They are the cornerstones of RouteHappy.com which is hoping that amenities such as internet access, wide seats, lots of legroom and two meals are important to you and has created a database of flight and aircraft amenities.
But in this world of big data where Omnicom and Publicis, the world’s two largest ad agencies merged to compete with Silicon Valley, there may be more to the RouteHappy.com story.
Follow along while we interview Robert Albert, the CEO and founder, about why he believes Route Happy and its current database of over 100,000 flights will lead the market for “happy data:”
You can listen to or read the interview below:
Roy: My name is Roy Weissman, from MediaJobs.com. Today, we’re speaking with Bob Albert. The CEO and founder of Routehappy.com. RouteHappy.com launched on April 26th with the mission to help people find the happiest flight for the lowest price. Welcome Bob.
Can you give us a sense of why you created this site, and what your objectives are and where you think it’s going?
Bob: Sure. Hi. Hi, Roy. Thanks for having me on. Yes, I am one of the guys out there who cares about my flight experience. I found myself having to research data from multiple sources and triangulate it and plot it out practically on a spread sheet in order to make the right decision.
I know lots of people like that out there. Lots of friends and family would ask me questions about what flight to buy. I’ve been in the industry for a long time and so I decided that there is a very big gap that prevents fliers from making good decisions when they fly, and so I decided to do something about it. I created RouteHappy.
What we’re doing is we’re transforming flight search. When you shop for a flight today it’s all about price and schedule. You do lots of sorting and filtering and scrolling. Ultimately, it’s like wading through hundreds of options to try to find the best flight. There’s something missing, which is aspects of the experience that actually matter to you.
The hypothesis is that all flights are not created equal. If you think back to your own flying experiences, you’ll recall sometimes you get on to a plane and it’s miserable. The seats are tight, there’s overhead monitors or no entertainment at all. There’s no WiFi, it’s an old plane, etc.
Then sometimes you get on to a plane and its brand new. There’s in-seat entertainment, there’s WiFi, the seats feel comfortable, etc. We’re taking all of those experiential aspects, we’re putting them into one site.
We’ve created a happiness score for every flight in the world and we’re making it very easy to find better flights than you ever would have found before, incredibly easily. And also, for the lowest prices, so you don’t have to compromise on price.
We launched eight weeks ago and it’s going incredibly well. Traffic is growing and users are just telling us they love the site. We’re saving them time and they’re picking better flights, so it’s great so far.
Roy: Can you share any traffic numbers with us?
Bob: Let’s see. We have had over 100,000 visits in the first eight weeks. That’s what I’m comfortable sharing, so it’s been great so far …
Roy: That’s fantastic.
Bob: We’re on our way. Yes.
Roy: Now, the information that you’re providing, I took a look at the site, isn’t this information provided by other sites or other vendors? Or couldn’t it be easily provided by Kayak or one of those?
Bob: Good questions. Number one, it’s not provided elsewhere, so we are the first entity that has gone very deep into the flight experience itself. The leg room and the type of seat, whether the flight has WiFi, in-seat power and different trip savers of that, so different seat layouts.
For example, sometimes you get into economy on an international flight and you’ll have ten seats across on a 777. Sometimes, the same exact plane, a different airline will have nine seats across and the difference between nine versus ten is a very big difference.
We go very, very deep and there is nowhere else where you can find this level of data. Whether a competitor can do it or not, the answer is we have been working on this for over two years. We’ve had to research data from hundreds of sources all over the world, in addition to immigrate flier comments and feedback.
We’ve now got over 100,000 ratings from fliers in 63 countries. Not a trivial task to go emulate, so we really feel like it’s going to be very hard for anyone else to go do this. The data is unstructured and messy, and so really the only place you can get happiness scores and happiness factors is at RouteHappy.com.
Roy: Now, how do you compare to Seat Guru?
Bob: Seat Guru is mostly known for picking a seat, an individual seat after you buy your flight. RouteHappy.com is really at a different level, which is what flight to even pick in the first place.
You’re going to Miami and you’ve got an option of say 50 flights or 35 flights, we’ll tell you very quickly which are the flights you should take in the first place. So, it’s very different. The models are very different.
Roy: Do you think you’re going to incorporate the seat information at a later date?
Bob: I think over time I could see us doing that. Yes. Could be on their web app. basically, as long as fliers demand it and tell us it’s going to be useful, we’re interested in adding that value.
Roy: Now, how do you define? There’s obviously a zillion websites where you can search for flights and you’re working hard to differentiate yourself. How do you define your market financially, traffic wise, how would you define it?
Obviously, you’ve raised the money. You had to define it somehow. What is the market that you see for RouteHappy.com?
Bob: OK. That’s a great question. There are two kinds of fliers in a real broad sense. There are experienced optimizers and there are A to B fliers. Experienced optimizers are fliers who care about their experience. They know that if you pick the better planes, if you pick the better flights that you’ll have a better flight.
This kind of flier does research before their flights. They go to different sites. They think about it. They study it. They draw on their own experience and they take actions to improve their own experience, and they typically have a better experience than others.
They tend to be frequent fliers. They may be elite numbers of frequent number flier programs or just that they care. They’re the kind of people who go to TripAdvisor and Yelp and they read ratings and reviews, and they’re discerning in this regard.
The other group are the actual, in to your numbers, the majority of people, they’re called A to B fliers or we call them A to B fliers. They’re people who sort of think about air travel today as more of a way from getting from A to B.
They also care about their experience, but as human beings and consumers, we all are looking for the biggest bang for our buck as a consumer. And in air travel, we want the best experience that we can possibly have. We don’t want to have bad experiences.
The problem is that there’s no good data anywhere to make it easy to make those decisions, so the A to B group are people who don’t have a lot of extra time. They don’t have the knowledge on where to go seek out all this information, and so they just go to a typical site search site today and they pick based on price and schedule alone.
We are going after the experienced optimizers first, because they are the group that really get, when they hear about RouteHappy.com, they say, “Oh, my Gosh. You are going to save me hours of research time. You are the site that I’ve been looking for.” We’re going after them first.
What happens with the A to Be fliers, it’s really interesting. When they hear about RouteHappy, their first inclination is sort of a little puzzled. Happiness? Happiness scores? What do you mean? I don’t get it. It doesn’t compute, and then they start reading or they look at the search results, or we tell them about it if this is friends and family.
A light bulb goes off in their mind. I’ve seen this hundreds of times, since I’ve been working at RouteHappy.com. A light bulb goes off and they have an epiphany moment. They say, ‘You know what. I do care about the experience. I actually care about leg room, or I really want WiFi, or I need the plug in the seat because I want my laptop to work on my trip out west.”
They just didn’t realize that it was even possible to care, so we’re making it very easy for that group to care. They come next. We’re going after a very large broad segment of fliers, but we know who we’re talking to first.
Roy: Now, how many people fly?
Bob: Two point eight billion times a year, a passenger gets on a commercial aircraft. The market is massive.
Roy: How many of that represents, as they say on the web, “unique users?”
Bob: Right. You know what, I don’t know that I have that data off hand. I can go research it…
Roy: No. What percentage of those people are the experienced optimizers?
Bob: Here’s what I can tell you. Forty percent of fliers are members of frequent flier programs. Sixty percent are not. Frequent fliers tend to be more experientially oriented, because they’re vying for elite status and they fly a lot. The more you fly, the more you care, because you’ve seen the fruits of first class or you’ve seen the fruits of the lounge. You know that the economy comfort, economy plus they’ll enhance, the economy seating is more comfortable, so I would say it’s something about a 40/60 split.
Roy: Forty/sixty split of the experienced optimizers?
Bob: Yes. For the experienced optimizers who fly more often, and then 60%. Something around that as just a rough estimate.
Roy: What are you envisioning your revenue model to be for this business?
Bob: Yes. Our revenue model is in very proven ways. The first is we make money from referring uses to booking sites.
The second is advertising, but our advertising has a twist, which is that it is highly targeted and contextually relevant and will feel more like useful content, even though it will be labeled very clearly as sponsored, etc. But, it will feel like useful content, because that’s what we’re all about.
Then, the third is licensing of our data, so we built the world’s first product attribute data base. We know more about flight product than anyone else, and so we’re able to in very creative ways license our data to the industry, so that they can use it to try to innovate their businesses and compete more effectively.
Roy: But, doesn’t that data change? As we all know, the airlines reconfigure a flight, a plane every hour, so how can you possibly keep all that data up-to-date.
Bob: You are absolutely right about that and that’s the beauty in the RouteHappy.com.com model, so that our data licensing is subscription based. Uur system that we’ve built very intentionally because of what you just said. The data changes constantly. We need to be on top of the data every minute of every day, and so it changes on RouteHappy.com constantly.
As soon as an airline changes the kind of a plane flying a route, when you do a search, you will get the accurate information. Our system works totally dynamically. That is even more reason that the data side of our business is going to be really successful as we develop it, because airlines and others in the industry need very real time data on what is happening. What are their competitors doing? What are fliers saying about their products? The new products that they introduced, how are they being accepted, adopted, etc.?
Roy: Now, a lot of people, especially business travelers are forced to use corporate travel systems, such as Egencia and some of these other internal products. American Express. Do you envision yourself building API’s to immigrate with these systems.
Bob: We have had a tremendous amount of interest in licensing our data to corporate travel partners, so I can envision us doing it. Absolutely. For now, what we’re finding is that users are finding out about RouteHappy.com and because we’re so unique, they’re just coming to RouteHappy.com.
They’re doing the research and then they’re going to their corporate booking tool to buy and that’s OK, too. It’s a work in progress but we’ve had a tremendous amount of interest from corporate travel through this data.
Roy: Do you have any apps yet? Or are you going to build any apps?
Bob: We do. We have our first iPhone app, so you can download it. It’s the RouteHappy.com reviewer app. It’s actually a very useful tool and it’s fun. One of the things that we offer on both our website, as well as this app is you can review your flight, and read tips, and reviews, and see photos from real fliers.
We’ve collected data, user generated content from all over the world. What does the food look like? What does the plane look like? What does the airport or the lounge look like, etc.? And, where’s the secret security line? For the app, you can actually review your experience as it’s happening.
You don’t need WiFi on the plane, because it works completely offline, as well as online and you can just submit it at the end. But, imagine being on the plane and actually taking a photo of the plane, the food, the crew, commenting, sort of feeling like a private eye and people are having a lot of fun with it.
Roy: No. That sounds fantastic, but it would seem like for what you’re doing, an app to actually use the service would be extremely valuable.
Bob: Coming. Coming.… …
Roy: You can’t do everything in the first hour.
Bob: Can’t do everything in the first hour. But yes, so we decided to start with the reviewer app because that feeds more content into the site that has been useful to share. But, I will tell you we get a lot of requests for the app. Now the question is for the flight search app, iPhone versus Android.
Roy: That’s always the challenge.
Roy: I’m an Android guy, so sometimes I go to a website and I’m all excited and then, “Oh, they only have an iPhone app.”
Bob: If I had a magic button, I would definitely be pressing it for many things that we need to go do, which we will do.
Roy: Now, you’ve built the site. You’ve launched April 1st. Absolutely congratulations. Where would you like to be in a year?
Bob: Thank you very much, by the way. In a year, we would very much like to have fliers broadly have been introduced to the concept of happiness scores. Their minds have opened to the idea that, “Wow. I actually can shop for features that I care about.”
It’s become very personal and so, we want to be considered one of the new, up and coming flight search site and frankly would like to have a lot of people using the site by then. I would say, if you ask your typical online travel user in the United States in one year, ‘Have you heard of RouteHappy.com?’ We’re hoping that a good chunk of them will have said, ‘Yes, and I love it.’
Roy: What kind of traffic would you like going to the site in a year?
Bob: Well, let’s see. I would love to have millions, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, so we’ll see how far we get.
Roy: Now, is your business model substantially based on traffic to the website or an app, versus maybe being the source of data for lots of websites?
Bob: This is one of the reasons that RouteHappy.com is a great business idea. It’s a combination of building our own audience base. Traffic to the website, but because we have this very unique data that we can monetize, it’s also a combination of the data licensing side.
We really have thought very hard about how to create a business model that isn’t just reliant on one thing, but instead have our revenue streams complement one another. We’re actually working on a large strategic partnership that will drive a really nice amount of revenue in the very near term and it is a partnership oriented data licensing deal. So, it really is both.
Roy: When people build a business, especially a start up, the first question every investor asks is ‘What’s the barrier to entry?’ The question is, do you think the strength in your business is more in the technology or in the database?
Bob: It’s actually both but our happiness data is at the core of what we do in the barriers to entry. Having said that, in order to create these happiness scores and in order to create happiness factors, there are 33 million nonstop flights every year and when you start looking at all of the connections, the one stop and two stop flights, there are billions of possibilities.
In order to effectively incredibly match those flights to the amenities and quality of the experience, as well as create the happiness scores, we have had to build a very complex set of algorithms. Matching algorithms, scoring algorithms, etc. to do that.
It’s been a very intense effort of a group of experts who go very deep into aircraft interiors and nuances of flights and flight search, and so it really is a combination of both data and technology. A hard problem to solve.
Roy: Now, you’ve raised money at this point, haven’t you?
Roy: Can you give us a sense of how much you’ve raised?
Bob: Sure. We have raised a million and a half dollars in feed funding and a little bit of friends and family before that.
Roy: You started this project when? Day one?
Bob: The colonel of the idea was over two and a half years ago, so I bought the domain about two and a half years ago. And then, boot strapped it. Started to get people interested. I partnered with a colleague of mine who is a very experienced data architect. He’s become our chief data architect, who also knows online travel tech extremely well.Then, raised friends and family money. That was an interesting experience, because you actually go ask your friends and family, siblings and uncles and aunts, etc. for capital.
Then, about a year and a quarter ago in April of 2012, we raised our feed round. And that allowed us to really put our heads down and build an incredibly world class product that we just launched, as you mentioned, at the end of April.
Roy: That’s exciting. Did you have employees?
Bob: Yes. We’re a team of about eight and a half people. You can see our photos on the About Us page. It’s split between product and technology and data, and we’re actually in the process of growing the team now.
For your audience, I think it could be very relevant. Marketing is the next frontier for RouteHappy.com, so we’re really a bunch of tech product geeks right now, and data geeks, and we’re looking for some just absolutely stellar marketers to join our team.
Roy: Marketers to drive online conversion kind of thing?
Bob: Exactly. Drive traffic. Drive awareness. Help us grow our brand. Users are already telling us, we get great feedback on how they love the brand. I don’t know how much you’ve experienced the site so far, but it’s every time you do a search, we’re very human and so we have custom messages that appear based on the destination that you’re searching.
If you hover over the happiness factors, we give you expert tips, but we’re really human and fun about it. If you are looking at a flight that has over head entertainment, we say, ‘Overhead projectors or shared screen for entertainment, remember the ’80’s.’
You know, there’s a lot of moments when you’re searching for a flight on RouteHappy.com that will bring a smile to your face, and so we need some more marketers to come in and help us develop these ideas because we are finding that people really like them.
Roy: Put up little videos of commercials from the ‘60’s.
Bob: Yes. Exactly. Right. The glamour days of your travel.
Roy: That’s right. There was a commercial once, the tag line, ‘Is this any way to run an airline?’ You could dig that out and people could click on something …
Roy: … and they’d see that little video running.
Bob: Stay tuned. We actually have been talking about doing some things like this. But, the truth is, you can actually have experiences that sort of have hints of what it used to be like if you know what you’re doing. The problem is, if you just sort of treat it like it’s buying milk or gasoline, then it’s a crap shoot.
Our view is take matters into your own hands. Find the site that’s going to help you make the best decision and have a better experience. We all eat our own dog food. We all use RouteHappy.com when we fly and I’ve got to say, we’ve had really good experiences flying ever since we started working on this project.
Roy: You’ve built this business. You’ve raised this money. You guys are just coming out of the gate, really working hard. Do you have an exit strategy?
Bob: Exit strategy is to build the best possible company we can, and so good things will happen. What is meant to be will happen from there. Honestly, right now, it’s all about building the best flight search that the world has ever had.
Roy: Do you think this is a hundred million company? A billion dollar company? What do you think this is?
Bob: I think this is a very big company. I honestly believe that we will all be using
RouteHappy.com to search for flights in a few years.
Roy: He doesn’t want to commit to a number, though.
Bob: Well, but you can do the math.
Roy: OK. Well, is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d love to mention to our audience?
Bob: Let’s see. I would say, you ask good questions. Ultimately, yes. I think there’s a couple more. What you will find on RouteHappy.com that you won’t find anywhere else, think about your own personal experience and what you care about. For many people, this is a new question. No one has ever asked them before.
Then give RouteHappy.com a try and see if you can optimize your experience. You’ll be very surprised at how easy we’ve made it to amount to sift through all of your options very easily. My favorite feature of all is the happy and cheap filter. You perform a search on RouteHappy.com, you get your search results, click the happy and cheap filter.
What that does is in one click it narrows your results down to the intersection of the happiest and the cheapest flights on that route. What that means is that all of the filtering and sorting and scrolling that you do on other websites, you don’t have to do because the results that emerge are the flights that you want to take. It’s a very useful tool.
Roy: It sounds like it’s a model for the new economy. Happy and cheap.
Bob: Exactly. What more do you want when you fly? You want to be happy and you want it to be cheap.
Roy: I think you want everything to be happy and cheap.
Bob: In life, right. Right.
Roy: Right …
Bob: Exactly. Exactly.
Roy: Living in New York, they just had an article in the paper that most people living I n New York consider it uneconomic, yet they’ll stay here.
Roy: I think everybody wants to find a way to enjoy what they’re doing and not spend a lot of money doing it.
Bob: Exactly. Exactly. Yes. Starting with flights. You’re right, this is the future of flight search and maybe this is the future of just how we live our lives. Happy and cheap.
Roy: I guess your motto’s going to be “Fly happy”.
Bob: We already used the hastag fly better all over the place, so if you look for us on twitter, you’ll see fly better about a hundred times. Everyone’s talking about fly better now. Why not, life is short. There’s no reason to be miserable when you do anything, so much less fly. We’re going to help you have better experiences.
Roy: Well Bob, you’ve given us a better sense of RouteHappy.com. It sounds like something we should all be looking at and checking out. I’ll look forward to the Android app, so when I’m running around, I can check my flight fast and say this is the flight. Happy and cheap.
Bob: Yes, exactly. And I will send you a personal note when the Android app comes out. But, appreciate the time and definitely everyone should be using RouteHappy.com to search for flights.
Roy: Thanks so much for taking the time today.