Hopper Hauls In $12M More, Harnesses Big Data for Travel Discovery
It’s a big day for big data. One of the local flag-bearers of the field has raised a sizable venture round as it prepares to unveil its online travel product to the world.
Cambridge, MA- and Montreal-based Hopper is announcing today a $12 million Series B round led by OMERS Ventures, the VC arm of one of Canada’s biggest pension funds. Previous investors Brightspark Ventures and Atlas Venture also participated in the financing. The money comes about a year after Hopper announced its last round; the startup has now raised $22 million to date.
Hopper is starting to do beta signups and plans to go live with its site later this year. The company isn’t saying a lot about its product yet, but it’s all about travel discovery—finding things to do and places to go that you didn’t know existed. That’s as opposed to travel search, which assumes you know something about what you’re looking for, says Fred Lalonde, Hopper’s co-founder and CEO.
Lalonde recently gave me some hypothetical examples of travel discovery. Say you want to find good deals from Boston to a beach where you can do scuba diving, and you’re not sure how much a hotel would cost, but you’re open to traveling to different kinds of places. Or say you’re looking for a vacation rental in Spain that’s within walking distance to a golf course. Presumably Hopper will be able to help you find such things more effectively than the status quo, which is searching through a bunch of websites.
The key is harnessing all the data that’s out there on the Web. Lalonde contends that user-generated content—blogs, photos, and so forth—contains more high-quality information than the travel sites we typically use today. “If you knew what you were missing when you travel, you would be shocked,” he says.
To access all that data, Hopper has built its own infrastructure, with plenty of servers and software, to crawl the Web and structure the information. And it has aggregated about half a billion Web pages about travel. “I think we are already the largest structured database of travel out there,” Lalonde says.
Now the challenge is rolling out the right user experience. That is one of the main things the team in Cambridge is working on now. “It will look like nothing you’ve ever seen,” Lalonde says. (He adds that Hopper has been able to recruit talent from bigger local companies like TripAdvisor, Carbonite, and Endeca/Oracle. The startup has 20-some employees currently.)
I asked Lalonde about where Hopper fits into the bigger trends in big data. “Companies are stepping back and looking at their data assets,” he says, and they are “rebuilding a lot of their business practices” around big data and analytics. In the travel sector, this means some companies are looking to form partnerships with Hopper that wouldn’t have before, he says. (Look for news on that in the future.)
What’s more, the whole IT landscape is changing. “Business models are different, the technology is different, the user experience is different,” says Lalonde. We’re starting to see new tech companies, “built from the ground up, consumer and enterprise plays that are just entirely disruptive,” he says.
So who is Hopper looking to disrupt? Lalonde doesn’t say explicitly, but travel guidebooks, certain media sites, and big guys like Google and TripAdvisor might want to watch their backs.