Startup Pitch: Zipkick prioritises B2B/B2C curation algorithm
Nov 12, 2014
Zipkick is a travel search and booking site with a relatively straightforward proposition – curated results based on preferences, easily booked. The business is based in San Francisco and was founded in 2012. It aims to remove the clutter of irrelevant search results and let users find what matters to them without scroll bars, radio buttons or searching thousands of different options. Its proprietary platform allows for users to input and rank their preferences, which are then stored within the profile. These preferences are then used as the search parameters, returning relevant results only. Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business. Zipkick is the result of countless failed attempts at booking travel on the go. As a former traveling consultant, searching for travel via a mobile phone was cumbersome and sifting through an overwhelming amount of results only complicated the process. After realizing the lack of mobile innovation this past decade in travel, it was time to step up and personalize search. Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel? The team consists of six domestically and 12 internationally. Jason Will and Josh Rasmussen co-founded the company. QuocNam Tran is our acting CTO and advisor, who is a Bayesian Theorist and computer science professor with more than 25 years experience. Funding arrangements? The company has been entirely self-funded by the co-founders. Estimation of market size? The domestic business travel market is $289.8B. Competition? Routehappy and Hipmunk are the closest competition since they calculate a happiness score and agony factor. Their approach doesn’t take into account the individual traveller’s preferences, social demographics and purchase behaviour to drive the calculation. Zipkick takes all of that into account for each traveller on an individual basis as well as capturing on-screen behaviour. Revenue model and strategy for profitability? Zipkick operates as a B2B and B2C company. Our proprietary patent pending algorithm is currently being tested with a licensing partner and our consumer facing apps will be available in December 2014. The B2B licensing operates on a per search licensing cost and B2C generates revenue when travellers book. What problem does the business solve? We have completely eliminated the scroll bars, sorting features and check boxes on the search results screen. Also, by only showing the most personalized results for each traveller, irrelevant and duplicative options are completely eliminated. As a result, people save a significant amount of time and have a simple and repeatable process that is uniform across all devices. How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages? There have been a number of pivots along the way since the napkin sketch more than two years ago. We actually built the algorithm for flights first and recognized the thin margins, which is the reason for shifting into hotels as our first offering. Also, our beta users have given us great feedback and those learning opportunities have been funneled into the mobile apps prior to the December release. Why should people or companies use the business? The days of searching through hundreds of results to figure out what’s most relevant are over. Travellers can easily see personalized search results within seconds that are increasing more accurate over time. Other travel companies can easily access our algorithm via an API and instantly display the most personalized search results for their customers and maintain their branding. Our goal is to save people time, simplify their travel planning process and provide an easy to use service that mirrors their excitement before and after each trip. What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)? Our team has been heavily involved within the San Francisco tech scene by demoing our company at several events, which has led to significant organic growth for the beta registration. Also, we have been fortunate to have numerous partnership opportunities come forward and are working together across those different channels. Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome? We believe our algorithm has the ability to power several large travel providers, which will account for the majority of our company’s growth. The cost to acquire B2C users has posed a challenge for existing travel companies and we will not be an exception to that. Therefore, our focus will be on growing our licensing business and continue to organically scale our consumer facing product. What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out? The largest players in the travel space are heavily dependent on advertising revenue and that’s the reason they are incentivized to display hundreds of results across multiple pages. This business model doesn’t work well with mobile and travellers are tired of searching multiple sites just to figure out what’s most relevant. People are still booking at a 7 to 1 ratio on desktop to mobile. Travel is one of that last industries to undergo a monumental shift to mobile and we are helping facilitate that. What other technology company (in or outside of travel) would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style… and why? We are most closely aligned to Netflix in terms of personalization since they are experts at recommending relevant content. I’ve always been a huge fan of Zappos because of their culture and dedication to customer service. A solid product and rock star customer service experience can take a company to new heights and that’s our mentality. Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup? Since Zipkick is predominantly driven by our algorithm and rests upon a social framework, the most likely acquisition candidates are Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo. Describe your startup in three words? Personalized travel anytime. Here’s Zipkick’s Vine:
As with most things in life, a lot of hard work, time and effort is needed to keep things simple. We are all aware of the tyranny of choice when it comes to travel options and anything which filters – or curates – these options is to be welcomed. Any tech innovation which is patent-pending has the potential to be a success, and Zipkick seems to be placing a lot of importance on the algorithm it has developed. By identifying different business models for B2B and B2C it is acknowledging that its long-term future might be more backstage than front-of-house. Not that that is a bad thing. B2C is a crowded space and there are some very big players looking at curation who have a presence, to say nothing of marketing budgets to die for. Zipkick could end up as the provider of the algorithm which helps big travel companies bring up better search results. Or it could end up as a niche tool used by the tech community in San Francisco. Either way, the outcome of its licensing pilot is probably its biggest test so far.