When it came to starting his own business, Rob Karp ’19 was miles ahead of his peers. He was all of 14 when he turned his passion for airlines and his prowess for numbers into a travel consulting company. “I became interested in helping my dad with his business travel,” he recalled, and that quickly spilled over to other family members and friends as well. His parents suggested turning it into a business. “I didn’t like the idea at first,” he said, “but I was getting a lot of encouragement from others.”
Karp took $600 he had earned refereeing soccer games as a high-school freshman and bankrolled the entire venture, founding Karp Enterprises, LLC in November 2012. As his enterprise spread its wings, he rebranded the company as MilesAhead (milesahead.co), which he calls “a high-end travel concierge that focuses on helping people optimize their points and develop unbelievable experiences.”
Redeeming is believing. In partnership with Valerie Wilson Travel and Virtuoso, a luxury travel network, MilesAhead sold more than $3 million worth of travel and redeemed more than 25 million frequent-flyer points in 2016, and the company is on pace to continue its year-to-year trajectory of 100-percent growth.
From the outset, MilesAhead was tailored to meet its clients’ needs. Whether it’s Snapchat, Instagram, or texting, Karp and his team of luxury travel advisors “will use whichever communication tool is best for our customers,” he said, adding, “Our business is driven by a computer and a phone.” Of his ten-member crew, five are enrolled at Cornell. “Most of them are part-time, working ten to 15 hours a week.” Karp himself logs 40 hours or more a week, even during the school year.
Midway through college, he is balancing the demands of growing his company—which has worked with over 500 unique customers, from individuals to families to businesses—and furthering his education. (His courses this fall include Airline Service and Operations Management and a class in intercultural communication, and he plans to study in Europe next semester.) Karp and his team are working with Cornell’s eLab, an intensive student business accelerator located in Collegetown, to scale and grow MilesAhead “from a service business to a technology-powered service business,” he said. “My vision is to become a leading brand in the hospitality industry with a fantastic company culture and a mission focused on positively impacting the lives of our customers.”
Over the last several years, Karp has been the subject of admiring profiles on Fortune.com and Forbes.com. (“We’ll do anything from planning a 17-day safari to getting someone from New York to Los Angeles tomorrow night using only points,” Karp told Forbes writer Allen Adamson.)
As he summed it up, “We’re in the business of helping people with their leisure time, which is a resource you can’t get back.” Spoken like an old soul—and a fast learner.