Hopper, With $8M in New VC Bucks, Looks to Leapfrog Online Travel Search Via Big Data
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information from 100 million Web pages. The finer technical details elude me, but the company is applying cluster computing techniques to build and analyze what it calls the world’s largest database of travel information. Throw in some machine learning and advanced database technologies to make things fast, and you have a pretty sophisticated machine on your hands. (Interestingly, Lalonde says understanding the sentiment of consumer reviews plays a relatively small role in the ranking algorithm; it’s more important that the New York Times reviewed a particular hotel, for example.)
Much of this sounds a lot like what Google already does, or is trying to do—especially with its recent acquisition of ITA. So what’s Hopper’s plan to beat the search giant in travel?
“Google will always be about search, and ITA is good at flight [search],” Lalonde says. “We’re not in this to take away from the general search process. But we believe the discovery aspect [of travel] is entirely unique. We’re trying to inspire the user and guide them through the discovery process.” What’s more, he adds, “There are tons of companies that compete well against Google. We think you stand a good chance of making an impression on the consumer side if you find a place where Google’s strengths are actually weaknesses.”
That’s much easier said than done, of course. Plenty of startups say they do better than Google for particular kinds of search—usually because of a computing advantage plus specializing in those types of queries—yet they all face big marketing challenges. For now, Hopper is “very focused on building the engineering team and scaling up the data,” Lalonde says. That will be challenging enough, without even worrying about making money just yet. (He says the business model is based on referral fees.) The company is currently running private beta trials and getting feedback from a few thousand users.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, Lalonde has heard about the ongoing engineering talent crunch in Boston, especially for startups—though it’s certainly not unique to Boston. But he’s confident he’ll be able to recruit some top talent once people see what Hopper is building.
“The problems we’re solving are unique,” he says.
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