After time spent working at a non-travel consumer brand followed by five years at Expedia Group, Freddie Hickman felt he’d had enough of corporate life and turned his attention to a startup.
During his stint at Expedia, Hickman observed how travel companies and destination marketing organizations were investing significant budgets in marketing campaigns without being able to track their performance.
He also noted the desire from online travel agencies to be higher up the consumer purchase funnel. Hickman is now using those insights to develop HyperSQ, an “explore2earn” platform.
HyperSQ seeks to provide inspiration to travelers and to reward them for exploring the world, and it wants to attract travel brands to the concept by offering them a more effective way to target audiences.
Hickman, co-founder and CEO, says that a further important part of HyperSQ is social validation, so at launch travelers can earn without giving anything back.
“If you think of the world as covered with hexagons, a bit like What3words, as you scratch out areas, each has certain earnable traits which will determine how much you earn by simply going to that area. It’s a map-based experience and as you uncover place, you see your balance increase in value,” he says.
He adds that there is social validation just in the act of someone going to a place.
Over time, the thinking is that users will not only see, and earn from, where they’ve been but also give feedback on locations and get insight on where other travelers similar to themselves are going via customizable heatmaps.
The startup, currently in alpha testing, is looking to solve two challenges - that of inefficient marketing as well as addressing the travel inspiration stage for travelers.
The startup’s initial goal is to amass enough users in the coming months to be able to approach travel suppliers and advertisers for partnerships.
A private beta phase is expected in the next couple of months with a public beta phase to follow some time in the second quarter of 2023.
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The concept of HyperSQ is for travelers to be rewarded for visiting different places, with the value of that reward determined by factors such as whether they are some of the first visitors to the area.
At a later stage, the value placed on an area will also be determined by advertising dollars from travel businesses looking to encourage customers to a particular location.
Hickman uses the newly-opened Battersea Power Station in London as an example of how businesses can designate an area as a “hot zone” and identify the target audience they are seeking via a self-service platform.
“If I’m a target audience member on the platform, they want to make Battersea pop up, and as I walk into that area, the business gets charged a marketing fee. We take a small facilitating fee but the principle is that the business only pays for the people that enter the area and most of the fee is given to the traveler as a reward,” he says.
HyperSQ also has a blockchain element via the NEAR platform, with users given an “NFT Explore Pass” when they sign up via a mobile application. The NFT will act as a user’s record of travel.
Hickman says: “We want to create a product that is compelling and engaging enough to be fun. We’re deliberately trying to avoid the requirement of a demand and supply side initially by first creating a single player experience and getting enough users on the platform that it has utility on its own.”
He adds that the company will fund the initial “explore2earn” element from its marketing budget and that once it has built up critical mass and data on the demand side, it will start to “drip in” the supply side.
Hickman says that while the travel industry can be slow to innovate, with much of the industry controlled by a handful of players, consumers themselves are looking for new ways to “inform the decision making process.”
“The whole idea of going on a review site is becoming more and more outdated and people more and more frustrated that they’re not authentic or representative,” he says.
HyperSQ is not the only startup to see opportunity in the “move2earn” concept for the travel industry. Loyalty platform Miles, a PhocusWire Hot 25 Startup 2022, also seeks to reward consumers for daily movement.
Meanwhile, mobility platform Iomob, a PhocusWire Hot 25 Startup 2023 company, has unveiled its own take on move2earn with the launch of Wheelcoin which aims to reward employees for making green transport choices.