Hipmunk on the Make: The First-Birthday Interview

8/22/11Follow @wroush

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getting people to buy flights and hoping they end up booking a hotel at the same time.

X: Was it part of your original business plan to offer hotel search, or did you add that after you realized how lucrative it was?

AG: Before we launched, I don’t think we fully understood the business model. We just knew that if flights worked out, it was a natural next step for us. But the path we’re taking is a pretty well-worn one—you start with flights and then hotels, and then cars and packages and local deals.

X: With your flight search, you’re known primarily for the distinctive visual way you present flight options. Your hotel search is also very visual, with an emphasis on maps and a hotel’s proximity to various attractions. How did you decide what the “Hipmunk style” was going to be when it came to hotel search?

AG: The inspiration came from our own way of thinking about searching for hotels. We think in different ways depending on the purpose of the trip. When I’m traveling for business I have a very different way of thinking than when I’m traveling for vacation. Our first version [of hotel search] was very much built around the leisure traveler. It was built to show the interesting parts of a city; it answered the question “just tell me where I should stay.” But as I traveled more for work, I realized that specific geography mattered a lot too. If I have a particular place I need to be in a city, I need to know what hotels are nearby. So we have rolled out a bunch of features to facilitate that kind of searching. We give you a little flag that you can drag around to whatever point you want, and it will sort the options by distance in real time. That’s parallel to the “time sliders” in our flight search, which let you say “I can’t leave before this time or after this time.”

X: Before this interview you mentioned that your mobile apps have been getting a lot of uptake.

AG: This has been one of the other highlights of the year, that we were able to port the Hipmunk experience from the Web and make it more useful on a mobile phone or tablet. There are two ways you might be searching for a flight. One is sitting down in advance and checking the airfares and seeing if there’s a reasonable flight. The other is that you’re at the airport and your flight got canceled and you need to find a new one right now. So the immediate value of using Hipmunk on your iPhone or iPad is solving what’s almost a bigger pain point.

X: Do you think mobile usage of Hipmunk could eventually overtake desktop Web usage?

AG: It’s an interesting question. We are kind of hedging our bets. I do think we are nowhere near the equilibrium point. If it’s getting to the point that 90 percent of our users are mobile, then the only sensible thing to do will be to divert our development resources and say the desktop just isn’t where it’s at anymore. But I think there are certain things you can do on the website that the mobile app experience just can’t compete with, and those tend to be the quick-turnaround features like the flag on the map that are fairly involved if you want to do them in a native app.

X: You mentioned rental car search and vacation package search—is that where you’re going next?

AG: I think if we wanted to roll out cars and vacation packages, we could easily do it this year. But we wanted to take a break after doing a big project [i.e. hotel search] and make sure it’s at the level of usefulness that our brand stands for before we … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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