Lean lessons from a snappy start up
Finding a viable niche in the world of digital travel is no mean feat, but a UK-based startup focused on last-minute cottage bookings seems to be making some headway
Who will snap up Snaptrip? In a week of announcements that have included Priceline’s move to acquire Momondo for $550 millon, Associated Luxury Hotels snapping up Worldhotels and Accor moving in on Atlanta-based private rental broker Travel Keys, it’s not an implausible question for a fast-growing startup.
“It’sa bit early to say really,” is the response from Sean Thompson, Snaptrip head of marketing. But though not dismissing the idea completely, he is quick to add that, “our aim and focus right now is to build a sizeable and significant brand in our sector!”
It’s a strategy that seems to be paying off in an industry where digital startups often shut up shop as suddenly as a seasonal coastal resort. Indeed, not only does its name roll nicely off the tongue, Snaptrip appears to be delivering a valuable service to both cottage-booking travellers and cottage owners. For travellers, the prize is last-minute discounts of as much as much as 60%, while owners fill properties that would otherwise stand empty.
Before launching Snaptrip in 2014, co-founder Matt Fox, who had cut his teeth in the holiday rental business, had noticed how many properties remained untaken. This, coupled with a growing trend towards last-minute travel bookings, as witnessed by the hotel sector, pointed to a viable niche. Today 44% of US customers that book on HotelTonight, for example, do so within a seven-day window, so why wouldn’t the same shift happen in the fast-growing vacation rentals sector?
If SnapTrip’s goal is to be the HotelTonight or LastMinute.com of the vacation rentals sector, then the team could be onto something.
Fast-forward to 2017 and Snaptrip has seen revenues rise by 300% in the past year, with most bookings being made within a six-week window, Thompson says.
Mobile conversions are up by 80% too, which marks a significant shift in consumer behaviour
Mobile conversions are up by 80% too, which marks a significant shift in consumer behaviour during the two and half years it’s been in business. “In the early stages mobile traffic didn’t convert well at all,” Thompson says, to the extent that they were even a “little anxious to invest in mobile”.
Not so today! By using various analytics products, Snaptrip soon recognised that people were increasingly using their mobile devices for window-shopping, with significant spikes seen at certain times of the day, such as the journey into work or at school pick up. The team also discovered that members often opened email on a mobile device.
“We recognised that we needed to give our users the full experience on mobile,” says Thompson.
Some of the success of this past year can be attributed to a revamp of what, until the summer booking period of 2016, was a ‘minimal viable product’ website. According to Thompson, the launch website wasn’t exactly basic but it was built very quickly to test if there was sufficient momentum to continue. When investors came forward with an additional £1.5million in early 2016, this seemed to suggest that there was.
Tapping into this, the firm moved quickly to create a high-quality desktop and mobile friendly website with relevant real-time information for last-minute cottage bookings. “We looked for bottlenecks in the process such as where people seemed to be struggling to make a decision or being physically unable to do something,” Thompson says.
As an example, one useful new feature resulting from is the ability to search from the homepage using just a postcode. For people wanting to travel the same day, it’s useful to be able to see properties within, say, a two-hour radius from home.
To date Snaptrip has secured investment of £2.3 million, but with just 16 employees, it remains a fairly lean operation. Some of the dosh, however, has gone towards new hires. “We really tried to recruit the best people we can who are interested in and/or knowledgeable in the sector,” says Thompson.
Among those is Commercial Director Joanna Davis, previously Senior Business Development Director at Trip Advisor, Kris Oliver, who was Front End Developer at Easyroommate and Saheeq Sayed, Product Manager from the Sainsbury's Innovation Labs.
Where Snaptrip claims to stand out is in its live availability. “You don’t have to make an inquiry and wait for the cottage owner to come back to you. The cottage you search for will be available at the price you see,” Thompson says. This has been achieved byintegrating with large third-party availability platforms such as TABS and Super Control and also building custom integrations in house when necessary.
Last year, there was some talk of international expansion. According to Fox, a foray into the US is a way off but SnapTrip has successfully tested mainland European inventory on the site. For the moment, however, the firm is “is determined to become the best aggregator of UK inventory before attempting to integrate other geographies. It is really just a question of when it makes most sense for the business and the sector in general to expand”.
In 2017, the priority is marketing reach and it will be fundraising to this end.