A new travel startup called ShareTrips focuses on bringing friends, family and groups together in the hotel selection process. Rather than making a decision in a vacuum, or an endless string of e-mails with links to multiple hotels, the service offers real-time collaboration for hotel booking.
The website allows users to email or message a unique identifier code to other participants, so each participant can have a voice in the decision-making process. The website has an audio/video button, so the travelers can be directly connected with each other to discuss their hotel options.
This interactive, real-time collaboration is most definitely forward-looking, as travelers begin to look out for real-time solutions that allow them to collaborate with others on important travel decisions while still also offering the lowest available rates.
The Vine is below, followed by the Tnooz Q&A with co-founder Joe Lima.
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
I’ve been in travel for many years. As the “travel guy” amongst my friends, I was always the guy asked to book the travel. Traditional online travel websites only allowed one person to view a webpage and select a hotel for multiple people.
We created ShareTrips, a travel website with online collaboration tools so that people traveling together can interact with a shared webpage and provide input to simplify the booking process for everyone traveling.
We did more than just add screen sharing technology to a travel website. Although ShareTrips has elements of screen sharing, our website has these benefits for people booking travel together:
What is the size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
- No downloading or launching of a separate sharing application. Sharing works within the browser.
- Chat/instant messaging integrated into the website eliminating issues with friends/colleagues who use different chat applications.
- Video conferencing integrated into the website with no downloading needed.
- Real time interactivity for all users. No need to shift control from one user to another. Users viewing a shared webpage see multiple cursors on their screens representing the interactions of other viewers.
- Multiple actions can occur on one screen allowing for real time interaction between remote users. For example, one user can enter a search destination while another enters search dates.
- Sharing is limited to a webpage rather than an entire screen or window thereby allowing for sharing without sacrificing privacy (e.g., notifications and private messages appearing on your screen will not be seen by others.)
- Sharing within ShareTrips is limited to only certain pages. For example, hotel search results are shared while payment screens remain private.
The ShareTrips team is comprised of three people plus two advisors and includes several Hotwire alums. Joe Lima is CEO, Lee Heyne is CTO, and Josh Skoko is CMO. Our Advisors are Clem Bason and Seth Strumph. With the exception of Lee Heyne, all key personnel have many years of travel experience. Below are the profiles for each member.
Joe Lima is a co-founder and the CEO of ShareTrips. He has worked in the travel industry for over 10 years starting with the launch team of Hotwire.com. Prior to Hotwire, Joe served in various management and consulting roles at Excite.com, Accenture and EDS (now part of Hewlett-Packard).
Lee Heyne is a co-founder and the CTO of ShareTrips. Lee is the developer and integrator of much of the online collaboration technology that powers ShareTrips. Prior to helping found ShareTrips, Lee held a variety of lead technical positions at various start-ups as well as intern positions at Qualcomm, Boeing and Honeywell.
Josh Skoko is the Chief Marketing Officer of ShareTrips. He has worked in the travel industry for over 9 years with 15 years of experience in the online marketing channel. At Hotwire, he was the Director of Online Marketing and Search Engine Marketing for seven years and significantly grew all aspects of the Hotwire Group’s online partnership marketing, affiliate marketing and search engine marketing programs.
Clem Bason is an advisor to ShareTrips. He spent seven years at The Hotwire Group, four of them as President overseeing all aspects of the Hotwire.com, Travel Ticker, and CarRentals.com businesses. Hotwire is the leading global online discount travel retailer, with over $2B in annual gross bookings, and operations in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Prior to Hotwire, Clem was at Gap Inc., McKinsey & Co., and Accenture.
Seth Strumph is an advisor to ShareTrips. Seth currently serves as head of Search Engine Marketing at Amazon.com. Prior to Amazon, Seth's broad experience in Online Travel included executive leadership positions in Engineering, Product, and Business Development at Expedia and Hotwire.com. Earlier in his career, he held Engineering development and management positions at Sun Microsystems and Broadvision.
What is your estimation of market size?
ShareTrips is currently geared toward the leisure travel market, but could certainly be used to book business travel. Our integrated online collaboration tools make booking travel easier for any trip where multiple people are traveling together. Probably the only traveller that would not find our site useful is the lone road warrior that books his/her own travel.
I’ve even used ShareTrips when traveling on my own to visit friends in a new city. By connecting and sharing my screen with friends that I am going to visit, they’ve been able to help me select a hotel that is near their home and not across town, making even a solo trip to visit friends easier.
Please describe your competition.
At this point, no other travel website that we know of has integrated online collaboration tools into their booking path like ShareTrips has done.
What is your company's revenue model and strategy for profitability?
ShareTrips’ initial inventory supplier is the Expedia Affiliate Network and earns commissions for every booking completed on the site.
What problem does the business solve?
For people who are traveling together, ShareTrips solves the coordination issue for the person stuck booking the travel for the group.
Traditional online travel websites only allow one person to view a webpage and select a hotel, even if multiple people are traveling. With ShareTrips, our integrated chat and video conferencing tools allow all travelers in a party to interact with a shared web page and provide input to simplify the booking process for everyone traveling.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
The initial idea for ShareTrips evolved when I needed to coordinate a family trip involving three couples to Bend, Oregon for a wedding. Even though we knew where we were going and why, booking the hotel took several days and several rounds of coordination.
Why should people or companies use your business?
Simple, it will save them time and it will save them money.
If ShareTrips had existed when booking that trip to Oregon, it would have saved me a lot of time. And for the other two couples, if they had booked their hotel rooms at the same time I booked mine, they would have paid a lower room rate for their hotel. They were slow to respond to me and had to book later at a higher rate.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
ShareTrips has an inherent social aspect which will lead to increased awareness. In addition, given our team’s track record at Hotwire, I think we are well positioned to make ShareTrips a success once we execute on our Marketing plans.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
We’re looking at expanding the online collaboration technology we developed to other travel products. The online travel space is very crowded and dominated by some very deep-pocketed entrenched players. Our challenge will be to remain focused on creating a service that customers find valuable and will use. Perhaps in three years time, one of those deep-pocketed entrenched players will find us valuable too.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
I find this question somewhat funny as it implies that the current players in the industry have the ability to create a better world of travel and that startups distract from that mission.
Having been an insider on the OTA side, I believe one of the challenges the industry faces is that it is dominated by a few large, entrenched players who need to maintain a short-term focus on profitability to their shareholders. It is hard to innovate in that type of environment. Given the circumstances, these players are acting quite rationally.
The Travel industry is actually many industries in one; all of them with their own complexities. From my perspective, the Travel Start Up ecosystem is a necessary and vital part of the industry that helps address these complexities.
The existence of travel start ups are a rational consequence to a set of industries that are complex; yet hamstrung by the circumstances faced by the incumbents. If there is one thing wrong with the “travel industries” it’s that the incumbents aren’t investing in travel start ups when they are nascent, but rather wait much later in the start up’s life cycle to invest, if they do at all.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
Personally, I’d like to create a company culture that is unique to us and not emulate the culture or style of any other company.
Having said that, there are traits from companies I’ve worked for and leaders I’ve worked with that I would like to emulate. Most notably, I’d like to create a company that respects it’s employees, a company that’s not afraid to experiment, a company where leaders are transparent about the decisions they make and frankly, I’d like us to have a little bit of fun as we do it.
ShareTrips certainly has a different value proposition than other hotel booking startups we've seen. And while on the surface it seems that it's basically just Hotwire for hotels but with a direct connect-to-friends hook, this might be enough to siphon off users from other "affordable hotel booking" tools out there.
Of course, the connect-to-friends hook is appealing to a very specific user, and could limit the tool's wider appeal in the sense that folks who don't need to chat with friends to make a decision won't see the difference between this and their preferred booking tool. If the prices are the same here, then those folks may not be convinced to jump ship and try something new.
As long as prices are low, the company has a solid opportunity to build a small-but-dedicated user base that can then be grown by expanding the scope of tools on the site. The dangers of this approach towards widening the user base include alienating the core users and muddying the clearly defined value proposition.
Regardless, this is a novel approach that might also be appealing to hoteliers who want to be able to chat directly to potential guests in the booking process. There is a clear potential enterprise play, offering hotel customer service representatives to offer themselves up to help users during any booking paths that include the partner hotel.