TLabs Showcase – InvisibleHand
TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based flight metasearch browser widget InvisibleHand.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
InvisibleHand is a free browser add-on which helps users to automatically get the lowest prices on flights and online shopping without using a price comparison site and regardless of where they shop or search for flights.
Robin Landy is the founder of InvisibleHand. Prior to his role at InvisibleHand, Robin specialised in information architecture & interaction design and was the senior consultant at one of the UK’s leading usability and interaction design firms.
In that role, he led the consulting team and ran projects for global blue-chips including AXA, Dell, eBay, Mercedes, Virgin and Vodafone.
Robin also volunteered as Program Director for one of the largest adult education conferences in Europe.
Before entering the technology industry, Robin solved challenges of a more organic nature, managing a 45,000-bird chicken farm, where he oversaw record yields. Robin holds a BA Hons from Manchester University and an MSc from University College London.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
InvisibleHand has received funding from Forward Internet.
What problem are you trying to solve?
For a consumer, it’s absurd that – in order to find the best deal on online shopping or flights – it’s still necessary to go out and manually search multiple sites.
Additionally, the old-fashioned shopping comparison sites often include out-of-date prices. All the prices are out there: why should the user have to spend so much time hunting them down?
For an online retailer competing with many other retailers, it’s absurd that price changes aren’t immediately reflected in price comparison listings. And if you’re offering great prices, why should it cost a fortune in SEO or PPC to ensure that users find out about them?
Describe the business, core products and services?
From a user perspective, InvisibleHand’s key functionality is helping people to automatically get the best deals without shopping around and regardless of where they shop or search. Currently that covers flights and online shopping.
When searching for a flight, users can use their favourite airline, aggregator or OTA to search for flights, safe in the knowledge that InvisibleHand will automatically hunt for cheaper or more convenient flights that meet their requirements.
Those flights are then made available via a discreet notification at the top of the page and a dropdown menu.
When shopping online, InvisibleHand will automatically find the cheapest price, regardless of where the user is shopping.
For example, if the user is browsing a digital camera on Play.com, and that specific model is available for a lower price at Dixons, then InvisibleHand will show a discreet notification containing the price and a link through to the relevant product page at Dixons. IH also provides a drop-down menu, showing the prices at all the other retailers which sell that product.
We also implemented search engine integration. If the user searches for a product or flights on Google, InvisibleHand will endeavour to identify the user’s intent, and then show a discreet and relevant real-time price notification overlaid at the top of Google’s search results.
Crucially (and unlike all the shopping comparison websites) all those prices are generated in real time i.e. they’re not cached. The shopping comparison websites all rely on retailer feeds that are rarely updated more than once per day (and sometimes even less frequently than that).
Meanwhile, the retailers are all competing with each other, and so frequently adjust their prices. Sometimes, the price can change several times in one hour on a single product at one retailer.
This is why you might have had the experience of clicking on a price on a shopping comparison site, but then finding that actual price was different when you arrived at the retailer’s site.
From the perspective of a retailer, OTA or airline, we’re providing a new channel through which to promote themselves and their products or flights. It enables companies, even those without PPC or SEO, to be promoted in a discreet, relevant & useful notification overlaid at the top of Google’s search results.
And the real-time pricing means that retailer price changes are reflected accurately, instantly and regardless of how often they occur.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Initially, our userbase was the tech-savvy/early-adopter crowd. But with over 1.4 million organic downloads, and availability on all four major browsers, it’s clear that InvisibleHand is starting to break into the mainstream.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
The automated shopping comparison is a straightforward CPA model. It’s a great way to work because it means that we only get paid if both the user and the retailer have gained from InvisibleHand.
It helps to ensure that we provide the best possible experience on both sides. The flight comparison is based on lead-gen.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
One of the biggest challenges is reaching Internet Explorer users. They’re not traditionally a group of users who’ve downloaded browser extensions, but IE still represents a huge potential market.
The thing I’m most excited about is that we’ve only just got started. People buy all kinds of products and services and experiences online.
They shouldn’t have to worry about whether they’ve found the best deal, and they shouldn’t need to spend time searching for it. InvisibleHand will make sure they get it automatically.
Who advised you your idea isn’t going to be successful and why didn’t you listen to them?
Many of the objections were around technology. There were doubts over the feasibility of building real-time price comparison technology into the browser.
There were certainly some challenges, but we developed creative solutions, and we’re even patent-pending on some of them.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
A lot more downloads and revenue. And even more happy users and commercial partners. Actually, I regularly check all the nice things people are saying about InvisibleHand on Twitter and Facebook.
One user posted to our Facebook page to say that InvisibleHand had saved him over $1,200 in just two orders – including $500 on a new TV.
Another user emailed to say that he had saved his company so much money by using InvisibleHand that his boss had given him a payrise.
Kevin May is a senior editor and one of the co-founders at Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology, a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism and will be publishing his first book - a biography about electronic band, Depeche Mode - soon.