

Vonlane also rolled out a parcel shipping service in Texas. "Need to get something to a loved one, friend, or business associate in Austin, Dallas, or Houston today?" Danza said in the announcement. "Send it aboard the next Vonlane departure for a flat fee." More details on the service are outlined here.

In putting its luxury buses back on the road, Vonlane is adopting a number of measures designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as limiting the passenger count to 13 by blocking all aisle seats through June 30; requiring passengers and employees to wear face coverings; and checking passengers' temperatures before boarding.

"As one of our core values, the safety of our passengers, crew, and fellow over-the-road travelers is our top priority," Danza said in a May 26 release announcing the charters. "In light of the current coronavirus situation, Vonlane is maximizing our efforts to make sure the Vonlane experience is as responsible, safe, and comfortable as our passengers have come to expect."

Vonlane launched its high-end bus service in 2014 with the Dallas-to-Austin route. Each bus, which holds fewer than two dozen passengers, features amenities like WiFi, satellite TV and radio, and leather seats.

Reservations can be booked online, and may be canceled and fully refunded up to 24 hours before departure.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Raising funds anytime soon? Take these tips from a venture capital insider into consideration. Photo via Getty Images

I have had the incredible opportunity to work with New Stack Ventures as a venture fellow, and after sourcing investment opportunities, shadowing calls with founders, and even leading a couple calls of my own, I have learned a few lessons that might resonate with startup founders who are raising capital.

Responsive founders make a difference

The first and likely most important lesson I have learned during my tenure as a fellow is this: responsive founders truly make a difference in whether or not they raise capital.

I have sent several emails and LinkedIn messages to really intriguing companies, in hopes of connecting for a call and inquiring about their raise. And, I look back and see that many of those outreach messages were left unread. I have also engaged in calls with really intriguing companies where the founder never follows up, and the idea of moving forward with next steps dissipates.

On the flipside of the forgetful founder, I have also witnessed extremely attentive founders: founders who send follow-up messages when they don't receive an immediate response, respond to their emails within the hour, and go above and beyond by sending pitch decks and executive summaries (even when unasked). This type of founder persona excites me with their enthusiasm and eagerness to make a deal. Their responsiveness with the investment process sheds light to how they likely run their businesses.

At the end of the day, many founders can say that they are hustlers and go-getters, but I believe the founders that show me through their actions in the investment process.

Great founders are great storytellers

When I do connect with founders in introductory calls (after the back-and-forth, hopefully responsive email exchange), the thing I look forward to most is hearing their stories. I want to know your story. I want to know what you were doing before your startup (and how that helped prepare you), how you thought of your idea, how you validated your assumptions, how you grew your business, and… everything in between (but all in less than five minutes of time).

Great founders are great storytellers. The great storytellers I have come across invite me into their companies' journeys, and leave me actually caring about their success.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the founder who gives short responses and shows no real connection to their work (giving off the vibe that this is just another startup for them) leaves me unattached to them and their business.

Venture capitalists are more accessible than you might think

Perhaps, I gave this point away when I said that I was sending several emails and LinkedIn messages to founders (which sounds a little desperate), but VCs are way more accessible than you may think. Before working with New Stack Ventures, I had this perception that VCs were extremely hard to reach, exceptionally busy, and a little bit scary. And while one of the two latter characteristics still remains true, I can say with certainty that VCs are not hard to reach.

I can't speak for everyone in venture capital, but I do know that the VCs I work with will respond to founders who message them. Putting yourself out there, as a founder, can lead to advice (which bodes well for your business), a new connection in the industry (which bodes well for your network), and even an investment (which bodes well for the future of your startup). In the end, VCs are spending hundreds of hours, searching for a tractable startup that will change the game, and your startup could be the very gem they are looking for.

So, be bold, be responsive, and tell your story to any and every VC who will listen. I'm all ears.

Note: I was inspired to write this piece by by The Full Ratchet's tips for fundraising entrepreneurs, I thought I would share.

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Christa Westheimer is a Rice University student and the managing director at Rice Ventures. She is a current venture fellow at Chicago-based New Stack Ventures.

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