Flights With FriendsÂ was inspired by the difficulty of trying to book a trip for a group of people (friends/family) in different places.
Co-founder Kyle Killion is no stranger to the startup scene, having been involved in Geek Squad, Yelp, Coupa and maccontrol and says that whenever he encounters a problem which could be made easier using technology he questions whether there is a business there.
“Â After researching I found that no one was tackling group travel planning by bringing all the flights, hotels and travellers under one roof.”
Killion is joined by co-founderÂ Arthur Klepchukov who has also been part of numerous startups including his role as an engineer at Votizen. The size of the team tends to be about four but it depends on what project is being worked on.
To date Flights with Friends has been bootstrapped but there are plans to raise a round to create an affiliate program.
Killion cites figures from Groupize estimating the group travel market to be $31bn a year and acknowleges competition from the big OTAs and newer entrants such as Triporama and TripCommonÂ (also a THack winner).
The startup anticipates hotel reservations will make up the bulk of its income as well as other components including rentals, tours and activities, restaurant reservations and car-hire.
Q&A with co-founder Kyle Killion
Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves (differently to what is already out there) and for whom?
We combine metasearch with real-time social interaction. Flights With Friends is purpose built for groups conducting their travel search. The co-browsing that sites like Travelocity have experimented with layer complexity on top of existing sites. On Flights With Friends everyone on your trip sees the same flights and hotels, and we make sure there are enough seats and rooms at the advertised rate. Your group can set shared search filters, chat, pin options they like and see when others have booked, instantly.
We are focused on small groups of 2-9 people travelling together.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
For the same reason we created it. I was trying to book a flight with my wife while we were both at our offices. The result was a long email chain and frustration. After some research I found that most travel searches start at the office so we built a solution for people trying to book together from different locations.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We have lots of experience with online advertising and scaling traffic. Based on the numbers we have been seeing during our public beta we think we can profitably purchase traffic from a number of different sources. We are also developing an affiliate program so people can get paid for hosting our widget on their blog.
How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along the way? What other options have you considered for the business if the original vision fails?
I was trying to get a group of friends together in Vegas. People were coming in from all over the country so it was a pain coordinating flights, taxis and hotels. We had wildly varying budgets so making everyone happy was a full-time job. We havenâ€™t pivoted our focus but we are constantly making changes to the product based on feedback.
Actually we are working on expanding what we created for THack SFO. We are keeping it a separate product as well as incorporating it with Flights With Friends.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome (please refrain from using biggest, best or most awesome in your answer)?
Building a web startup is a process, we are constantly changing and evolving. Our advantage is that we know that we are solving a real problem that people actually have. So I think we will be solving the same problem in 3 years, but as the first site that people think of, or find, when they are planning a group trip.
By then we will have more ways for groups to collaborate, and weâ€™ll serve more groups. We are focused on real-time communication during search and booking for small groups now. I think we will grow to larger groups like students, and incorporate more parts of trips like cars and restaurants as well as facilitating communication during the trip.
Biggest, best, most awesomeâ€¦ sorry it slipped out.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Overall we think the industry has done a great job of helping consumers find good pricing. Our user research has shown that with existing sites one member of the group ends up having to take over and organize everything. We think that by making communication, search, and booking simple you can make small group trip planning easy and let people have fun.
A quick play around on Flights with Friends leaves you wanting more especially if you’re planning a group/family trip. It’s easy to use, relatively fast and brings back lots of flight and hotel options, with TripAdvisor reviews also integrated.
The three step approach – where and when, hook up the group (via Facebook or email) and make decisions together – is useful as anyone who has tried to book travel for more than one person will know. Another other handy element is that the startup says it only shows hotels, flights with availability for the whole group.
There is competition out there in the form of Triporama, Groupize and services such as Expedia’s Snow Companion app on Facebook. Â However, the social network’s Graph Search launch yesterday could play into Flights with Friends’ hands, bringing in not just the wisdom of those going on the trip but information, hints and tips from friends who have already been to a destination.
The team behind the startup is also no stranger to startup land and that will be invaluable in the coming months as it attempts to get finance and build up some sort of scale.
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