Hipmunk CEO Adam Goldstein founded the metasearch company shortly after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010. The company was acquired in September by Concur. Goldstein, who served as a judge at the Phocuswright Conference's Innovation Summit in Los Angeles earlier this month, spoke with senior editor Danny King at the conference.
Q: Why did so many companies pitch travel-planning-type apps?
A: Every year, you see about five or six of those, and every year they go out of business or they pivot. [The founders] think, I don't like how much time it takes to plan travel, therefore it must be a huge global problem, when in fact it isn't. Researching travel is something people actually enjoy.
Q: Where did Hipmunk get it right, relative to its competitors?
A: There aren't that many flight metasearch sites. People shy away from it, and for good reason: there's very little money in it. Every other travel site prior to Hipmunk prioritized price over everything else. That assumed that every single person was price-sensitive, which isn't true. We've always shown prices, but frequent travelers were not being well served by the competition, which showed price to the detriment of everything else. So that's where the notion of sorting by 'agony' [dictating the listing order using a combination of price, number of stops and trip duration] came from, and the presentation of information visually -- all geared toward helping people who travel more than twice a year.
Q: Have things changed since Concur acquired Hipmunk?
A: Very little. We have the same organization, same team structure, same reporting structure, with the exception that instead of a board, I report to [Concur executive vice president of global products] Tim MacDonald. They have a lot of experience in this sort of blurring of consumer and business with [mobile travel organizer] TripIt, an acquisition they made five years ago. They took a product that was already used by a lot of frequent travelers, and they helped that company scale massively. So it's a similar rationale for us. We're the only consumer-facing travel site that really overrepresents among frequent travelers, so we provide something their product doesn't have, and we've got access to all of their expertise.
Q: Travelocity founder Terry Jones said that voice-activated travel technology will be the next big area of opportunity. Do you agree?
A: I think voice is overrated, because you have to be willing to be heard, and a lot of people, whether they're on the subway or at work, don't want to be speaking out loud.
Q: Some travel-industry leaders have expressed concern over president-elect Trump's potential impact on travel because of fears that he will further tighten border security. Your thoughts?
A: I'm going to answer that in my professional capacity [smiling]. I don't think we know what is actually going to happen as far as the dollar vs. other currencies, which is one of the biggest levers in travel. If you look at the markets over the last couple of weeks, it doesn't seem like anyone really knows what's going to happen to the dollar; they're waiting on staff appointments and things like that. But travel is a huge segment of the economy, and it has a constituency in almost every state. Senators recognize the importance of inbound and outbound travel in terms of jobs, so I would be surprised if you saw four years from now that there was a hugely different travel pattern than from today.