Hipmunk: The Secrets To Negotiating With No Leverage – with Adam Goldstein

How does an upstart with no leverage negotiate with some of the biggest companies on the planet?

Adam Goldstein is the cofounder of hipmunk.com, the travel search site that partnered with dozens of airlines and hotels on direct deals.

I want to ask him how he did it, and how “finding his customer’s pain” helped make Hipmunk become a travel site that has not just users, but fans.

Watch the FULL program

Adam Goldstein, hipmunk

Adam Goldstein is the cofounder of hipmunk.com, the travel search site that partnered with dozens of airlines and hotels on direct deals.


Raw transcript

Mixergy's audio transcription is done by Speechpad

Andrew: Coming up in this program, are you going to negotiate with someone

who has more power than you? Listen how today’s guest did it and learn how

you can do it right also. Also, you’re going to find out how to improve

your company’s user experience. I spent a lot of time on that on this

interview so that you and I can both learn.

And finally, the one thing that’s not coming up actually on this program is

good video. Today’s guest tried to record his part of the conversation and

it didn’t come out so good. I tried to record his part of the conversation

and the video didn’t come out so good. So bottom line, if you’re looking

for good video, you’re not going to find it in this interview or frankly

anywhere on Mixergy. This isn’t about good video. It’s about great ideas,

and if that’s what you’re looking for, we got a lot of those for you. Stay

tuned. Three messages before we get started.

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increases sales but is easy to set up and manage? Send them to Shopify.com,

the platform that top online stores are running on right now.

Finally, do you need a lawyer who actually understands the startup world

that you and I live in? Go to WalkerCorporateLaw.com. I’ve known Scott

Edward Walker for years so tell him you’re a friend of mine and he’ll take

good care of you.

Here’s the program. Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew. I’m the

Founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious startup and home of well over

700 entrepreneurs who come on here to tell you their stories so that you

can learn from them.

In this interview, I want to find out how does an upstart with no leverage

negotiate with some of the biggest companies on the planet? Adam is the co-

founder of Hipmunk, a travel search site that partnered with dozens of

airlines and hotels on direct deals. I want to find out how he did it.

I also want to ask him how finding his customers pain helped make Hipmunk a

travel site that doesn’t just have users, but has fans, raving fans as

you’ll see in this interview. So Adam, welcome.

Adam: Thank you. Nice to be here.

Andrew: And thank you by the way. Thank you for recording your side of the

conversation. It looks like the video already froze so we’re definitely

going to have to rely on your video for this interview.

Adam: All right.

Andrew: Hey, I mentioned that you have fans and I know it’s true because

I’ve seen my friends talk about Hipmunk and frankly I’ve written a fan

email to your cofounder, to Steve, but beyond my personal experiences, how

do you know and how can someone in our audience understand that you have

fans? What indication do you have that people aren’t just using your site?

Adam: Well, you know, when people see Hipmunk, they always smile and if

they’ve already come to our site, and they see someone in a Hipmunk

costume, which happens from time to time, it’s like they met a rock star.

They crowd around from miles away to hang out with the Hipmunk.

We’ve got just, if you look at our Twitter feed, if you look at what people

are saying about us on blogs and on their own Facebook feeds and all sorts

of things, it’s like they use language like love, and like amazing and

things like that that I’ve never seen them use for other travel sites.

Andrew: And they’ve done things for you to show support, right? The first

iPhone app, was it built by a fan?

Adam: Yes. So, we found our first iPhone developer because he was just such

a fan of our website and he knew how to program for the iPhone that he

decided he was going to try to convince us to hire him to build our app and

we ended up doing it. We’ve got a great app and it keeps getting better.

Same guy’s doing it right now.

Andrew: I see. Cool. And the video explaining what Hipmunk is, who made


Adam: Oh, man. So the video “How to Use Hipmunk” was made by one of our

fans. We’ve had people who drawn their own version of our logo by hand or

using computer programs. We actually have at our office a wall of the

things that our users have drawn for us or sent to us because they love us

so much.

Andrew: All right. So, I use Priceline, I use Orbitz. I’ve used your

competition. I’ve never seen this kind of passion for your competition, and

more and more I’m finding myself reaching for Hipmunk. So I want, in fact,

I don’t think I use the competition anymore now that I’m on Hipmunk, to let

everyone know my personal bias walking into this interview.

Adam: Awesome.

Andrew: But, as much as I love you, frankly I love myself and my audience

even more. And I want to know how you did this so that my audience can do

it and, frankly, so that I can do it, too. How I can build this kind of

love for my product? Maybe we can just go back and see the very first

version of Hipmunk, what was it based on? How did you build the first

version in a way that would draw people away from your competitors who have

way more money than you and way more name recognition than you certainly

had at the time?

Adam: The idea to do this came about because of my own personal

frustrations. This is one of those stories where I just knew there was a

problem and I didn’t know exactly how to solve it, but I knew that there

was such a big area for improvement here that it was worth a try. The

reason that I knew that was because in college I was on the debate team and

I was the guy that booked all of our travel as we competed in places like

Turkey, Botswana, Ireland, all over the place. I found myself spending so

much time searching for flights and hotels on all our competing sites that

I knew that there was an opportunity here.

When we started out, it was just me and Steve Huffman, my co-founder. We

didn’t know what we were going to build, what it was going to look like,

how it was going to work, we just knew that we were going to try to solve

this problem. Our standard really was, “Let’s see if we can build something

that we would prefer to use over anything else out there.” It took us about

two and a half months to get to that point and that’s when we launched the

site. That was in August of 2010. What we told ourselves was, “This is an

opportunity to find out whether other people agree with us, whether they

think that this is actually better than the tools that they’ve used

before.” It turned out that they did, but if it had turned out that they

didn’t, we were going to start from scratch.

Andrew: Let me take a step back. You co-founded a company called

BookTour.com. You’re an author, it was co-founded with an author, it was

built for authors, it was addressing the frustration that authors have

about how to promote themselves. Same issues, essentially, that Hipmunk

faced when it launched, but it didn’t work. Why was that dead pooled? Let’s

learn from that and then see how that experience is different from the

Hipmunk launch experience.

Adam: That’s a great question. BookTour was something that I never put my

heart into it the same way as Hipmunk. Partly, that was because I was

working on it part time when I had hours free during college. It wasn’t

something that I could devote all of my attention to and I think that that

showed I wasn’t able to build things quickly. I wasn’t able to incorporate

customer’s feedback quickly, and the other thing was that when you’re in an

industry like travel, you can reach a huge number of people because tons of

people travel, even if it’s just once a year. When you’re in an industry

like publishing, or a derivative of publishing, you have to hit a certain

kind of user who is particularly passionate about books. There are lots of

people that read, but it’s only a small fraction of those that care whether

a particular author is coming to their town, which is how we were trying to

orient the site. I certainly learned a lot from the experience there, but I

think we were tackling too small of a problem or too small of an audience

and I wasn’t putting in the time that I needed to to make it really work.

Andrew: It does seem to bring up to me this understanding that, whenever

someone says to me, “Andrew, I was trying to scratch my own itch and I

built this product that would be perfect for me.” I think, “What if you’re

the only one who has this specific problem and are happy with this specific

solution?” It feels to me like BookTour exemplifies that and what I want to

understand is, I don’t doubt that what you’re saying is true. I’ve seen it

enough. What I want to understand for me is, “If I’m going to scratch my

own itch and build a product that solves my personal problem, how do I not

walk in a direction where it only solves my problem, and how do I make sure

that it goes broader?” What do you think about that?

Adam: That’s a great question. One trick is just paying attention to how

people are receiving something. At Hipmunk, on day one, people were telling

us how much they loved it and that was incredibly motivating and that was

what kept us plowing ahead in this direction. With BookTour, people would

say, “This is cool. I like this.” I’m sure that a couple of people said

that they really loved it, but for the most part it was a pretty muted

reception, even among people who knew about it. In that case, we built

something good, but not amazing. If you’re going to try to scratch your own

itch in an industry that’s pretty well established, I think you need to hit

the amazing threshold to get people to switch.

If we had approached BookTour the same way, if we’d said, “We’re going to

give this a couple of months. See if we’ve built something that people are

amazed by, that they love, and if not, then we’re going to pivot and try

something new.” I think that that would have probably put us on a track to

keep climbing ’til we found something that really did satisfy millions of

people’s needs. That was also hard because I wasn’t paying attention to all

of the feedback that we were getting everyday. I would try to respond to

emails, but I never had enough time to focus and really figure out what

were the things people liked and what were the things that they didn’t

like, for months at a time.

Andrew: I want to come back to that. I actually wrote down a quote earlier

from you about incorporating feedback quickly because it’s so important to

me to come back and understand that, but let me make sure that I understand

this part. What you’re saying to me is, “Andrew, if you’re going to scratch

your own itch, first, make sure you really are living this experience that

you’re trying to come up with a good solution for.” Second, “Be prepared to

show it to people quickly and adjust just as fast because there’s a good

chance that you’re off base by a lot and you want to bring it out to people

and get a reality check.” Am I understanding that right?

Adam: That’s right. The third thing I would add there is, “Make sure that,

through whatever means you can, that it’s a need that many, many people

have.” Even if you do those first two, if you’re solving a very niche

problem, it depends on what your motivations are. We wanted to solve a

problem that millions and millions of people had and I think we were able

to do that on Hipmunk a lot better than we were on BookTour.

Andrew: With Hipmunk and the travel industry, the way that you knew other

people had this problem, actually, maybe not. I was going to say, the way

you understood that other people had this problem was because there’s so

many people who are traveling, but how did you know that a lot of those

people had a problem with travel sites? When I thought of my pre-Hipmunk

life I was excited that I actually got to use a website to buy online and

compare rates and I thought, “Those airlines. They’re never going to outfox

me because I’ve got all these sites, like Priceline.” I never thought to

myself, “This isn’t really the user experience that I deserve”‘ It wasn’t

until I saw something better that I would have complained about the

competition. How did you know that people had this issue?

Adam: That is something that’s worth touching on because when we started

Hipmunk, before we had anything to show people, we would tell people,

“We’re working on this thing. It’s going to be a better travel site.” What

they would tell us is, “There’s nothing wrong with the existing travel

sites. I use Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline.” They would say, “I

use one of those all the time and it’s great.” We weren’t able to sell

people on the promise, we were only able to sell it to them once they saw

it, and so I wouldn’t take people’s stated opinions with too much [??], if

you genuinely believe that you’re going to be able to do better, but

ultimately, it needs to be tested against whether you have done a lot

better. That was something that we started showing people pretty early and

if we just had gone in our own direction, I think, without incorporating

any other people’s feedback, we would have ended up with something that was

not very good.

Andrew: That’s so interesting that when you ask people, if you even ask

them, ‘Do you have a problem?’ They say, “No. I don’t.” I did a little bit

of research on you, of course, and you seem to talk about Kayak a lot so I

went over to Kayak just to experience what the frustration was. I wanted to

punch my computer screen. I love Kayak as a business. I want to interview

the founders and I’ll, of course, interview them with respect and want to

learn from them, but as soon as I did a search, it popped up two or three

different browser windows on my screen. They each took a portion of the

screen, not the whole screen, so it was an odd layout so I had to open it

up to really experience this pop up or pop under. Then I was still on the

Kayak page and, if I clicked to select the leg of the flight, it

immediately changed my whole page over to American Airlines where I was

picking the first leg, but I didn’t understand how to pick the second leg.

I never would have told you that I had this problem.

Where was I going with that? I just was getting a little bit frustrated.

This thing that I didn’t think was an issue, I’m recognizing now is an

issue. You get it out in public, why did it work? It was just that you,

what were the elements? You have to, if you’re going to launch within two

or three months, as you did, you have to say, “I’m going to narrow my

feature list to these core needs and then I’ll get some feedback.” What did

you narrow it down to?

Adam: So the three things that we wanted to do were, first, we wanted to

have real time flight data, which is to say, we wanted to have up to date

prices and availability information. The second thing was, we wanted to be

able to present it in a way that made it really easy to understand the

trade-offs, and for people to get the best option. And then the third

thing, was, we wanted to have some place where people could actually book

those. So, that we weren’t just sort of an informative site, but we would

actually help you move through the progression to book your ticket. Then

number four was something that we were hopeful for, but wasn’t a

requirement. That was that, we’d be able to get paid for those customers,

because we wanted as early a date as possible to be able to turn this into

a real business model. And so, those were the three requirements and the

fourth nice to have, that we needed?

Andrew: What was that first one? I got trade-offs, so that people can see

the trade-offs, and the options that they had available to them. Number

three was to book. Number four, you’d like to get paid. What was that first


Adam: The first one was accurate flight information.

Andrew: OK.

Adam: Prices and availability.

Andrew: All right. I’m going to come back to how you got partnerships to

potentially get paid and to get the data. Yesterday, I recorded an

interview with Emmett Shear of Twitch TV. I asked him what he’d want to

know from you and what he wanted to learn from you was business

development. Alexis Ohanian, who is an adviser to your company and also the

founder of Reddit, said, “Ask him about how he creates these partnerships,”

and I promise the audience, I will get to that. Let me first understand a

little bit about user experience, because it will give us the flavor for

the product. You launch it. You say that people are excited. But the

excitement is a little more nuance than that, right? You’re getting some

things that you know you need to improve, and some things that you know you

need to keep and others that you need to kill. Can you talk to me a little

bit about that? What were you getting?

Adam: I’ll walk you back to before we even launched it. We were just

starting to show it to a few of our most trusted advisers. We originally

just had a page full of text. It was like reading an Excel spreadsheet

because each flight had a very thin row and it was the departure time and

the arrival time and all those sorts of things. And when you look back at

that, you can see a number of things that ended up being really important.

Like, we were never sorting by price, we were always sorting by this sort

of, multi-valuble metric that incorporated things like the number of stops

and duration. But at first, it was still a very programmery data-nerd

display. And when we showed this to just some folks, the reaction was,

“This is not enough better for me to really switch.” We thought, “That’s

really disappointing,” because we put a lot of work into it. But what we

decided was we’re going to experiment with different ways of presenting

this information. Because that presentation was ultimately, where people

spend 90% of their time when they’re searching.

And what we decided was we were going to play around with this visual idea,

see if we could represent all of the most relevant pieces of information in

a way that makes it easy to understand trade-offs. So what are the trade-

offs you care about when you’re searching for flights? It’s things like,

who’s the airline? Does it have a stop? What time does it leave? What time

does it arrive? All those sorts of things. And the problem that we realized

is that the existing interfaces, both ours and other peoples, didn’t make

it easy to keep multiple of those things in your head at once and

understand how they (?).

So, we started playing around with this timeline approach or the Gantt

chart for flights, as some people call it. Originally, it was only the

backup option. We thought that it was too radical for most people to get on

their first try. So we made it the option you could click if you didn’t

like the default. But once people discovered it, we found that they loved

it and so we switched to making the visual display the default. Then a few

days before we launched, we said, we’re just going to take this the whole

way. We got rid of the text display altogether. We sort of made a statement

that, “This is the way that we think you ought to be shopping for flights.”

Andrew: Who are these people that you’re showing it to, to get feedback

where they said, “Hey, it’s just not enough better, the first version.?”

Adam: It was mostly the folks in (?), the program that we went through that

first summer. I know Hologram had a bunch of feedback on the display that

we originally had. Paul Buchheit, who is the Gmail creator, he was the one

who had the most direct, sort of criticism that made us rethink how we were

approaching the display, and there was those two guys in particular and

then obviously a bunch of the folks within our batch.

Andrew: When I asked Paul Graham about this, your first investor and

founder of Y Combinator, I asked him how he knows the guidance that he

gives you for improving the design of your site how he knows to do it,

where it comes from. And I think Jessica, the other co-founder of Y

Combinator said she doesn’t know and he doesn’t even know where it comes

from, it’s almost like an artist, like a sculptor. He can’t express to you

how he’s sculpting, he can talk in riddles like you can eliminate all the

pieces that aren’t necessary and what you’re left with is this finished

product. Maybe you, a guy who’s analytical and is watching from the outside

can tell me: how do they know what kind of feedback to give you?

Adam: I think it’s less about the kind of feedback and more about the

directness. Paul is extraordinarily blunt and that is a wonderful thing.

When you’re working on this thing all day, all night and for weeks at a

time, you can get very caught up in the nuances of how you design things

and why you laid them out they way that you did, and ultimately if Paul

Graham or Paul Buchheit or one of these folks says, “You know this is still

too confusing for me..” that is a very powerful message that you’ve been

thinking about the wrong thing. And he doesn’t hesitate to say that, he

wants his companies to succeed and he realizes the best way to do that is

just to be extremely direct and that works wonders.

Andrew: And that’s a clear question that seems to come for him a lot: do I

even understand this, is it so simple that if I don’t pay attention to you

fully and if I’m not fully engaged with your side I understand it? And if

it’s not, I’m going to tell you clearly, bluntly: it’s too confusing-

that’s what you’re looking for.

Adam: Yep. And to be clear, I know a bunch of people that are like that and

when I look at other startups I try to emulate that. When Steve looks at

our own products, when all of our engineers and designers look at things,

that’s the same approach that we use. It’s helpful to get that from someone

who is an outsider. Especially when you’ve been working directly with

insiders for so long.

Andrew: You were saying there was something about the design and layout of

information that made the difference and you started to talk a little bit

about how you figured out that layout. I understand how you knew that you

hit it because people found it on your site and chose it over the default

layout that you gave them but can you tell me a little more about how you

came up with this layout? You say you sort it by agony, it’s like price

goes into consideration but also stops go into consideration and so on, so

how did you figure out that was the right layout to use?

Adam: The sorting order was one of the earliest decisions that we made.

Actually, originally it wasn’t called “agony” it was called “suckage”

because we thought that that was the most appropriate way to describe

flying. And how did we incorporate- how did we decide how to sort it- we

didn’t actually put a huge amount of thought into the design, we just hit

some initial parameters, tweaked them a little bit and said, “Does this

roughly look like it’s putting the flights that we would want first?” And

once it did, then we moved on. Honestly, I don’t think that we played that

much with that algorithm for a long time. With the way that we present the

information visually, that was actually an interesting process.

I’d been familiar for a long time with the work of a guy named Edward Tufte

who wrote a book about how to present quantitative information, and there a

bunch of things in there about presenting complex information that takes

place over a period of time that incorporates more than just a linear

graph. And there are train schedules from the 1800s, there’s project

management tools that display things similarly to the way that we do. There

are even people in online travel group experimented in the past with proves

the concept similar to the way that we present things. But it was only when

we combined the sorting order, the visual presentation and all of the other

things that helped us pick which flights to display that it all felt like-

wow, this is the simplest way to do things. If we’d only picked some of

those as we did originally, it doesn’t gel in the same way.

Andrew: I see. All right, you launch it, people like it, it has this new

layout, what kind of feedback did they give you that you didn’t expect?

Adam: You know, there’s a lot of feedback they gave us that we probably

should have expected, but didn’t. We had a surprising number of people from

outside the United States who were saying, “Why is everything in English?

Why’s everything in dollars?” It’s something we still get asked, because we

haven’t gotten around to internationalizing it. We got a lot of questions

about, “Why can’t I search for multi leg trips? You’re one way or a round

trip. Why doesn’t this work on my iPhone? Why is this price different from

the one that your competitor is showing?” All those sorts of things and we,

actually, our first hire was a customer support person because we were

being so inundated with these questions that we had no time to actually fix


Andrew: Why are people giving you feedback? What did you do to encourage a

lot of feedback?

Adam: We put a really cool real time chat feature on our website, powered

by a company called Olark, which is an otherwise [??] company. We had that

since day one, and what it lets us do is people can click on the link on

the website, type messages to us and we’ll get them as instant messages. We

can just reply directly alongside all the other work we’re doing. Early on

we got this constant stream of things that people were noticing, bugs,

feature requests, whatever. There was a certain immediacy to it because we

could, in some cases, we could fix stuff while the person was chatting to

us. Push them a new version of Page and say, “Check out this one instead.”

They’d be so excited. It was like, “Wow. These guys just fixed it.” We

can’t do that so much anymore, but it’s been really useful because even

when we’re not online to answer people’s chat, they can still send us

questions and comments through that system and we’ve got folks, including

ourselves, who are reading through everything that people send us. It’s a

super useful way to get feedback.

Andrew: I know Ben, the founder of Olark, by the way. I’ve had dinner with

him here. We’ve hung out a lot and every time I ask him the same question,

“Will you come and do an interview?” He says, “No”. He wants to sponsor

Mixergy, but not do an interview yet. Why not? What does he have to hide?

Adam: I have no idea. Maybe, he would do an interview over live chat.

Andrew: Over an Olark chat. At this rate, we might actually be reduced to

that because the video is going down a little bit, audio isn’t as

dependable as it should be. You’re getting a lot of feedback, how do you

know what to respond to and what to push away?

Adam: The thing that we always look for is why is someone frustrated, or

why is someone asking this question? It’s not, “Can we answer their

question?” It’s, “How can we keep them from having that question?” In the

case of certain things, like international currency support, the need and

the solution are very clear. Someone wants to search in their own currency.

We’re going to have to let them do that. In the case of other things, it’s

often very different. People will ask, “Can you help me add my events, my

[??] to my calendar?” We think to ourselves, “Why do they want to add it to

their calendar?” They want to add it to their calendar because their

calendar is where they organize their life.

If that’s the case, then maybe instead of letting people add things to

their calendar, we should also let them pull their calendar into [??], so

that we can help them up front in finding the flights that fit in their

schedule. So, they don’t have to have two windows open. No one had ever

done that before. No one had ever linked up a flight or a hotel search with

people’s calendars, in real time. That just came about from us thinking

about the way that we shop. Listening to the way that our customers were

talking to us and thinking, ‘Actually, there’s probably a more fundamental

thing we can do here that no one else is doing.’

Andrew: This is something that Paul Buchheit told me about years ago on one

of my first interviews that I hope is still available somewhere online. He

said, “Whenever people give you a solution that they’d like, find out what

the problem is that they’re trying to solve because the solution is

probably convoluted or disconnected from the problem. Your job is to find

the problem and then solve it, not ask them to do your job by coming up

with the solution for you.” What else? Emmett and I were talking yesterday

about Twitch TV, and how he was looking for pain that people who broadcast

out video games have. Do you do that, too? Are you trying to categorize the

pain that people have and then, based on that, figuring out what to tackle


Adam: Our decision process for features and products is driven partly by

what our users complain about. It’s also driven partly by things that we

think we could have a disproportionate impact on, where we could build

something that’s so much better than what people have done before that it’s

worth the investment of our effort. If we can only slightly improve on

other things, that’s not so interesting to us. If we can dramatically

rethink things, that’s much more fun.

Andrew: Give me an example of something that you gave up, and maybe

something that you didn’t, based on this criteria of can we dramatically

change the way things are done?

Adam: Yeah, I’ll give you an example. Basically, since day one, people have

been asking us to search for flights that have more than three legs. They

want to go from San Francisco to New York to London to Beijing to San

Francisco to Seattle, or whatever.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Adam: We’ve always only let people do three. It’s not because we don’t want

to fix it. We’re going to fix it. It’s just that that is not a huge

problem, and it’s not something where we can do anything, at least, we

haven’t come up with anything yet to be super creative in solving it better

than anyone else. When you get to five or six legs, there are only a few

options that you can pick, anyway, and any site can show those to you.

Andrew: OK.

Adam: I’ll give you an example of something where we thought we could

really have an impact, on the calendar feature, in particular with hotels.

We’d rolled out this great hotels tool. We thought, “What is the biggest

pain point for frequent travelers when they’re booking hotels?” It’s often

they don’t know where the hotels are in relation to where their meetings

are, or where their friends are, or whatever it is. When we can pull in

people’s calendars and show them on a map, “Hey, here’s where your meeting

is. Here’s where your dinner is, and here are the hotels right nearby,” it

cuts the problem from a 20 minute problem to a 10 second problem. It’s

super, super easy. That’s something that we love to build.

Andrew: What about tabs? I think this is what I sent Steve a note about at

first. When I do a search, the search results show up in a tab and I don’t

even notice that it’s really there. Then when I go and do another search,

that’s when I notice that my new search results are in a new tab, and that

first search is still available to me to go back so that I could compare

them. How would you even know to do that?

Adam: I think that just came about because we observed the way that we were

searching on other sites. We found often we’re searching for a flight and a

hotel at the same time, or were considering multiple different places to

fly out of, or into, or dates, or whatever it is. Our view has always been

if we know that there’s something that people are wasting their time on,

let’s see if we can build it into Hipmunk to save that time. Tabs have been

something that we’ve had since the first day, I think. Man, that’s a. . .

I’m glad you noticed that. A lot of people don’t even realize that they can

run multiple searches, but for those that do, it’s a super convenient


Andrew: Yeah. All right. So again, going back to (?), he told me he’ll ask

people what their problems are, where their pains are. He’ll come up with

the solutions. He’ll make sure, first of all, make sure that he understood

their problems, then he’ll come up with a solution and show it to them and

say, essentially, “Does this solve your problem?” Then, if they say yes, he

builds it. If they say no, or are confused by it, then they don’t build it.

Do you do anything like that? Do you check in with your audience before you


Adam: We don’t check in with people before we build. We check in with

people when we’ve got a basic download to show them. As we’ve been building

these calendar features, and things like that, we’ve shown it to a few

folks, once we’ve decided we think it’s a good idea, but before it looks

polished, and we see what they think.

I think the way that we like to work is we want to get something that works

and makes clear what it will do and has sort of the basic flow already

thought through before we give it to someone, because small tweaks to the

workflow can have a big impact on people’s reaction. It goes back to what

we were talking about, in terms of asking people for an opinion before you

want it. If you show someone something that’s half-baked, their probably

going to say, “I don’t like it,” but if you show them something that’s 75

percent baked, you can often get a sense from them as to whether it would

actually be useful.

Andrew: All right. Let’s understand, then. I’ll come back a little bit to

your process for creating and making sure that what you’re building is what

people actually want. I’ve got to move on to business development, just

because of the people who asked me to talk about this. Can you give us a

sense of why business development is so important, Hipmunk, just so we

understand why it’s a topic that others are admiring you for doing so well?

Adam: Yeah. This is something that, actually, a lot of people don’t even

realize when they come to any travel site, but, in many cases, every single

link that you see on the site, every single price that you see on the site,

those are the results of a multi-month and in some cases, multi-year

negotiation with a travel agency, an airline or a hotel. And we realized

early on that we were not going to be able to launch this site unless we

had the participation, the cooperation of people like that.

So, we did, when we first launched this, or before we even launched this,

we realized that we were going to need flight data and a place to send

people to book their flights. And that’s when we started talking to or

calling up Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, all of the big travel sites and it

was incredibly disheartening because none of them answered of phone calls

or emails.

Eventually I just got on a plane, flew to Chicago, told to Chicago to

Orbitz, that’s headquartered there “I’d really like to grab coffee. I’m

going to be around” and they said “OK”. I showed them what we were working

on and actually right then and there they said “It’s cool. We’ll

participate” and that’s what allowed us to launch.

Andrew: But it was you showing up unannounced, no invitation, saying I’m in

town, could we meet.

Adam: It was actually me saying, “Hey, I’m going to be in town in a few

days. Can you guys meet up?”. And that was what allowed us to launch. And

once we got a deal, the rest just came a lot easier. Because in many cases

the airlines were already showing their flights on Hipmunk through Orbitz

and so it was easy for us to say, “Hey, we can send these customers

directly to you instead of to Orbitz if we can work out a deal here” and so

generally they were pretty receptive to that. And then we went through the

same process with [??].

Andrew: So, why would Orbitz make a deal with you knowing that you can

quickly cut them out?

Adam: That’s a good question. I think, I don’t know for sure but my sense

would be because the airlines would rip Orbitz to pieces if they didn’t

allow it. The airlines ultimately are the ones that control the less access

to their information and so if Orbitz was keeping that information to

themselves and not allowing us to send people to the airline, I think the

airlines would have had a beef with that.

Andrew: But then why would Orbitz make a deal with you in the first place?

Wouldn’t they say “Hey, you know what? This guy is looking to compete with

us. Why are we inviting into our home and helping him compete?”

Adam: I don’t think that we are competing with them. No one in the travel

business has a majority of users. There’s no clear winner. There are people

who got a lot, but there’s no one who’s got a majority. And what that means

is that any customer that you get, any new customer that you get, most

likely came out of one of your competitors.

So, in so far as we are stealing people from Expedia, Travelocity and

Priceline, and sending some portion of those to Orbitz, Orbitz is better

off than they were before. Similarly, when we send somebody to an airline

instead of to Orbitz, that’s someone that that airline might have gotten

before. Certainly, everyone in the travel business seems pretty open to

paying for customers because chances are they wouldn’t gotten those

customers before.

Andrew: I see. All right. So then, is your first deal just a matter of

showing up or saying that you’re going to show up and that’s how you got

that deal?

Adam: I think that helps a lot. If I were doing it again, I would try to

find someone through an investor or through a friend or something who had a

good contact that could make an introduction to it at the company. But I’ll

tell you this, when we were trying to get our deal with United Airlines, I

had no idea who to reach there. None of our contacts knew people there. I

literally sent an email to the CEO and said, “Hey. We can lower your

distribution costs. Let me know who to talk to”, in like two sentences. And

within 15 minutes he replied and introduced me to some very Senior

Executive there and I got handed down the chain of command at United

Airlines and we had a deal with United now. You can see it live on our

site. But you can trace that deal which took more than a year back to that

original email that I sent to that CEO. It’s a matter of just being


Andrew: How do you lower their distribution costs?

Adam: Well, basically we don’t do bookings ourselves. We hand people off to

other sites to do people’s transactions. So if someone’s currently going to

Expedia, the airline is paying for distribution through Expedia and they’re

paying a lot most likely because Expedia is big and they have a lot of

negotiating leverage. As a small startup, we were willing to undercut the

established guys because we wanted to get our foot in the door. That was

how we lowered the cost.

Andrew: The way that you make money is by, you show me search results of

different airlines, I pick the one that I want, I go and buy the ticket on

that airline’s website. You send me there. You get a commission, an

affiliate cut, essentially.

Adam: That’s right. We get commissions when people book their trips that we


Andrew: I book through Amtrak. I book on Amtrak through you guys a lot.

Same thing?

Adam: Yeah. I can’t comment on the specifics of any particular person, but

that’s the general [??] and how we structure these things.

Andrew: Even though you had this CEO of United take your email and pass it

to the right person, and still you said it took you a year? What happens in

that year?

Adam: They went through a huge merger. This is constantly the case in the

airline business. People are merging, spinning out, going bankrupt,

becoming solvent, then all over again a few years later. There’s tons of

turnover within the airlines, as well. People moving, [??] divisions,

moving between airlines. Just when you feel like they’re about to be

finished, there’s always something that comes up. We budget months and

months for these deals to get, just because that’s historically how long

it’s taken.

Andrew: It’s not because they don’t want to make the deal with you. It’s

not because they’re trying to squeeze better terms, or are they trying to

squeeze better terms out of you? Is that part of what’s taking so long?

Adam: I’m sure that that’s some factor, but I don’t think that that’s, they

don’t gain anything by waiting out the clock because, in the mean time,

we’re sending people to higher cost websites for that. They’re losing money

everyday they’re not working with us. I think it’s really just the inertia

of big companies. The legal department needs to sign off. The senior head

of whatever needs to sign off. If there are any changes, that new person

needs to sign off and then two days before you sign, there’s a change in

the legal department and now they’re re-evaluating every agreement from

scratch. Start the process over again.

Andrew: I’ve got to tell you, I still don’t fully understand this biz dev

process that you take, but I need to take a step back from it for a moment.

I’m determined to figure this out and to learn from you about business

development and how you make these relationships work and how we can do it

too. What seems to come up a lot in these conversations is the amount of

people that you can send. If you can send a lot of people to Expedia,

you’re more interesting to Expedia. If you can send a lot of people to

United, they’re more eager to take your calls. I’m wondering how you get

your users.

Adam: Up until this point it’s been mostly just through word of mouth and

through PR and other kinds of organic sources of traffic. People love

Hipmunk, they love sharing it. They love talking about it. That sustained

us and helped us through since we launched. It’s been great. We’ve had a

million downloads of our mobile app and 99.whatever percent of those are

people who discovered it without us paying them anything. There was no

advertising that took place to get those people.

Andrew: The other one percent? Where does that go?

Adam: We run experiments to figure out how we can get people cost

effectively and whether it makes sense to advertise here or there, but for

the most part people are discovering us on their own. I don’t have a great

answer for you other than, if you build a product that people love, they’ll

tell their friends about it.

Andrew: [??] on Hacker News asked me to ask you, “What percentage of your

traffic comes from paid advertising?”

Adam: It’s a small percentage. I don’t know the exact number, but it is a

small percent.

Andrew: Less than 15 percent?

Adam: I would think so. I don’t think that we share the specific number,

but that sounds like it’s about right.

Andrew: Another travel site that [??] invested in, Adioso, I think is their

name, you go to their site and you see that they ask you for an email

address very quickly and the reason they do it is so that they can keep

that relationship going with you. You guys don’t do that. In a world where

I have so many options, where Priceline is advertising to me nonstop with

the Star Trek guy and Kayak’s name is on everyone’s lips apparently, and

Google is coming in, how do you make sure that I remember you well enough

to come back? How do you bring me back?

Adam: It’s something that we’re always working on, but this goes to our

philosophy of why do we build the things that we do? If we want your email

address, we want to have a good reason that we want your email address. We

do ask for it when we need it. If you want to link your calendar into

Hipmunk, you need to sign in so that we have access to your Google account,

and we need your email address to do that. That’s an example where it’s

very clear what you’re giving and what you’re getting in exchange; that’s

the kind of thing that we like. We don’t want to get your email address and

then sell it to a million other people so that we can make an extra dollar

from you. That’s just not our style.

Andrew: What about just so you can build a relationship with me? Usually,

if I buy from United they will email me offers in the future unless I ask

them not to, because, you know, I bought from them. They, at least, remind

me that they exist. That seems to be the way that most businesses work. You

guys don’t do that. So what do you do, then, that does work?

Adam: Certainly, we’re going to do more of that stuff. I mean, if you’re

someone that wants to hear from us, we have a newsletter you can sign up

for, you can follow our blog, and you can do all sorts of things that keep

you engaged. But, you know, we’re still building up that contact. We only

want to send you stuff that reminds you we exist if you would benefit from

that email.

Andrew: So what do you do for the majority of people who don’t specifically

ask for a newsletter? What do you do to get them to come back? What do you

do to get them to share it with their friends?

Adam: Well we make it increasingly easy for people to share stuff that they

find on Hipmunk, whether it’s sharing it with their friend’s calendar,

whether it’s emailing links, whether it’s talking about it on Facebook, or

whatever it is. And a lot of people do that. You see a lot of tweets from

people who have come from Hipmunk and said: “Hey, this is really cool.”

We’re going to be building a lot more of that stuff. I think you’ve hit

something very significant, which is that travel is a business where

historically people have not had a lot of loyalty toward a particular site.

They tend to shop around at a bunch of different places. Some people that

come to Hipmunk think “Wow, that’s really cool,” but they don’t bookmark

it, and then 6 months later when they’re booking their next trip, they’ve

forgotten what Hipmunk is. This is something that we need to counteract. So

we’re building all that stuff to do that.

Andrew: All right. Asin Hisoka [sp] on Hacker News asked me to ask you: How

much time do you as a business spend on SEO, on link building, on getting

Google scalable, indexable content?

Adam: I would say a little, but not a lot. Our philosophy is that we want

to make it easy for people to find us wherever they are. We want them to

have a good experience when they come to our site, wherever they’re coming

from. When we first built the site, we played around with ads on different

sites like Google and whatnot. What we found is that people would come to

Hipmunk and we didn’t have anything that was special for them. They would

just land on our homepage and they wouldn’t know where to begin. If they

did a search for flights to New York they were expecting to land on a

Hipmunk homepage and learn about flights to New York, and all we did was

give them a form so they could fill in their dates. So, we’ve been

rethinking how me approach that so that we can give people a better

experience, but until we do that we’re not going to try to drive people to

a site that’s not going to them a good user experience.

Andrew: Henry Bosen [sp] from Hacker News asked: How much of your company’s

success has to do with Reddit–the insanely successful community that

understands that the founder of Reddit is the founder of Hipmunk? How has

that helped you guys?

Adam: I think it’s helped us a lot. I mean, when we’ve made big

announcements we’ve been on the front page of Reddit, which is an

incredible source of traffic and great feedback. Certainly it’s helped us

in term of our reputation within Silicon Valley. Steve, one of the co-

founders of Reddit, has an incredible reputation there because twice now

he’s built really solid engineering teams. He did an amazing amount with a

few people. Hipmunk does an amazing amount with a few people because we

think as an engineering company and culture, and that comes straight from

his time at Reddit. So I think we’ve had an easier time than other

companies because Steve has an easier time of attracting engineers and

keeping them. He’s just so good at that.

Andrew: Back to business development. What is your process for building a


Adam: We start with the introductory pitch. We try to find someway to get

into the company even if it’s just a cold email to someone who’s title on

LinkedIn looks like they’d be [???]. And we send them a fairly standard

pitch. In the case of an airline, it’s “Hey, we can save you money and send

customers directly to your website which means that you can then sign them

up for a frequent flyer program or whatever.” It’s better for you, it’s

better for us, it’s better for everyone. The norm, 90% of the time is that

they don’t reply. So we follow up again, follow up again, follow up with

different people, and try to get in somehow. The ultimate goal is to get an

in-person meeting. That is goal number one, because travel is an old

business that is built on relationships. A lot of people that have been

doing this have been doing it for decades. If you can see them in person,

demo the product in person, and explain it in person, it is infinitely

better than doing it over email or the phone.

Andrew: So, in person with whom? Who are you trying to get that in-person

meeting with? What person within the company?

Adam: The most senior person that we can talk to who still understands the

dynamics of what we’re talking about. In most cases it wouldn’t be super

helpful to talk to the CEO (although we wouldn’t turn down a meeting with

them), because the CEO is removed from the day-to-day economics and

marketing. Similarly, if we’re just talking to the analyst who builds the

models for the airline, they don’t have the decision-making power to

actually sign an agreement. So we like to go in a couple of notches above

to reach someone who has a personal stake in driving more people to their

website by partnering with innovative companies.

Andrew: OK. And if someone who is too low or too distant from the person

you are trying to meet is open to a conversation with you, how do you work

that into a meeting with the right person who is higher up?

Adam: That’s really tricky. We’ve been in that situation a couple of times.

I think the way we’ve handled it is to treat them as if they were the

decision-maker, and eventually they realize that they aren’t so they hand

it up the flagpole. You know, we’ll send them the contract and say, “Can

you look over this and give us your feedback?” If it gets to that stage

they’ll typically say, “Nope, I’m not the guy you should talk to. You

should talk to this person instead.”

Andrew: I see. And do they then become, as the old sales books used to say,

“your champion within the organization”?

Adam: Often they do. Yeah, it’s really nice when you’ve got people

throughout the company. And we sweeten them up too. We send them Hipmunk t-

shirts and luggage tags, which they love to give out. So, we try to make

everyone feel like they’re not only getting a good deal, but that they’re

also working with friendly people, which is something that is fairly novel

in the travel business.

Andrew: You know what? I don’t think you’ll take this the wrong way,

considering what I said earlier, but who cares about getting luggage tags

from Hipmunk? I understand when other companies send me stuff that doesn’t

have their logo on it, but what’s the deal with that?

Adam: I think people really like the character. I think people really like

the Hipmunk. If it’s not the employee itself that likes the Hipmunk, it’s

their kid, who’s 5 years old or 2 years old. For whatever reason people

really like him. Sometimes you hit a brand, you hit a logo, you hit

character, you hit a user experience, and it all comes together. I wish I

could tell you exactly what it is, but I’m not sure.

Andrew: And it’s Alexis Ohanian who created that Hipmunk?

Adam: That’s right. Alexis created that logo.

Andrew: So, what’s the toughest part of business development?

Adam: The toughest part for us is dealing with the frustration of things

not happening. When you’re at a startup, I mean, we released new code every

day or multiple times a day. That’s the pace that I liked to move at. When

we try to cut a deal and it drags on for a year, even though we’ve agreed

to terms at the beginning of the year, and yet we can’t do anything until

we’ve signed the deal, that is just incredibly demoralizing. The only way

I’ve managed to deal with it is to look back and tell myself that it’ll

happen eventually, because it always does. You just have to keep working

through it.

Andrew: And “working through it” means what? When you need to take that

frustration and challenge it into positive energy, where do you channel

your energy?

Adam: Well I try to move it a lot. Probably what I should do is go for a

long walk and think about other things, but what I actually do is send

people emails every week. I say, “Hey, how are we looking? Are things

getting near? Is there anything I can do to help?” I show up at their

office, announced, and say I’m coming to your office next week and let’s

grab coffee, or grab dinner, or whatever. I just do everything I can to

stay on their radar screen because we have a disadvantage, which is that

we’re still a startup. When it’s Expedia calling and Hipmunk calling and

you can only answer one of those calls, typically, people answer the

Expedia call because their going to make them 50 times as much money. We

just have to take what we can get in terms of attention and time, but

fortunately, things are starting to move in our direction. For the first

time, people are reaching out to us and saying “Hey, would you guys be

interested in doing a deal?” Now, I feel like we are coming over that


Andrew: Is there some kind of need you’ve discovered that the companies you

want to partner with have that you can give them? Is there some way you try

to analyze what frustrations and needs your users have on the site, so that

you can create a delightful experience for them? Have you done anything

like that for your partners?

Adam: Yeah. There’s a lot that they want, but most of it cuts against our

core principle, which is helping users. There are a lot of airlines who

would pay for preferential treatment. There are a lot of hotels that would

pay to remove negative reviews. There are all sorts of tricks, and a lot of

our competitors do engage in this kind of stuff. That’s just not how we

think. That is a frustration, because often these companies are used to a

negotiation that goes something like: we ask for a straight deal, they come

back with a crooked deal, and we meet somewhere in the middle, but we don’t

do that. They have to wrap their heads around the fact that this is going

to be straight-up, you’re getting the same treatment that everyone else is

getting, no special favors, sorry. That definitely hinders us in some

places but is ultimately why we exist.

Andrew: If you were, and I’m sure that a lot of them are listening to us, a

lot of future Y-Combinator [sp] funded companies are listening to us; if

you were to give them some advice on how to do business right, what would

you tell them?

Adam: I would say, do it in person, every time, especially for the first

couple meetings. Be extremely persistent. It’s very hard for someone to

turn you down twenty times, but maybe it’s easy for them to turn you down

ten. Get an introduction through anyone who can possibly help, who knows

someone who went to school with someone there, is an investor, whatever it

is. Make a very short pitch on how you can help. If you send someone a

page, they’re probably going to ignore it if they’ve never heard of you,

but if you send them two sentences, they might actually pay attention.

Andrew: Who is the toughest company for you to partner up with?

Adam: It’s actually one we haven’t announced yet, but stay tuned.

Andrew: Can you say anything about them without saying their name? Anything

about the experience on how you did it without saying their name?

Adam: Yeah, the experience was similar to the ones we’ve had so far. There

are some airlines and travel agencies that we have been talking to since

literally before we launched. Continuously, we’ve been talking with them

and still have them, so those are coming soon, hopefully. Keep your eyes


Andrew: What’s an OTA? This is what Alexis said to me: “Ask him about the

amount of hustle it took to get us in the door,” us meaning you guys at

Hipmunk, “with OTAs airlines at first.”

Adam: OTAs are online travel agencies. We are not an OTA because we don’t

do bookings ourselves. OTAs are the sites like Oribitz and Expedia that

actually process payments.

Andrew: So, what kind of hustle did it take to get in the door with them?

Adam: Well, I told you about the Orbitz story…

Andrew: Oh, so Orbitz is an OTA?

Adam: Yep.

Andrew: I see. Did you need the others after that?

Adam: For hotels, we wanted the best coverage we could possibly get, and

there are certain OTAs that are stronger in certain regions of the world

and in certain cities, so we tried to build as many relationships there as

we could. We got Hotels.com and Booking.com and a bunch of other online

travel agencies in addition to Orbitz for hotels.

Andrew: Are you guys profitable right now?

Adam: We’re not, but that is an active choice on our part. We have been

investing in hiring engineers and hiring business developments folks so

that we can ramp up faster. We’re certainly making revenues; it’s pretty

gratifying to see.

Andrew: What size revenues are you doing?

Adam: Not sharing, sorry. [Laughter]

Andrew: I figured. Let me take some questions from Hacker News. I’ll

polish these off and then I’ll ask you one other question. First, I want to

say anyone who’s watching this, if you watched this far and you want to

know more about how to get traffic, how to convert that traffic into

customers, we talked a little about publicity, but we didn’t really get

into it, I want you to know that we have something called

MixergyPremium.com where I invite entrepreneurs on to turn on their

computer screens and teach the things that they are especially good at.

Like how to…all those things that I talked about a moment ago. Its real

entrepreneurs, really walking you step-by-step through the problems that

you’re likely to have as entrepreneurs and how they solved it.

You go to MixergyPremium.com, if you’re already a premium member all those

courses are yours, if you’re not a premium member I hope you join us

because you’re going to get those and so many others as I keep adding them

on. Of course I absolutely guarantee it, if you’re not 100% happy, if

you’re not convinced that this worth thousands of dollars to you or $1000

or removed agony for you, then of course, you know where I am, I will

absolutely give you 100% of your money back. Thousands of people have

signed up. They’ve been happy with it and I’m confident that you will be,

too. I’m going to tell everyone whose watching or listening, go to


Here are the next questions we’ve got here from Hacker News…Velando Vengo

[sp] says: One way flights are often as competitive as round trips. He

wants to know your thoughts on that and also on couch sourced flight

sourcing, like Flight Fox.

Adam: I book almost all of my domestic trips as one way tickets. The

reason for that is because I don’t always know when I’m going to come back

from somewhere, I don’t always know where I’m going to go. I’m sort become

a business traveler in working on [??]. Domestically it’s almost always the

case, at least in the lower 48 states, that two one-way tickets together

are the same price as a round trip. That’s not the case internationally, so

I book internationals as round trips, but I recommend people who are

flexible or who think their needs might change, that they book one-ways

instead. The other benefit in doing that is that you can combine two

different airlines that wouldn’t otherwise work together. For example, out

of San Francisco there are a lot of flight on United and Virgin, but you

can’t put them on the same ticket as a round trip.

Andrew: What is that sound? Are they shredding something in the


Adam: I think that was someone blowing their nose.


Adam: You can’t combine United and Virgin on the same ticket, but you can

have two one-ways that you book separately. That’s one advantage.

The second part of your question was crowd sourced flight information. I

think that what Flight Fox is doing is very interesting. There’s still a

lot of agony in searching for international tickets and that’s an area

where we put effort as well as how we make sure we’re getting the best

rates from as many places as possible and how do we make sure that those

rates are actually bookable because in some cases international airlines

are a few days out of date with what’s actually for sale. So when we

display a price, it might be gone by the time the person gets to their

site. That is really annoying, something that we’re working on, and I know

all of our competitors are, too. I think that they’re taking a very

different approach and I’m glad that there are other people experimenting

with that stuff. Hopefully it works out really well for them.

Andrew: Max Gabriel [sp] asked a question that’s a really good one…this

is kind of a niche question, but it’s really important. I’d like to know if

Adam thinks his debate experience helped him prepare for running a start

up. What about that? Not just running a start up, but managing specifically

the people in the start up and also persuading potential partners to work

with you. How did debate training influence you?

Adam: I think it helped a lot in persuasion. When people come up with

objections for things, I’m pretty quick at telling them why those don’t

fly. In particular, airlines and hotels, they’ll often come back with 20

different changes to a contract. Usually we can them down to only a few. It

definitely helped there. In terms of management, I think it may have

actually been counterproductive because it turns out people don’t want to

hear why they’re wrong. Some people want to hear why it’s a good thing, or

how to improve, or whatever it is and that took [??] still learning the,

good management is very different from [??].

Andrew: When you know that someone is wrong and you need to correct them,

understanding that saying they’re wrong won’t get them to listen and to

take the right action, what do you do? How do you nuance it?

Adam: I try to explain how I think about it and see if I’m missing

something, because sometimes I am. It’s not that it’s actually objectively

a bad idea, it’s that I just didn’t understand the reason for it. If both

people agree on what the goal is, or what all the goals are, I’m now pretty

comfortable saying, “Yeah. That’s a perfectly valid way of doing it. It’s

not the way I would have, but still, go for it.” In the rare cases where we

don’t agree on goals, well, ultimately it comes down to me and Steve to

say, “These are what the goals are. This is what we have to do. Here’s why

we think these are the right goals.” We’ll change course if they’re the

wrong ones, but this is the direction the company has to go.

Andrew: What kind of goals did you have? I understand sharing them publicly

gets everyone working in the right direction and it also helps you say,

“No”, or helps you show people why their suggestion doesn’t fit within a

goal, but what kind of goals do you have that help you set that kind of


Adam: We have [??] goals, like, when we rolled out our [??] tool. It’s

like, “We want to have a [??] product. We want to have it done by this

date, because we want to launch it for this event.” That [??]. There are

other ones that are goals around usage. You want to get the [??] in front

of this many million people by this date. We have goals around revenue. We

want to get these deals done so that we can make this much money per user.

That kind of thing.

Andrew: When you tell everyone, I can understand how that could drive them

in the right direction. Final question, actually, is something that I wrote

about earlier. You mention this, and I didn’t follow up, you said, “With

new markets, you do want to scratch your own itch.” But this wasn’t so much

a new market. Can you help me understand what you meant by that, or maybe,

do you remember what I’m talking about?

Adam: I think so. The way that we approach travel was we looked at what

there was already and we saw that there was a big room for improvement, and

the reason that we thought that was because we noticed our own frustration

with this existing market. I think that also applies to new markets. At

some point in the next few years, there’s going to be eye class [SP],

cameras and undoubtedly there will be all sorts of problems that rise

because of that and opportunities and people will scratch their own itch.

Say, “Wouldn’t it be great if this existed?” I think that there’s also a

huge number of industries where there’s just a level of complacency that

has arisen because big companies grew out of the first web [??] and have

kept doing things the same way that they’ve been doing, since then. In

travel, we did that.

When you look at even something that’s not particularly sexy like payments,

you look at a company like Strype and you say, “They went in where everyone

thought that I was the dominant guy and they rethought it in an incredible

way that helps simplify it.” It was another case of scratching their own

itch [??]. Just to put it in context, I think scratching your own itch

works in established markets where people are complacent. It’s harder to do

in new markets where people are thinking about the problem from scratch.

Andrew: I see what you’re saying. When the industry is so complacent that

everything about the way they operate, they just accept as the way things

have to be, we the users and customers are also that complacent. We also

just accept, “Well, this is the way life is.” You can’t come to us and say,

“What problems do you have” because those problems are invisible to us.

We’ve just accepted, “That’s the way it is.” In those cases, asking

customers for their feedback, or where their problems are is just useless,

because they don’t recognize their problems. You want to stop and ask

yourself, or you’re going to get a better response if you stop and ask

yourself, especially if you’re sensitive to it, “What’s bothering me? How

would I [??] this?” Going back to the glasses case, if there are a new

Google glasses coming out tomorrow, the day that they come out, if you want

to develop a new camera app or some other app for it, you can’t go out and

ask people, “What problems did you have with these glasses” because it’s

too new. They haven’t discovered problems yet, but if you’ve experienced it

for a few hours or a few days, there are opportunities that you see, or

frustrations that you see, and so you’re in a better position to solve

those frustrations and jump on those opportunities without asking people

for their feedback. Do I understand that right?

Adam: That’s right. You got it.

Andrew: Anything else that I missed in this interview? I know I’ve been

really thorough with this and I really appreciated your patience as I went

into [??]. This is good.

Adam: Nothing else that I can think of. I’ll let you know if I think of

anything afterwards.

Andrew: Thanks so much for doing this. Thanks for spending all that time in

the beginning to set it up. Thank you so much. Thank you all for watching.


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  • Mark

    Thanks Adam for sharing!!!

    Thanks Andrew for an excellent interview!!!

    I’m lovin’ it :)


  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner