Startup pitch: Hyper says its on-demand travel assistance has traction

In December, Hyper was quietly released to the Apple App store as a travel booking assistant app. The startup calls its free, publicly available app a first-of-its-kind tool for consumers and travel managers.

Consumers and travel managers could use the app (or SMS or email) to message for assistance with booking flights or hotels, at no cost. The founders say:

“We have put together a team of expert travel agents and an intelligent system in our background that makes those agents hyper-efficient.

The result is an on-demand service that makes booking a full itinerary of travel services as easy as sending a few chat messages with one of our agents.”

For a fee of about $20 a month, users can add services, like having Hyper reschedule or cancel a flight on their behalf.

Businesses can pay extra for enterprise services, such as group bookings and advanced reporting. Hyper says that, on the enterprise side, it is already working with a number of companies, ranging from 15-person media startups to firms with more than 1,000 employees.

A Q&A with co-founders Peter Zakin and Minqi Jiang:

Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.

We were early believers in the power of messaging to facilitate commerce. We knew that this was going to be an important change in the way that people made purchasing decisions and felt that the area best primed for this experience was travel.

Last December we started handling travel for our friends over email and after we received extremely positive responses. We realized that tons of travelers still book through agents, and we started building our iOS app to serve that crowd later that month.

Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?

Four full-time employees. Jiang and Zakin are the founders.

Funding arrangements?

We raised a small seed round from High Line Venture Partners, Greylock Partners, Metamorphic VC, Brad Gerstner, Drew Patterson, Andrew Kortina and Iqram Magdon-Ismail (founders of Venmo), and Myoungil Cha, an Apple exec.


Ultimately, we’re competing with established ways of doing things. We’re competing with large travel management companies powered by enormous call-centers as much as the largest OTAs and metasearch products.

Revenue model and strategy for profitability?

Hyper operates as a travel agency and makes revenue from commissions from certain suppliers. In addition, we charge enterprises and users who want premium service a monthly subscription fee.

What problem does the business solve?

Helping travelers book and manage travel over chat opens up two major opportunities.

Firstly, travel assistance is valuable but mostly conducted over outdated channels. Phone support is extremely inefficient and can be unnecessarily time-consuming. A phone call is a blocking operation: When you’re on the phone with an agent, you’re busy until the matter is resolved.

Chat on Hyper, on the other hand, is non-blocking. You’re never kept on hold and you don’t have to stay on your phone while your case is being taken care of.

The second big problem that Hyper addresses is in defragging the landscape of travel services. Booking travel—and the research that frequently goes with it—takes time and a lot of hopping around. That’s why so many business travelers book travel by texting or emailing their assistants.

It’s simply much faster to delegate that work to someone else. What we’re doing is bringing that simple experience of assistance to everyone. One of the most important side effects of booking travel over chat with an agent is that our customers can book any kind of travel service all in one place.

There are no UI acrobatics or navigational mazes with chat. Instead, booking a flight, a hotel, rental car and setting up a few restaurant reservations are as easy as sending a few messages.

How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?

When we started working on Hyper, it was really an experiment. We wanted to see if our friends preferred to book travel by emailing us or if they preferred to book on their own. As it happens, they loved the experience and we became very confident early on that there was a real opportunity here.

Why should people or companies use the business?

To save time and money.

These companies have varied needs. Some have travel policies that they’d want to enforce if only their employees weren’t so resistant to using traditional TMC products, while some are chiefly interested in making better use of their employees’ time that is currently spent on researching and booking travel.

So far, the response to Hyper has been overwhelmingly positive in both of these dimensions.

The story on the consumer side is similar: booking with Hyper means not having to do travel research or toggle between different apps to book a complete itinerary.

Hyper allows consumers to delegate these tasks to a true expert who will do it better. Further, when things go wrong, there’s really no substitute to having a travel expert working on your behalf to set things right.

What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?

In the enterprise space, the most effective way that we’ve gotten customers is direct outreach. Additionally we have some exciting partnerships in the pipeline that we think will be instrumental in our growth in this space going forward.

For our general consumer audience, we’re optimistic about in-app referrals and other promotional activity. For instance, we’re currently running a promo offering $20 off every hotel purchase made with Hyper.

Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?

The biggest challenge that Hyper and other companies working in this space are going to face is scaling the human operations.

Some companies will take a purely AI approach to travel bookings and we happen to think that’s the wrong approach for the fundamental reason that people desire the empathy of another human being when things go poorly. Nobody wants the computed affectations of a bot.

That being said, we’ve done some very clever things on our backend that are going to make our agents 10x, 20x more efficient than traditional agents.

Our bet is that over the next three years and beyond, we will be able to combine human and machine intelligence in a way that scales our business without sacrificing the empathy and trust that is so essential to our users today.

What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?

Customer support for online travel products is a nightmare, especially in the current, rampantly diverse landscape of travel services. Even before the purchase, consumers face a lot of complexity and choices in booking travel, and it is honestly a much better experience to just have an expert do this work for the consumer.

Meanwhile, travel companies make it as hard as possible for you to speak to a human because it is not something favorable to their business model.

But when things go wrong and you need help, you want to feel like someone on the other side is listening to you and cares about your outcome.

There’s a general indifference in the way that many travel companies think about their customer service. We’ve flipped this traditional model on its head by making customer service the core product.

What other technology company (in or outside of travel) would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style… and why?

We both absorbed much from our previous companies. Hyper has inherited a lot from Google and Venmo.

Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup?

We predict that the largest OTAs will head in this direction so it’s possible that we’ll inspire their interest at some point. M&A fantasies aren’t our focus right now, however.

Describe your startup in three words?

On-demand travel assistance.

Hyper’s made a Vine to supplement its pitch:

Tnooz view:

The founders declined to disclose user numbers but said they’re “seeing very healthy demand.” That’s good to hear. Because it is not immediately obvious to me on the outside how Hyper can gain scale with this effort.

At quick glance, it seems more likely to be a niche business, like long-standing, respected, but relatively small players, such as Cranky Concierge and FlightFox.

Yet Hyper impresses for having a prestigious array of advisors, such as Drew Patterson, Tom Botts, Mike Putman, Iqram Magdon-Ismail, and Andrew Kortina, on its side.

Hyper is also not the only company that thinks that intelligently leveraged technology will wring out efficiencies of the agency workflow. Lola is one well funded, well staffed competitor. Olset and its sister project Cinch Travel are contenders, too, in an overlapping sector of hotel recommendations.

We hope there are multiple success stories in this sector.

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Sean O'Neill

About the Writer :: Sean O'Neill

Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.



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