This time two years ago, things looked pretty grim for us at Adioso.
We were out of money, we’d lost all our team members other than myself and my co-founder Fenn, and we were emotionally and physically exhausted. As our first investor and mentor Paul Graham put to us so bluntly, we’d failed to reach a milestone with the money our investors had given us, and we looked like just another failed startup.
It was a bitter fall from our heights of two years earlier when we’d progressed from the Y Combinator Winter ’09 batch, buoyed by the sense that our product was one of the most exciting in our batch, at least to our fellow YC startup founders and the younger, more travel-savvy investors.
What had gone wrong?
Sure, as company founders we hadn’t measured up. We weren’t great at fundraising, and we didn’t raise enough money to do a whole lot. We weren’t able to get the best out of our team members. Our attempts at building the technology we needed to power the product had fallen short. In desperation, we wasted time and money on marketing stunts.
But all that was peripheral to one key fact. The product we’d envisioned was actually impossible to build.
We had no idea it would be impossible when we started.
When we started prototyping the concept in 2007, it didn’t seem such an insurmountable task.
We just wanted a travel site that gave us a good answer to questions like “best flight to anywhere in Southeast Asia next month for 10 to 15 days“. So we built it, and it worked really well.
At least it did for us, from our home city of Melbourne, Australia, on the low-cost airlines we were happy to fly with. We started promoting it to travellers in Australia, and they were ecstatic. “The travel search site I’ve always wanted!”, people excitedly told us.
So we felt like we were winning. Even before applying to Y Combinator, we were familiar with Y Combinator’s mantra “Make something people want”, and we felt we were doing just that.
So when we were accepted into Y Combinator, we thought all we had to do was keep growing it so everyone else in the world could use it, and within a few months… boomtimes!
Two years later, with our numerous attempted hacks to get around the unavailability of flight data doing little to generate any traction outside Australia, the message was becoming clear; there was no possible way of making this product work.
It wasn’t just us. No one else had succeeded in building anything remotely like our product either; not even the biggest, best-funded, most PhD-flush companies in the entire travel world.
Absurd that no travel site lets me search for a flight by saying “California to Southeast Asia for 3 weeks in the next 6 months”. — dustin curtis (@dcurtis) April 30, 2010
What made it impossible?
The main thing was that there was no way of sourcing all of the world’s flight data in a way that was adequately complete, accurate or up-to-date.
For our product to work, we needed a complete database of all the flights, from all the airlines, with fares and availability updated in near enough to real time.
It turned out that you just could’t get that kind of data, from anywhere, at any price.
What to do?
People still really wanted our product. We knew that. The feedback was never “this is stupid, no-one wants this.” It was more like “this is awesome, I totally want this but it’s useless as it doesn’t have the airlines or destinations I want.”
We had all kinds of ideas ourselves, and suggestions from investors and advisors about what we should do to make the company work.
But every idea had the same flaw: we knew it wasn’t what people wanted.
The site we’d been building from day one was the thing people wanted. That was the only thing we were willing to keep building.
Adioso.com – Ho-ly-shit. Nu al de beste vliegticketzoeksite ooit. http://tumblr.com/xynhbdfzh — Alexander Klöpping (@AlexanderNL) September 1, 2010
We just decided to keep on building it anyway.
Whilst it might have been impossible to successfully build our product in 2010 or 2011, we refused to believe it would be impossible forever.
So we decided to keep going, working on the things that were within our control.
We built a new flight search technology platform, which we called Wingtip, that had the features and performance and scalability that our earlier attempts had lacked and that still no other travel site offered.
We kept developing our user-interface, continually iterating to come up with something that was more beautiful and delightful to use than any other travel search site.
And we would experiment with marketing and distribution, validating ideas for a commercial platform to make Adioso not just something consumers want, but something airlines and travel marketers would want too.
It was 18 months ago that we made the decision to keep building, and as of the last couple of months, Adioso has finally started to become the product that Fenn and I always aspired to create.
We now describe Adioso like this: travel search that works the way you’re thinking.
The video at the top of this post explains a bit about what it does.
“But it’s so slow!”
Actually, the bit that Adioso controls is very fast. Our Wingtip engine enables us to answer fight search queries faster than pretty much any other travel site – if we have flight data pre-loaded into it.
That thing about not being able to get hold of a complete database of flight fares and availability? It’s still our biggest constraint.
So where we can’t currently get the data to pre-load into Wingtip, we do realtime lookups on other large travel websites. That’s slow, especially when you have to do dozens or hundreds of searches to deliver a single set of results.
But we didn’t want to let slowness stop us from being idealistic about building Adioso the way we’d envisioned it.
Just like modems and personal computers, mobile phones and now 3d printers, you start with a slow, barely-working first version, then improve performance from there. But the product has to exist before you anyone will support you in making it faster.
Oh, and even if it’s slow, it still beats the endless hours many people currently spend searching numerous permutations of destinations and dates on conventional travel search sites.
Flight data is still a problem, but at least now it’s our only major problem.
Two years ago, we didn’t have much going for us. The inability to obtain flight data was a problem, but it was just one among many.
Now we have a team of amazingly talented engineers and designers, a killer technology platform, and a user-interface that improves noticeably every week.
And people no longer say “Adioso would be awesome except it doesn’t have the airlines and destinations I want”. It has all the airlines and destinations now.
Now people say things like this…
Things may be about to change.
For the first time, we’re seeing signs that the flight data we need is becoming available, in the right format, at a cost that might be economical for us.
So now we have a new challenge: to establish deals that get the availability of accurate flight data increasing, and its cost decreasing in such a way that Adioso can become continually faster and better.
If we can make that happen, we might finally succeed in making the travel site people want.Follow @adioso
See flight prices for Washington DC to Costa Rica next month returning 13 to 14 days later >
See flight prices for Melbourne to Bali next month return 40 to 60 days later under $600 >
See flight prices for London to Eastern Europe return 7 to 10 days later >
See flight prices for Melbourne to Japan returning 10 to 15 days later >
See flight prices for Melbourne to Catania, Italy, late May returning 20 to 30 days later >
See flight prices for Omaha to Southeast Asia in July returning 24 to 28 days later >
See flight prices for Melbourne to New Zealand in July for 20 to 30 days >
See flight prices for Minneapolis to Las Vegas in March any Friday returning 2 to 3 days later >
See flight prices for Melbourne to Hobart this Friday night return 2 to 3 days later >
See flight prices for San Francisco to Caribbean in October returning between 7 and 10 days later >
See flight prices for San Francisco to Phoenix next Monday return between 4 and 5 days later >
See flight prices for Minneapolis to somewhere warm tomorrow >
Adioso will have noticed we’ve been making some pretty big changes to the way Adioso looks and works. This morning we’ve deployed a whole lot of improvements, and whilst there’ll no doubt be some more polishing and bug-fixing to do, we’re feeling pretty comfortable it’s the most functional and polished version of Adioso yet. We’ve been planning, testing and building this version for about 7 months, and in the last two months we’ve benefited immensely from the visual and UX design talents of Daniel Wearne of Peacock Studio. We’re really pleased with Daniel’s work, and are super-excited about the new functionality. But don’t take our word for it… check it out and let us know what you think! (Oh BTW, we made another change today too – let us know if you find it… ) Google
It’s nearly four years ago that Fenn and I made our first trip to Silicon Valley, for our Y Combinator interview. One of the more awkward questions the YC partners asked us was “did you use Adiosot to find the flights to get here from Australia?” The answer was an embarrassing “no”. At that early stage all we’d figured out was how to load flights from a few low-cost airlines into a MySQL database. Intercontinental flights on full-service airlines were another thing altogether – though we hoped the funding and mentorship that Y Combinator would bring would make it possible. Well it’s taken four years to conquer the engineering hurdles, but as of this week, our hope has finally been realised. Adioso can now support fully-flexible round-trip searches on flights from Melbourne & Sydney to San Francisco, with results that include every airline that flies the route. That means you can now do searches like… Sydney to SFO Next Week return 20-30 days later (AUD$1407 with Delta) Melbourne to San Francisco CA Mid November return Early December (AUD$1250 with United) Sydney to San Francisco CA any time return 14-21 days later (AUD$1247 in Feb with United) Melbourne to SFO between jan 20 and jan 30 1 stop return between feb 2 and feb 10 (AUD$1775 with United) The results will include all the major airlines: Qantas, Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia Delta, United, American Airlines, Singapore Airlines and others. We’ll return a result in under a second, and tell you the cheapest two-way trip that matches your timeframes. Adioso’s the only site in the world that can do this! If you don’t like the airline with the cheapest flights, you can just click on that airline’s logo and select “Hide [airline name]‘s flights”. You can use a the same method to filter by any other dimension – departure time, arrival time, duration, and number of stops. The routes we’ve so far enabled are: Melbourne to London Heathrow Sydney to London Heathrow Brisbane to London Heathrow Perth to London Heathrow Melbourne to Paris (Charles de Gaulle) Sydney to Paris (Charles de Gaulle) Being such a new feature, we need to take it slowly in rolling this feature out across more routes. But we hope to have it working across all the best destinations around the world very soon. So, startup founders, please get searching on Adioso for your the ideal flights for your next SF trip. And if you happen to land in a Y Combinator interview next month, please tell PG you used Adioso to get there! Photo credit: “Glow in the Dark” – San Francisco, by Mike Behnken
Last week we added our first full-service airline routes to Adioso – Melbourne to London, Sydney to London and Melbourne to Paris. Today we’ve added Sydney to Paris! Here are some of the searches you can now do… Sydney to Paris Anytime return 20-30 days later Sydney to Paris Late December return Mid January Sydney to Paris next week return 14-15 days later Sydney to Paris between nov 15 and nov 20 1 stop return between dec 20 and dec 30 Stay tuned for more awesome full-service routes very soon! For more info about our new full-service routes, see the post announcing Melbourne to London.
Two days ago we added our first full-service airline route to Adioso – Melbourne to London. Today we’ve added another route: from Melbourne to Paris! Here are some of the searches you can now do… Melbourne to Paris Anytime return 20-30 days later Melbourne to Paris Late December return Mid January Melbourne to Paris next week return 14-15 days later Melbourne to Paris between nov 15 and nov 20 1 stop return between dec 20 and dec 30 Stay tuned for more awesome full-service routes very soon! For more info about our new full-service routes, see the post announcing Melbourne to London.
Yesterday, Adioso became the first site in the world that could find you the best-priced return trip from Melbourne to London, on any airline, with flexible dates and trip lengths at any time for the next three months! Today we’ve enabling it for Sydney to London! For the first time, you can use Adioso for searches like: Sydney to London Anytime return 20-30 days later Sydney to London Late December return Mid January Sydney to London next week return 14-15 days later Sydney to London between nov 15 and nov 20 return between dec 20 and dec 30 We’ll return a result in under a second, and tell you the cheapest two-way trip that matches your timeframes. Adioso’s the only travel site in the world that can do this! If you don’t like the airline with the cheapest flights, you can just click on that airline’s logo and select “Hide [airline name]‘s flights”. Stay tuned for more routes to be added very soon. You can keep an eye on our priority list for adding routes on the Missing Routes page. And if you have particular routes you want us to add, hit the “Watch Prices” button on your favourite routes – and get your friends to do the same!
It’s been a long time coming, but as of today, Adioso can include full-service airlines in our flight search results. That means for the first time, we can get you from Melbourne to London, and give you results that include Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways, Emirates, Etihad, China Eastern, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, Royal Brunei, and more! What’s more, Adioso can find you the best-priced return trip, with flexible dates and trip lengths at any time for the next three months! For example, you can search for: Melbourne to London Anytime return 20-30 days later Melbourne to London Late December return Mid January Melbourne to London next week return 14-15 days later Melbourne to London between nov 15 and nov 20 1 stop return between dec 20 and dec 30 We’ll return a result in under a second, and tell you the cheapest two-way trip that matches your timeframes. Adioso’s the only travel site in the world that can do this! If you don’t like the airline with the cheapest flights (it’s worth noting here that Royal Brunei is an alcohol-free airline), you can just click on that airline’s logo and select “Hide [airline name]‘s flights”. You can use a the same method to filter by any other dimension – departure time, arrival time, duration, and number of stops. But being such a new feature, we need to take it slowly in rolling this feature out across more routes. But we hope to have it working across all the best destinations around the world very soon. The order in which we add new destinations will be influenced heavily by the Missing Routes list, which lists missing routes in order of the number of people “Watching Prices“. So, if you want us to add a route, start watching!
We’ve been a little quiet for a while, as we’ve been crazy busy, pounding keyboards and pavements alike, in our quest to make Adioso the world’s very best site for discovering and booking amazing travel experiences.
Over the next couple of weeks we’ll start activating and excitedly announcing the new features and capabilities we’ve been working on.
In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you with your thoughts about how the site’s working for you, and what you’d most like to see from us.
How you can talk to us
You can talk to us live, by clicking the “Chat with us” link at the bottom right of the screen on any page on Adioso. Whoever you talk to will be a real Adioso engineer!
Also, we’d love to hear your thoughts via this two-minute survey.
Whoever is most forthcoming with great feedback will be first in line to receive some big offers we’ll be making to the Adioso community in coming months.
We’re looking forward to hearing from you, and we can’t wait to start showing you the awesome new work we’ve been doing.
Strap yourselves in!
The Adioso Team – Fenn, Dan, Noah & Tom
Tom here again. Following on from my previous post, I’ve now published the second instalment, “Stunts“. You can read the intro below, or the full post on my blog… “It was just so off-brand for you guys.” I didn’t really go for the marketing-speak, but I knew what she meant. It was late April in 2011, and Jenni and I were sitting near the fireplace at the Great Britain Hotel, the delightfully offbeat pub in the inner Melbourne neighbourhood of Richmond, that had been my sanctuary and playground during my chaotic period of a few years earlier. Jenni, one of the people I’d come to rely on to tell me what I needed to hear, was home from London for a brief visit over Easter. She was talking about the How Much Do You Heart Me? microsite we’d launched a couple of months earlier for Valentine’s Day. Until that moment, not a single person had straight-out told me they thought it was a bad idea. But Jenni was telling me something I’d known deep down all along. The journey to How Much Do You Heart Me? had started back in November 2010, about three months after the launch of our new website version and our Techcrunch & Lifehackercoverage. The message we’d taken away from the feedback after that launch was that our flight search product was amazing, and that all we needed to do was add more airlines and destinations so it would be useful for everyone. The version we’d launched carried just 13 low-cost airlines. It enabled good functionality in Australia & Southeast Asia, and moderate functionality in Western Europe and the US. But the confinement to low-cost airlines meant there was barely any inter-continental coverage. We were positioning Adioso as a flight search tool for adventurous travellers, but you couldn’t get from the US to Asia, or from anywhere to Latin America or Africa, and it was completely unusable to Canadians. The problem was, the search engine we’d spent the previous eight months building could only handle low-cost airline flights as individual one-way segments. To offer more comprehensive coverage, we needed to add full-service airlines. These airlines structure their fares in a completely different way. So it wasn’t a mere case of continuing to develop the engine we’d already built. We had to start building a new platform again. As we set about the task, we were all confidence; we’d have the new engine built within a month or two, and as soon as it was done we’d be able to offer comprehensive global coverage, and even start making revenue out of all the transactions we’d refer for full-service airline flights. But by late November, almost three months later, we seemed barely closer to the finish line. Some of our core technology assumptions were turning out to be flawed and the task was becoming increasingly complex. Estimates of “four more weeks” were floated, but there was no real way of knowing with any kind of certainty. To complicate things, our burn-rate had us looking at only about another five months before we’d need to have another funding round closed. If we could announce the launch of the new engine in a month, and if that would start growing the traffic, we’d be in good shape, though the timing would be tight. But if it took two, three or even six more months, which for all I knew was just as likely, we’d be screwed. During a company hacking retreat in New Zealand, a team member suggested a different approach. We’d take a break from building the new flight search engine, and try a new project that would be much more achievable and fun. A simple microsite that matched flights with hotels to create packages for spontaneous romantic weekend getaways was seemed to have merit. It was much more of a known undertaking than the new flight search engine. We’d need to build a hotel search component, but we’d been planning to do that anyway; everyone knows the only way to make money out of flight search is to add hotel search. This would give us the incentive to get a minimal implementation done quickly. A Christmas theme made sense; it was a pretty tight deadline, but we wanted to make the timeline short to keep it lean. It would be social and sharable, it would hook into Twitter and Facebook, and it would totally go viral, especially if we offered a $1000 travel prize to whoever came up with the coolest tweet about it. Something else about it appealed. We needed to have something exciting to show our existing investors. We’d been getting concerned questions about our traffic and our development progress. And some were wanting us to hurry up and start generating revenue. One investor seemed to reply to each of our slavishly prepared update emails with the same question: “Do you have a business model yet?”. The microsite idea would put all those problems to bed. It’d be wildly popular, make us some money, generate lots of hype and drive loads of traffic back to Adioso, giving us the momentum we’d need to raise our next funding round. Fenn briefly put forward a dissenting view, but he was outvoted. The getaway package microsite was going to be our salvation. So we got to it. It was all mostly working with about nine days to spare before Christmas. All we were waiting on was the accommodation distributor. There’d been a delay. We’d needed their Europe-based engineering team to do some customisations, but with some of the team unable to get into the office due to the record-breaking snowstorms, they were even more under-resourced than usual. Christmas came and went. No accommodation. No microsite launch. No matter, we thought. It was always going to be cutting it fine. We could just come up with a new theme and try again in a few weeks. Valentine’s Day seemed like the perfect theme for a site to let couples find romantic getaways. A sexy 50s-esque flight attendant would ask you to choose a budget, representing how much you loved your lover, and you’d then be shown a series of weekend getaway options. With howmuchdoyouloveme.com already registered, it became howmuchdoyouheartme.com. With the help of our designer and two front-end developers, we had it ready for launch on the Monday a week before Valentine’s Day. By then the project had taken far more time and money than we’d initially envisaged, and with the end of our runway in sight, we needed this to be a success. But everyone who’d worked on it or previewed it was convinced it was a winner. We published the blog post announcing the launch at about midday. We tweeted it and Facebook-posted it, then sat back and waited for the hockey-stick graph to take shape. People who knew us responded with exactly what we wanted to hear. The Melbourne Twittersphere was abuzz. People with personal connections to Adioso and the others involved with the project were euphoric. Within about 30 minutes, the traffic and social media buzz flattened off. It wasn’t spreading much beyond our own networks. I waited for a few more minutes to see if it picked up, but it remained flat. A wave of dread swept over me. I went out for a walk, alone. I thought back over the two and a half months since we’d made the decision to take this direction, calculated that we’d bet 75% of what had remained of our runway to get here, only to find that it had moved us no closer to funding. For the first time since our last fundraising a year earlier, I was starting to panic. Read the full post here…