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INTERVIEW: What do Big Data, Airlines, Flying Happy and Flight Information have in Common?

They are the cor­ner­stones of 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 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 Today, we’re speak­ing with Bob Albert. The CEO and founder of 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

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. 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

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, 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 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 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 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 and because we’re so unique, they’re just com­ing to

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 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.

Bob:   Yes.

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’ 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 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?

Bob:   Yes.

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, 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 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 …

Bob:   Right.

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 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 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 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 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, 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.

Bob:   Yes.

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 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 to search for flights.

Roy:   Thanks so much for tak­ing the time today.

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