Cambridge-based travel startup Hopper announced today that it has raised another $12 million in funding, bringing its pre-launch funding total to $22 million. The new funding was led by OMERS Ventures, and included participation from existing investors Brightspark Ventures and Atlas Venture. Hopper’s ability to raise this kind of funding without even shipping a product reflects both the strength of its team (made up of Expedia and TripAdvisor alumni), and the power of the problem it hopes to address.
What Hopper aims to do is untangle the mess of data that exists around travel, outside of traditionally well-covered areas like airfare and hotels. Hopper CEO Frederic Lalonde pointed out in an interview that there’s a tremendous amount of information on blogs, and in sites not indexed or even noticed by traditional travel service providers, that’s both high quality and potentially relevant to travelers looking to build out itineraries that are unique and that provide the best possible experience of the place they intend to visit.
“Planning a trip is pretty tedious and frustrating,” Lalonde said. “All of us have had the experience where you’re jumping around from one site to another, and it always feels like you’re missing out on something great, and if you just spent another hour researching you’d find the perfect beach to go to. You always have this sentiment that you just settled for ‘good enough’.”
Hopper is taking a big data analytics approach that indexes and categorizes travel-related sites in order to unearth and catalog that information. It sounds like a Herculean effort, and Lalonde admits that it is; he compares it to the earlier process of cataloging and indexing digital music with recognizable universal markers (artist info, recording date, album, etc.), but says it’s much more challenging because of the varied nature of the data.
“The catalog is broken,” Lalonde said. “One of the questions that comes up often is ‘Why is there no Flipboard of travel?’ Our take on it has always been that the catalog is too messy, and when you start looking at this problem and you say let’s take in all of the information everywhere about the travel segment and start structuring it, you’re basically on a train ride to big data.”
Hopper describes itself very much as a big data company. The data engineering side of the company is in Montreal, which Lalonde says it will be adding to thanks to this funding round. The focus right now is on building product, with the aim of getting mobile and web-based tools into consumer hands by the end of this year.
The startup is looking at mobile as its key delivery platform, and it makes sense for a product that’s likely going to be mostly used on the ground in unfamiliar locations. The approach Hopper is taking is ambitious, and the tech behind it complex (it’s a little like what Diffbot is trying to accomplish, but with a much more tightly-focused eye on travel), but the end goal for consumers is simple enough. “We’re actually trying to bring the inspiration and the fun back to the process,” as Lalonde puts it.