Alex Weinstein remembers almost every detail about the tiny San Francisco office in the Sunset District where his tech career began in the early 1990s — the drafty windows that wouldn’t quite close, the squeaky back door that led to a rickety, slanted back porch.
“It definitely wasn’t what you’d call luxurious,” Weinstein recalls with a laugh.
The homely office in a rented garage served as the headquarters for the teenaged Weinstein — whose entrepreneurial drive had been whetted at a young age helping his father repair the homes of elderly neighbors and instilling in him the value of hard work. The office sold travel tickets to fellow American immigrants from the former Soviet Union who wanted to travel abroad internationally, but had trouble navigating the then byzantine world of the English-only U.S. travel industry. “I put ads in newspapers, sold flight tickets over the phone, went door-to-door — whatever it took,” Weinstein says.
Suffice it to say, things have changed dramatically for Weinstein since then. Today, Weinstein’s global technology company, Dyninno, is a multinational conglomerate and market leader providing customized travel and financial service products to millions of customers.
Weinstein was born in 1975 in Moldova, then part of the former Soviet Union, and emigrated as a teenager to the United States with his family in 1989. His father was an established engineer, but the Soviet regime only allowed each member of his family to leave the country with just $450 for each person and two pieces of luggage each, standard Soviet treatment for Jewish “refuseniks” and others seeking to emigrate from the U.S.S.R.
The family landed first in South Florida, and soon headed West to California. Weinstein would attend high school at the Hebrew Academy of San Francisco, graduating in 1992. “We were immigrants in a new country, and it was a challenging childhood, to be sure, but it also lit a fire in me,” Weinstein recalls. “I saw the importance of hard work and, for the first time in my life, limitless opportunities. It also made me want to achieve a quality of life we were denied in the Soviet Union. I will be forever grateful to my parents for having the courage to bring us to this country, where we were able to live our lives freely and pursue our dreams.”
Weinstein began his undergraduate studies at San Mateo County Community College and was later accepted to attend the University of California, Berkeley, choosing instead to continue building his burgeoning travel business. An early key to Weinstein’s success was to be found among his fellow Russian speaking local immigrant community in California, which provided an underserved — and mostly untapped — market for his entrepreneurial ideas. “These were people who I understood, who wanted to travel but had a hard time navigating the complicated and impersonal travel services in the U.S.,” Weinstein says. “I listened to them and helped them access these opportunities.” With the advent of the internet, digital marketing, and low-cost global travel, the business soon took off. Dyninno (the company’s name combines ‘Dynamic’ and ‘Innovations’) today provides complementary services for customers in dozens of languages who otherwise would have limited access to the travel market. Listening to Weinstein reveals a business leader who is intent on expanding access and opportunity to previously underserved populations and segments of society.
The travel segment that Weinstein has specifically targeted is known in the business as “Visiting Friends and Relatives”—or VFR, for short. VFR today are mainly ethnic markets catering to immigrants and migrant workers who travel back-and-forth to and from their origin countries. Typically, this segment requires a tailored form of communication assistance together with expert care and professional guidance. Dyninno’s business model is specifically designed with these qualities in mind, with its multilingual customer service team serving non-English speakers. Weinstein’s unique vision for Dyninno originated from his own personal experience growing up in a non-English speaking immigrant community, while recognizing that particular segment’s significant, yet untapped potential.
This tailored approach to professional service remains at the core of Weinstein’s business strategy. For example, he readily acknowledges that innovative tech — such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and analytical modeling — is the future of his industry. That said, Weinstein firmly believes that people crave personal communication in their commercial transactions, and he’s leveraged technological advancements to provide these services more efficiently than ever thought possible, and a competitive cost. Weinstein’s belief is that the desire for human connection is essential to how businesses manage their operations and services, particularly amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, as well as in a post-pandemic age.
“We’ve utilized the best infrastructure, IT, global telecom, and training to provide a customized and seamless human touch in multiple languages to customers around the world,” Weinstein says. “In the highly uncertain operating environment of COVID-19, people want to feel they’re being heard, no matter what manner or method of communication they’re using. Our professionals are highly attuned to our customers’ needs and are backed by the most up-to-date travel data and news developments pertaining to the global Coronavirus pandemic. When everything is changing so rapidly, having a trained professional who can directly assist the customer with all their questions is critical — whether concerns about domestic or international travel, what to do with a cancelled flight, or the ability to enter a certain country or location. The old standard of how business has been conducted in the travel industry just doesn’t fly anymore, if you’ll excuse the pun. Dyninno’s personalized, highly responsive way of providing customers the assistance they require is, I believe, becoming a new industry standard.”
For his next step, Weinstein is pursuing innovative ways to leverage his vision of the deliberately complementary nature of Dyninno’s core businesses. He’s particularly focused on the synergistic relationship between global travel and financial technology, known as “fintech”, defined by the use of technology and innovation to compete with traditional methods for the delivery of financial services. For example, Weinstein is now directing Dyninno’s fintech division to provide its travel customers with the opportunity to secure financing and loans for their trips as well as an ability to send remittances abroad and to transact in local currencies. “We can streamline the customization and building of travel and fintech products to help people see the world and send money to their loved ones, people who never thought this kind of a world was accessible to them,” Weinstein says. “It’s an exciting time. The possibilities are endless.”
Speaking with Weinstein reveals how much he has been shaped by the philosophy and culture of Silicon Valley and how his business approach reflects its entrepreneurial ethos of using technology — not to replace human labor or human effort but rather — to complement and enhance it. Pushing the boundaries of technological innovation seems part of his DNA. According to Weinstein, “Silicon Valley bred in me an ideology of using technology to help the world, to help people do things better and more efficiently. This same vision drives DYNINNO. We take communication, which is an essential tool for any sales business, and we leverage technology to make the experience better adapted to serve our customers and clients.”
The company’s travel division, International Travel Network (ITN) through its consumer-facing brand, ASAP Tickets, sells over 50,000 airfares each month, primarily complex, multi-stop travel packages. Its network of travel agents assists diverse language-speaking customers from professionally staffed call centers in countries around the world, such as the Philippines (English and Tagalog), Colombia (Spanish), India (Hindi), Latvia and Moldova (English and Romanian), and Egypt (Arabic). New call centers are being envisioned to serve Chinese and Portuguese speakers. Overall, DYNNINO’s portfolio enterprises generated revenues of over $800 million in 2019, its best year ever.
“For transactions that are complex, the client-agent relationship is invaluable. This is where we differentiate ourselves from everybody else.”
Because his path took him from humble roots in San Francisco to becoming a global entrepreneur, Weinstein understands the importance of teamwork and leadership. He is a passionate believer in growing and promoting talent from within the company. “No matter how smart you are or how well-developed your business model is, you always need a strong and committed team to be truly successful,” Weinstein says. “I’ve been lucky to find talented and ambitious people to help me expand our business, and I want to make sure they stay with us as we continue to grow.”