TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring Germany-based HotelMaps, an interactive map platform to find accommodation around the world.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
We are a startup company based in southern Germany. Our first product was the German job search engine Opportuno. Opportuno has been launched in 2007 as a bootstrap with some radically new features (at the time) like advanced deep-web crawling and a user interface called "Instant View", which can be seen as an early anticipation of what is now known as Google Instant.
Opportuno is still our main product. It is profitable and allows us to allocate resources to new ventures.
We started to work on cartographic hotel finders in 2009, mainly because we were unhappy with existing travel websites.
In 2010, we launched our first hotel finder called Hotelprise in Germany, which allowed us to build up knowledge and experience in the travel industry.
In December 2011, we launched HotelMaps, our first project with international focus.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
- Andreas Bogen - prior to founding Opportuno, Andreas worked for a global strategy consulting firm. Focus areas of his consulting work include innovation and growth as well as marketing for high-tech companies. Earlier in his career, Andreas worked for four years as a project and account manager in an international online agency. Andreas holds an MBA from the University of Cambridge, UK.
- Micheal Bogen - Michael is an experienced software engineer, specialized in large scale database applications and advanced web technologies. His prior work experience includes consulting and software development in the public and banking sector and database development at Oracle. Michael studied computer science in Germany and the USA.
HotelMaps has been financed using free cash flow from our initial product, Opportuno.com.
What problem are you trying to solve?
It always bothered us that most hotel reservation and travel websites look and feel like they were designed ten years ago.
Overloaded with information and advertising, they show little focus on the user. Above all, we think the implementation of maps has often been neglected. A tiny map with dots marked with A, B, C and a corresponding table is not what we consider a user friendly solution.
This is particularly odd considering that the location is probably the most important information when booking a hotel, along with the room rate and category.
Describe the business, core products and services?
We built our hotel finder entirely on maps. Different from other recently launched map based hotel websites such as Hipmunk or Google’s own Hotel Finder, we want to show prices and star ratings directly on the map.
Since this is not possible with off-the-shelf solutions for Google maps, we had to develop an entirely new framework on top of Google maps.
Our technology allows us to put the most relevant information first. Each hotel icon on the map is marked with the room price and star rating. In areas where hotels are close together, icons are grouped into clusters to avoid overlaps.
Room rates and star ratings are permanently visible on the map, allowing the user to scan the most relevant information at a glance.
More than 200,000 hotels worldwide are available via HotelMaps. Once the user enters travel dates and hotel requirements, HotelMaps sources real-time room rates and availability data from more than 30 major travel sites and displays the best prices directly on the map.
Filters for price and ratings can be applied using sliders, which instantly change the results on the map.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
- Customers: OTAs and booking websites
- Users: Travelers looking for hotels – both for business and vacation
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
We are a metasearch engine similar to Hipmunk, Trivago or Kayak. Thus we follow the same business model: our revenues are provisions from OTAs, which means we are profitable as long as our long term traffic acquisition costs stay below revenues.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- We have developed a technical solution that cannot be copied overnight
- We are a small and flexible team, and we can adjust quickly to a changing environment
- We do not have celebrity investors or the financial resources of a huge corporation
- We do have a USP in a huge and growing market
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- Google as a competitor
- Google as a search engine/ traffic source
- Google as the provider of Google Maps
Most people actually like the idea and believe it will find its fans. Once a user is used to map-based search, it is hard to go back to the clogged tables of conventional hotel finders.
The main criticism we hear is that Google will dominate our market soon, leaving little room for small innovators.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
Important metrics for success are, among others, the number of visits and the conversion rate. However, we do not publish specific target values or long-term goals. After all, one of our strengths is our flexibility.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.