At our recent HowTo Conference, 10 early-stage startups pitched on stage to our panel of investor judges. Meet the People's Choice winner Hitlist.
By Betsy Mikel (Editor, Women 2.0)
Even though our PITCH competition was last month, we love keeping up with our finalists to see what they're up to and where they're going next. Many of them go on to secure funding, land highly coveted spots in incubators and get acquired.
One of our 10 finalists was Hitlist, a travel app that does things a bit differently than most travel apps. We chatted with founder and CEO Gillian Morris about how she got started, what her startup is all about and what's next for Hitlist.
Women 2.0: What is Hitlist?
Gillian Morris: We're a mobile app that helps you build a list of places you'd like to go, then alerts you when there are good deals to get to those places. We monitor millions of airfare deals and send offers personalized to you.
Women 2.0: What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?
Gillian Morris: If you know exactly where and when you want to travel, you can use existing services like Kayak or Expedia. But if you have any flexibility, you’d probably have to do hundreds of searches before you found what you were looking for, and most people give up along the way. Imagine a pretty common use case: "I’d like to fly somewhere warm for the weekend from New York in February."
If you look at all the possible destinations from New York, and search for Friday-Sunday or Monday morning trips in February, it would take you days of searching to efficiently evaluate your options -- by which point of course the prices you found at the beginning would probably have changed, and you probably don’t end up traveling. We invite you to simply tell us about the trips you’d like to take, then we do the searching and sorting for you.
Travel vendors also struggle to find the right customers, as evidenced by the fact that Priceline and Expedia are two of the highest spenders on Google AdWords. Since we collect data on where users want to go, we can help vendors reach the people most likely to convert, helping them sell more of their inventory and helping people take trips they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Women 2.0: Why were you inspired to create this app?
Gillian Morris: I’m a huge travel junkie and I’ve always enjoyed helping others travel. But I also spent three years as an analyst working on the transport industry in the Middle East and noticed so many inefficiencies in the way the back end of travel distribution works. I saw that perfect opportunity where we could hopefully build something that solves a real consumer AND vendor pain point.
Women 2.0: What have been some of the biggest challenges of launching your startup?
Gillian Morris: There’s a lot of entrenched ‘wisdom’ in the travel space and a few large players that dominate the marketplace, especially in aviation in the US. Convincing them to try something new has been an incredibly slow, painstaking process. We may have to prove our model out in Europe or the Middle East, where there are players who are much more experimental and innovative.
Women 2.0: What have been some of the most thrilling and exciting moments of launching Hitlist?
Gillian Morris: Passing the 100,000 user mark was a huge high. Knowing that so many people around the world have something on their phones that my team and I invented is terrific. On another scale, getting to visit Sir Richard Branson on his private island in the Caribbean was a pretty singular experience.
Women 2.0: What’s next for the Hitlist team?
Gillian Morris: We’ll be releasing a major new update to our iOS app in November which will incorporate messaging, better deal sorting, and a few other things I can’t talk about quite yet! And we’re also hoping to expand the team significantly off the back of a nice new round of funding.
Thanks to Women 2.0 and all the people who helped put the excellent conference together in SF!
Women 2.0: Thanks Gillian! Don't forget to download Hitlist and try it out for yourself!
Photo by Elvina Beck.
About the author: Betsy Mikel is the managing editor of Women 2.0 and runs the content consultancy Aveck. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and a lifelong obsession with French language and culture. When she's not biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria, you can find Betsy on Twitter at @betsym.