Andrew Van Luchene is CEO of JackRabbit Systems, a Santa Fe-based technology company launched in 2008 that is on the fast track to success with its BookDirect search engine. The product allows visitors to book local hotel rooms on city and state tourism office websites in more than 250 cities. Van Luchene is also the founder of Leviathan Entertainment, an invention think tank focused on social gaming systems. Van Luchene is the named inventor on 110 issued and 221 pending patents. Companies like Groupon and Apple have licensed his inventions. He is a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe and began his career as the sixth employee with priceline.com. Andrew sat down with me to talk about technology and tourism in Santa Fe.
1. How long was the journey between your idea for JackRabbit Systems’ BookDirect and landing that first big account – Las Vegas?
Two years from Santa Fe to Las Vegas
2. What’s the worst thing about being an entrepreneur and what’s the best thing?
- Waiting for things to happen;
- Having control of your destiny.
3. Did you always know you would be an entrepreneur?
I started working at 11 years old, for $3 an hour and by high school I had lots of businesses. I had a Flea Market booth at Trader Jack’s selling all kinds of things. I also had a landscaping business. I delivered phone books each summer and inserted flyers to promote my landscaping business. And, I worked at Santa Fe Coin Exchange, (owned by Eliot Streeper) in the morning, in the afternoon I did landscaping and on weekends I worked the Flea Market. So, I’d have to say yes, I have been an entrepreneur for a long time already.
4. Your other company, Leviathan Entertainment has the largest number of issued and social gaming patents in the world. (Andrew is the named inventor on 110 issued and 221 pending patents) Why are patents important in the gaming world?
Everyone steals everyone else’s ideas so you need to protect your ideas. This industry is ruthless about copying and stealing ideas.
5. Why did you name your company Leviathan?
I can identify with Job, the biblical character, meaning “King of the Proud.” The word Leviathan has a meaning of underlying, massive power. For Hobbes Leviathan is an entire state with the Head of State symbol of raw, massive power. Moby Dick is the Leviathan.
6. What are some of your predictions for the travel market in the coming year?
As for US travel, we need to figure out how to welcome foreigners better, to make it easier to travel here, and this needs to happen at the federal government level. Since 9/11 the US has not been friendly to all travelers and we need to be. As for Santa Fe, even in the recession Santa Fe has done okay. Santa Fe withstood the recession better while other markets haven’t, like the ones artificially propped up have not fared as well. Santa Fe always has been and continues to be, a successful travel destination and will not fluctuate as widely as many other markets.
7. Do you see a role for social gaming and travel marketing?
I see a fairly big role for Facebook in travel. Facebook makes it easy to tell your friends what you did and it makes it easy to organize group travel. Groupon is another great travel vehicle. Hotels are having success in marketing on Facebook, especially if you have special events. It is a super cheap way of letting people know what’s going on.
8. What one thing identifies Santa Fe as the City Different in your opinion?
The sky and the light; waking up in New York it is gray and the horizon, crowded. Not so in Santa Fe.
9. Is there someone in Santa Fe that you would say has influenced your life? If so, who and how?
Aguinaldo Rodriguez. He taught me math and science at St. Michael’s High School in Santa Fe. I learned so much from him. Coming full circle, his son has worked for me for seven years as Head of Operations.
10. What’s the funniest or strangest thing you’ve overheard tourists saying in Santa Fe?
I think it is crazy that some people think New Mexico is another country.
11. What’s on the top of your holiday wish list?
Spending time with family. All of my family comes in for the holidays so we can all share it together.
12. Do you do anything fun with your employees like Google does?
We have a paintball team, we travel the country playing and we even have team jerseys and all. The wilderness fields around Santa Fe are great for paintball, and playing gives you a rush of adrenaline. I don’t like the cold so no skiing or snowboarding. Its paintball for me and it is fun playing here.
13. How did you meet your awesome wife, the supremely talented interior designer, Heather Van Luchene?
I met Heather in class at St. John’s College. She had my dad as a tutor, Steve Van Luchene. My dad has taught at St. John’s College for 38 years. So, St. John’s is the original connector with me, my dad and my wife.