Hyper is a new travel startup betting that the secret ingredient to a great travel booking experience is interacting with another human being.
In other words, founders Minqi Jiang and Peter Zakin (who previously worked at Google and Venmo, respectively) are aiming to give users the experience of having a personal assistant who helps you book your flights and hotels, but via a chat interface. You just tell the Hyper app what you’re looking for and it comes back with options, then you can make your choice and confirm the booking from directly within the conversation.
Travel startup Hipmunk has been moving in this direction as well, with the launch of Hello Hipmunk, but in my experience, at least, the technology doesn’t always do a perfect job of translating colloquial English into a structured search.
With Hyper, on the other hand, Jiang and Zakin said that you’re interacting with a live human being who understands what you’re asking for and can help you plan things out and piece things together when the logistics get complicated.
Why not just go with a real travel agent then? Jiang argued that chat is a much better interface for these kinds of interactions than a phone call, because you don’t have to awkwardly sit on hold while someone’s typing commands into a computer and then reading you the results. He said it’s easier for the agent too, because on the backend, Hyper has built a system that allows agents to make bookings from the same interface where they’re interacting with customers — in his words, Hyper is “using automation when we can and using humans when we need them.”
As an example, Zakin said that if your flight has a big delay, your Hyper agent can try to help you find an earlier departure, but even if there’s nothing available, the agent will probably commiserate and tell you, “That sucks.” Does that sound insignificant? Well, when I think about the often impersonal experience of travel, a human touch can be very appealing.
In the beginning, Jiang and Zakin said they were basically just handling bookings themselves, but the company now has three full-time employees who work as travel agents. It has also partnered with an outside agency, partly for the access to travel inventory, partly to pay some of those agents for extra work when needed.
Hyper’s competition also includes chat assistants, like Magic and GoButler, that offer travel booking among their broader services. In discussing “chat-based commerce” companies, Jiang suggested that they’re “myopic on text,” while Hyper offers more interactivity and richer content — when you’re looking for a hotel, it doesn’t just give you a name and a price and maybe a link to a listing elsewhere, but also allows you to tap on the hotel to see more photos and details, view a map and so on.
The basic Hyper service is free. If you want a higher level of service, like 24/7 availability and help tracking down lost luggage, you’ll have to pay for the $25 per month premium plan. And there’s a business/team plan, too.
The San Francisco startup has raised $410,000 in seed funding from HLVP, Greylock Partners, Metamorphic Ventures, Altimeter Capital CEO Brad Gerstner, Room77 CEO Drew Patterson, Myoung Cha of Apple, and Venmo founders Iqram Magdon-Ismail and Andrew Kortina.