TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring US-based opaque hotel deal search service BiddingTraveler.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
A publicity-shy software developer (with lots of experience doing these kinds of things) and his elite team of assistants!
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
We've been fortunate enough to have had made decent money in a past life, and we keep our current costs really low, so that makes us a little more privileged than most.
Since then, we've had some interest from investors, but we don't need the money right now. There was a "How do I buy stock in this company?" IM that came in over the online help chat channel that made me laugh. (Don't worry, that's not the "interest from investors" I'm referring to.)
What problem are you trying to solve?
Getting a deal on a hotel is a nuisance these days.
All the big and famous OTAs have become so successful that you can no longer get a deal, because the prices are the same everywhere you look.
In the old days, the OTAs would negotiate great rates from suppliers and pass some of those savings on to you, so you could do better than the traditional retail channel. Now they've decided to keep all the savings to themselves. Sucks to be a consumer!
Describe the business, core products and services?
We're focused on helping people navigate the opaque channel, because this is the one of the last remaining ways you can consistently get savings no matter where or when you want to go.
Our first oferring is a suite of tools for navigating Priceline's Name Your Own Price hotel product.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
We love and want bargain hunters - those people willing to give up the freedom of choosing that exact hotel in exchange for a discount.
We think that technology and user participation will help these people experience the best of both worlds, opaque and traditional retail. We'll help you see through the opaque market!
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
We were fortunate to have a lot of great early feedback from the road warriors at Flyertalk. There's definitely something to be said about shipping early and often.
Throw it out there, see what sticks, and then throw some more!
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
I feel lame for saying it, because it's so often used as a crutch, but we're focused on getting the eyeballs first.
We're been so far exceptional at controlling costs and keeping overhead so drastically low that we think we can eke out decent profitability using just advertising.
SWOT analysis - strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
Our strength is definitely the emphasis on technology and the experience of having built many past software products.
We compete mainly with forums or bulletin boards, which are the natural ways for people to share information about the opaque channel. But, we are 100% sure we have a better product.
On the flipside, as a new offering, that means our primary problem is one of awareness. We're competing with inertia: years of people's habits and muscle memory going to these forums and knowing their brands.
We've just got to get the word out there that we're better, one blog or publication at a time.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
The interesting thing is that you have to remember, people are pretty apathetic and will generally go "that's nice" or "cool, go and do it" unless they REALLY care about you or what you're doing.
So, we really didn't get any feedback advising us not to do it. Most of the negative feedback was centered around an early version of the site that basically had no meat if you weren't using Internet Explorer.
We had to scramble quickly to fix that one. But other than that feedback was pretty supportive.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
One of the hardest things for us has been our Google ranking. Some days I feel like I want to smack the search quality team when I see what garbage they're currently ranking above us.
So I'd like to be able to rank within the top 5 spots for the keywords we're interested in by that time.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.