Hipmunk And The Flight Search Evolution

If you’ve ever flown the friendly skies, you’re quite aware that it’s a little more complicated than it might seem. The tedious process of finding cheap flights with trusted carriers and acceptable time tables really isn’t that friendly at all. In fact the whole experience is quite a pain in the ‘you-know-what’. This week we are featuring an entrepreneur that is responsible for revolutionizing that process.

Adam Goldstein is one of two founders, and the CEO, of Hipmunk.com. Hipmunk is a website to help you find plane tickets online. Sounds familiar, right? You’d think so, but if you were to check out the site and even use it to search for your next flight – you’d never look back.

“What Hipmunk does differently is we show you all of the relevant results on a single page and we do it using a graphical display that makes it really easy to understand how long flights are and what the tradeoffs are in terms of price and duration. It’s a much more visual and intuitive way to understand what the flight options are. Hipmunk takes the agony out of searching for flights because right now it’s just a hugely painful and time consuming process.”

In our interview with Adam, we wanted to know about the startup process and what went into developing a search-engine type of website.

“Towards the beginning of my senior year in college I was thinking, ‘I want to start a company, but what’s it going to be about?’ I had this thought about travel, but really my thinking was very broad. I thought there was something that could be improved about the process of searching for travel but I’m not quite sure what it is. I think it’ll be a website but is it going to be a website for finding plane tickets or maybe we’ll specialize in local bus information or what – there are a lot of different facets. It wasn’t until I sat down with my co-founder (Steve Huffman) and we started writing code that we started experimenting with different stuff.”

“We’ve been really fortunate to be raising money at a time when it’s relatively easy to come by in Silicon Valley. We had angel investors onboard from the very start and a couple weeks ago we announced that we raised a ‘Series A’ round – so like a full on venture capital round – from a great firm called Ignition Partners that is based up in Seattle. The biggest challenges haven’t been in fundraising but more in getting the deals done that we need to do within the industry because we’re trying to sync with the airline industry make it easier for people to find flights and similarly stop showing people just the cheapest flights, even if they’re stupid long, as the best options. So we’re taking a completely different perspective than all of our competitors. And we just need to get that out in front of the airlines and travel agencies and show them how we’re improving the process and show them what’s in it for them effectively so we can get those direct deals and start sending more people directly to the airline websites to buy their tickets.”

The statement Adam makes (‘we’re taking a completely different perspective than all of our competitors’) is extremely poignant. In any business venture, it is imperative to always focus on ‘doing it better’ or having a completely unique approach – it will make or break you. When we asked Adam if he was ever planning on expanding the site to also revolutionize the entire travel experience as a whole (i.e. hotels, car rentals, etc.), he had this to say:

“The trade off has always been between features and focus. We could do lots of cool stuff with hotels, with mobile apps, car rentals, packages, whatever – you could go on for days listing stuff that our competitors do, but we’ve got this really great group of users that absolutely love what we’re doing with flights and we want to make sure that if and when we jump onto other stuff that we don’t neglect flights because that’s what got people to us in the first place.”

Respecting your audience? Your customers? Within growth, there will always be critics who preferred the old ways; people resistant to change, and that’s ok. What Adam points out is that, with Hipmunk, he would prefer his site to be the authority for flight searches. He’s aware that his initial mission, his focus, was to solve one particular problem. I imagine that’s why:

Once we launched the site, it turned into a much bigger thing than we’d expected and it happened pretty quickly. In our first week we sold a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of plane tickets. It was pretty cool.

Being a tech company, we hoped Adam would have some great advice for BossStart readers who want to pursue a similar vein of entrepreneurialism.

“I’ve been getting a bunch of question from just random people recently who ask me, ‘How do you start a tech company if you yourself are not an engineer or a programmer?’ I think we’ve reached a time now where a lot of people in the US are eager to start something but they don’t know how to actually get it started because they don’t know how to build it. The answer I would have there is: The best thing you could possibly do is spend a couple months teaching yourself just the basics of how to program. It’s not necessarily because you’re going to be the one who ends up building your site – although if you can that it’s great because you’ll be in a much better position to attract technical people. You don’t come across as someone who’s totally naive about what’s going on if you want a technical co-founder (which is sort of the new requirement for any company in Silicon Valley) to invest in your company at all. You need to be able to bring one on. Generally speaking, investors are not looking to invest in people who don’t seem to understand what they’re doing.”

To learn more about Adam Goldstein & Hipmunk.com please visit:

Website: www.Hipmunk.com

Blog: blog.Hipmunk.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Hipmunk

Twitter: twitter.com/thehipmunk

About the Author: Daniel Ballard

Daniel is a Writer and Entrepreneur. He is Co-Founder/Main Author/Editor of BossStart and Co-Editor/Featured Author for BossStart's sister site, PauseStart, launching early 2012

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