Frustrated with the flight search process and final prices always being higher than the original search, two friends founded PaperFlies two years ago.
The Netherlands-based startup wants to offer flight deals with prices that can actually be booked by displaying an offer and all the dates you can fly for that particular price.
From there the business has grown, extended the deals offered from just a handful of destinations and combined a metasearch engine with the flights from online travel agencies.
Most recently PaperFlies launched a metasearch-only service for the English market but there are plans to make all products and services available as well as introduce hotels.
The startup, which was founded by Jens Steenhuis and Bob Stock, now has a team of 12 including the founders and developers.
PaperFlies is currently privately funded but says it will seek investment at some point.
Cofounder Jens Steenhuis says:
"We want to create the best, coolest and most complete flight search website of the web. Capital for growth is a good thing, but right now we don't want to be held back in our creativity. When we believe our product is the way we want it to be, we will go seek a financial injection."
Competition in the space is as PaperFlies says "fierce" including players such as Kayak, Hipmunk and Momondo but, according to the startup, they only "offer the standardized flight search module."
It believes its differentiator lies in inspirational products such as a 'theme' product it plans to launch by the end of the year enabling users to choose a category e.g. backpacking, citytrip Europe or tropical islands. Then, for each category a personal deal page is generated showing around 20/30 destinations along with prices for the preferred dates.
Revenue for the business is based on commission from the volume of redirects to the airline or travel agency website where the consumer ends up booking.
Q&A with co-founder Jens Steenhuis:
What problem does the business solve?
We make it fun and easy again to book your flight. Most of the websites out there do not offer a complete comparison and also have a fairly crappy UI/UX. Other than that we also inspire and give advice about each destination.
The travel agency at the corner, with the friendly reliable consultant who gave you a ready-made travel advice has become past tense by the rise of many search engines on the internet. Now, we are here to help!
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
In November 2012 the first version of the website was launched. We started out as a 'Daily Deal Website' offering an overview of the best available flight ticket deals on a daily basis. The back-end involved a unique system which would go through thousands of flights a day only selecting the best possible prices. Such as Amsterdam – New York for Euros 350 or Amsterdam – Tokyo for Euros 440. These prices are shocking and this resulted in a fast recognition and growth under customers in The Netherlands, who are especially fond of a good deal. We soon got a lot of requests from customers if we could arrange deals for specific destinations and departure dates. This led us to develop our search functionality.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Everybody likes a good deal and is always looking for the cheapest flight possible. By just one search on PaperFlies you will get a very complete overview of all the flights and you can easily save in between Euros 20 and 60 per person on your flight.
Other than our flight search tool, we want to inspire and help travelers choose a destination, just like your old-fashioned local travel agency would do. We give advice!
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Our acquisition strategy is essentially based on content: social media, blogging, travel guides. Besides that we also noticed that word of mouth does a lot for us as well. Which confirms that the product we are working on is popular with the crowds.
Google’s algorithm offers more and more advantages towards websites with quality content. Our soon to be added PaperGuides (already available in Dutch) offer quality content for the customer. The PaperGuides offer an extensive story about a destination, which is informative and fun to read.
Often this is scarce as many flight ticket websites are mainly focused on SEO and therefore keep repeating the words "cheap flights to .." and "flights" so many times in their content that a consumer is fed up after two sentences, the content is not even created to be read, it’s just for search engines.
We believe Google will keep improving its search engine and eventually will reward good quality content more and more.
Travel inspired is our slogan and this is especially true for our social media channels. PaperFlies is creating a fan-base by offering travel inspiration to all our followers.
By making use of the Google adwords API we are able to be very competitive in our bidding per keyword. Same counts for Facebook ads.
The newsletter offers you the best deals on a weekly basis.
For example our 'win tickets to Ibiza' promotion we have at the moment gives fans the opportunity to win tickets by sharing the promotion.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
As PaperFlies emerges as a brand, we will start offering quality curated content like city travel guides, trip tips and hotel suggestions. Our goal is to build the most complete flight search website of the web. Where many flight ticket websites require users to enter a specific destination, our next step will be to launch inspirational products.
With everything we develop we pay attention to the need in the market and the fact that it is easy to scale globally. In three years’ time we want be the flight search engine where the majority of the travelers go to find the best possible flight for their trip or to get inspired. A key player globally.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?
The travel industry is one of the biggest online industries. Flights, especially, are really popular. But the industry has been innovating slowly. It’s easy to name more than twenty flight search engines who look and function exactly the same. It’s really uninspiring and often the UI is not great, people looking for a holiday should already experience fun while searching. This gives opportunities to startups like us. Offering inspiration, having a better UI/UX and by always finding the cheapest price makes PaperFlies the complete package.
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?
That would probably be Hipmunk, which is also a startup trying to disrupt the flight search industry. It is great at branding and is also innovative and working with a fairly young team, but in our eyes it lacks inspiration and only focuses on that one (flight) product.
Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup?
It would make sense for OTAs to buy us. You see that happening more often. Metasearch engines are booming and have proved they are here to stay. It’s almost necessary for an OTA to own a metasearch website if the OTA wants to keep growing like they did in the past. It allows for more control.
It would also be possible that other metasearch engines will be interested in buying us if we our growth remains this strong. It’s an easy way to instantly gain control in the European market and increase global market share.
Describe your startup in three words?
Inspiring, disruptive, bold
PaperFlies is a startup quietly getting on with what it set out to do - improve the flight search and comparison process and try and inject some fun along the way.
It's doing the job methodically with little fanfare or marketing budget or even large investment - first the Netherlands, then metasearch and then an English version. Now, it's looking to further products - hotels as well as different products - searches by theme to provide inspiration.
And, its attitude seems realistic in terms of when it might be right to attract investors or should that be idealistic? It's hard to say because the PaperFlies team has decided that creativity comes first and it does not want to be held back by the bean counters.
The user-interface looks good and seems intuitive and it will be interesting to see whether it manages to retain a good UX once it brings the inspirational elements on board.
The other area where it is realistic is the huge competition it is facing in the market, naming Kayak and Hipmunk, as just two among many. But, PaperFlies boldly carries on trying to improve the experience with a watchful eye on what is happening in the wider market in terms of OTAs snapping up metasearch players.