"Concur TripLink with TripIt Pro is the preferred solution for customers who aren’t a fit for Concur Travel, an online booking tool."
Quote from an official for SAP Concur, in a story about the closure of Hipmunk on PhocusWire this week.
Each Friday, PhocusWire dissects and debates an industry trend or new development covered on our site that week.
As cold and neutralized by PR as a company could muster, SAP Concur may well have summarized the history of Hipmunk in one sentence.
It's in stark contrast to a lot of the language surrounding the Silicon Valley-born company in the past.
When the company first burst onto the scene in 2010, it was seen by many a gushing journalist on the West Coast tech press as a "Kayak killer" and the "future of travel search."
Hipmunk's advantage, so the story goes, was its way of removing "agony" from the process and give users a new and intuitive way to find flight prices.
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It was certainly different and, in many respects, deserved the verbal accolades that many were giving it.
But if the press and a growing group of users were euphoric in their praise for what co-founders Adam Goldstein and Steve Huffman were trying to do, an inherently skeptical industry was less enamored.
Hipmunk's attempt to break through, despite raising $55 million in funding over the years, was always going to be difficult when the likes of Kayak's Steven Hafner couldn't resist an opportunity to knock it.
When playing a word association game on Center Stage at The Phocuswright Conference in 2012, Hafner - who had previously called Hipmunk "roadkill" - said:
- Interviewer: "Hipmunk?"
- Hafner: "Irrelevant."
- Interview: "What happened to roadkill? It was so much more creative."
- Hafner: "There's no explaining what VCs will invest in."
The problem that Hipmunk found itself in fairly quickly (it was lagging behind Google Flights within months of the search giant's lukewarm effort at a metasearch service and it had a mere fraction of the traffic of Kayak) was that for all the buzz and creative design, users still had their go-to brands and didn't find traditional ways of search as agonizing as expected.
Even with signing a white label accommodation deal with fellow West Coast darling Airbnb in 2011, something that very few brands have ever managed to achieve, Hipmunk's opportunity to make its mark and kill the competition was arguably over by 2014.
The brand's sale to Concur in 2016 was seen by some as a lifeline, saving it from an slow and lonely death as Google Flights rose to prominence in the mid-2000s.
Things were looking promising when, in 2017, its new owner backed the launch of Concur Hipmunk - "a lightweight travel and expense product that takes the work out of business travel and helps small businesses save money."
But, again, either through a lack of usage or simply that business travelers are happy with their existing tools (or, likely, a bit of both), Hipmunk's revolutionary interface and process has found itself to be down the pecking order of priorities.
Goldstein and Huffman, both extremely personable founders and always willing to give their time, should be applauded for trying to achieve what eventually turned out to be the impossible - overhauling consumer behavior online and going up against existing brands or services.
The story of Hipmunk is one that should act as a cautionary story that for all the praise and innovation, some problems are just not there to be fixed.
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