The University of Southern California is home to many innovative students and companies. In order to support all of these teams, there are several on-campus startup competitions every year, from the Silicon Beach USC competition to the New Venture Seed Competition, with prize funds to help build the companies. One team, a travel company that has built a discovery and planning tool that will make it easy and fun for travelers to find and book trips, was a winner of not just the New Venture Seed Competition in 2013, but also recently won the first day of the Lavin Lean Model Startup Competition in San Diego State University.
The company was founded in 2012, developed by an all-Trojan team and has already made a big splash with this first-of-its-kind travel website. It was a finalist in Marshall’s New Venture Seed Competition and it has earned a place within IncubatriX, a startup Incubator through USC’s Grief School of Entrepreneurship, which currently houses over a dozen USC startups.
These Trojan’s were tired of spending more time planning their trips than actually vacationing, HipTraveler is a one-stop, image-based travel-planning site that is guaranteed to ease the pain we’ve all become accustomed to when planning and booking a trip.
HipTraveler’s business model is significantly different than most travel websites and is based more closely on collaborative economy models like AirBnB and Uber. Local travel experts, or “Ambassadors” in HipTraveler lingo, are compensated when a traveler uses one of their pre-built itineraries to book travel. Travelers can earn the right to become an Ambassador on the site by consistently providing the best content, recommendations, and of course Itineraries.
“We drew a straight line between what the traveler needs to expedite the process of travel planning and what savvy travelers are best at providing”, says John Baumgartner CEO & Founder.
The team accredited their unique model in an archaic industry as a huge piece of their success in the competitions. Baumgartner points out,
“Half of all travel booking is still transacted offline today. If the online solutions that exist in the markets today were adequate, that number would be near zero.” He continues, “If you look at the true disruptors today in virtually any industry, they are the small, scrappy companies that built their products as platforms with enough flexibility to allow their customers to co-design the experience and use cases. We believe we’ve pointed the ship in the right direction and research is certainly on our side, but it’s our customers that are truly building the eventual product. It’s so exciting – a trusted network of travel experts, travelers and aficionados designing the ultimate travel website”.
At the end of the day, the company aims to make things simple and intuitive. Using visually appealing content, travelers can easily find what they like and drag and drop to their itinerary. With the ability to import images from social media, HipTraveler creates a shareable, searchable itinerary. HipTraveler has just released its beta in mid-March and is currently accepting applications for the Ambassador roles.
Trojan founders have had a history of success, from Salesforce to Tinder. It is good to see USC, home of one of the top entrepreneurship centers in the nation, supporting and fostering success of teams like HipTraveler.