Wednesday, December 19, 2007

TripIt Sessions: Interview with TripIt CEO Gregg Brockway


The BOOT remarked recently on the entry of travel start-up TripIt into the A-league of start ups for 2007 through its anointment through its admission by Valley A-listers Michael Arrington and Jason Calacanis into the Techcrunch40 conference. I blogged about that and my initial experiences in using the product. Through the power of the interweb this post led to a chance to interview TripIt Founder and CEO Gregg Brockway. Here are some of the stories from that conversation.

Where did the TripIt idea come from

Tripit’s pitch to the online travel consumer bombarded with too much information is to give the consumer one place to send all of the confirmations that are generated from suppliers and retailers to be stored and organised in one spot. From that one spot recommendations and ancillary services can be provided. The idea came to Brockway and co-founders Scott Hintz and Andy Denmark from two related trends

1. booking travel online is hard. It should be easy as online travel is 10+ years old and a mature market but it is still hard to do. Multiple sites, multiple formats and big value items; and

2. the supplier direct market is the fastest growing section increasing the number of sites consumers are booking on to put together a holiday.

Oh – and the founders have an addiction to start ups.

New features coming out regularly. Latest was integration into online calendars (hotelmarketing.com).

Where did the founders come from?

Brockway was part of the crew that built up Hotwire and sold it to Expedia (then part of IAC). He then moved into a divisional president role heading up Classic Vacations - the luxury travel and offline part of Expedia. As Gregg admitted, hardly a good home for an Internet focused executive.

How hard is it to connect to a supplier? Do you need their co-operation?

Brockway says they have invested a lot up front in building a system that can easily adapt to different data fields and structures. A new site/supplier can be added “in a few hours” to the list of those that can have there data exported into a TripIt combined itinerary. The selection processes for which supplier to do next is easy – whatever are submitted the most by users that are not already in the system. Biggest challenge to face is PDF itineraries. They recently launched the first version of their PDF reading functionality which is working on a vendor by vendor basis. Once they have that right the number two challenge is when email confirmation is a link to details on a web page.

Other team and company bits and pieces

  • Staff: 10 staff.
  • Traffic: First full month of traffic was 45,000 users. Month two “bigger than month one”. The part I liked about this traffic story was that a mention in Lifehacker drew more traffic than a mention in the New York Times.
  • Users: 40% of users are outside the US. Not what they expected.

How did you raise your money

It took TripIt six months to put the product in a state before it could rais its million dollar round with O'Reilly AlphaTech. Needed to have an alpha to show the businesses. Brockway believes it is a challenging environment for travel startups to get funding. This is mainly because travel is not the hot sector that it once was in VC activity, especially compared to video, social networking, alternative energy etc.

Revenue?

Advertising!

My Take

A lot of the pieces are in place for TripIt to succeed. Brockway and his founders know the space and have thought this through. They have cash. I can see the need for the product. I have just this week booked a flight for Madame BOOT to return to the homeland for a visit (Italy). It involves two separately booked flights on two separate carriers with two separate confirmation slips. Last week I booked a family trip to New Zealand. Three sets of confirmation (air, car and farmhouse). Monetisation should not been an issue. If TripIt can connect to a critical mass of suppliers and generate traffic, then monetisation is easy as travel advertisers love to pay for access to travel consumers. The challenge remains around acquiring the traffic. This is a big challenge. The meta-search start ups get their traffic in an arbitrage game between search engines and travel advertisers. The Travel 2.0 start-ups get their traffic by becoming SEO/Long Tail magicians. Brockway and team are going to the harder route of “build a fantastic product and they will come”. Once out of beta the product should be good enough – question is “will they come”?

UPDATE May 1 08- during the interview Brockway hinted at the imminent closing of a funding round. Announcement a week or so ago that a round closed. Sabre is an investor. See update here.

1 comment:

FiascoDG said...

I personally find it hard to see tripits commercial model working as it is a post booking model and there are so many prebooking services in the market that could easily move into their space once the hard work is done or more importantly who have already captured the client in the the trip planing market.

The local mover in the market here is planitonearth from webjet. Although only in its launch phase it allows you to agregate all your content together and share it with friends etc as well as export the details to outlook and use a basic map interface.

The idea has legs and with a bit of commitment it will get there. i think it will satisfy the requirements of the local market whoose suppliers given our regional market size are realistically not likely to make it into the tripit model.