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How to find & partner with other companies to help your (travel) startup succeed. Figure out which companies are best to work with, strategize who to target, tactics for getting the deal done, and case studies of a few partnerships we've developed at Hitlist.
This was presented at the San Francisco Travel Startups Meetup on 21 January 2016.
Hitlist: list trips you want to
take, we alert you when there
are good deals to get there
Hitlist is used in 185 countries*
>500,000 booking leads sent to partners
*Svalbard, Swaziland, and the Falkland Islands notable holdouts
• #1 reason startups fail = run out of cash. Proﬁtable
partnerships prolong your life expectancy.
• it’s usually straightforward to do afﬁliate links. If you’re
producing travel content, you should make money off
• if you’re building an app, many big companies will offer
widgets and/or white label options that are dead simple
• it’s extremely difﬁcult to compete
against the big guys in travel
• ‘going viral’ is not a strategy
• piggybacking is:
• example: Routehappy getting distribution through a
partnership with Expedia
A few secondary reasons to partner:
don’t reinvent the wheel - use a white label ﬂight/hotel search engine
Who’s the pretty lady with William Shatner? No one knows, but she’ll always
be able to say she was on a red carpet with The Negotiator / Captain Kirk
The best startups don’t sell.
The worst startups don’t sell.
If there’s a chance you’d ever want to sell your startup, it helps to have existing, warm relationships with
Types of partnerships
• White label
• API agreements
• marketing campaigns/giveaways
• content syndication
Most of the big travel companies (except for Google) will allow you to distribute
their inventory on your site either through widget, white label, or API partnerships
White Label / API Partnerships
Widget White label API integration
Development time minimal minimal ﬂexible
Customization little to none limited maximum
Cost per acquisition =
payout when a lead
cost per mille = payout for a
exposure to 1k customers (usually
5-10% of gross (if you’re an affiliate sending to an OTA)
15-30% of gross (if you’re an agent booking directly)
Survey of possible affiliate revenue from sending traffic to OTAs /
airlines / hotels
Cost per click = warm
lead sent to partner
White Label / API Partnerships
Team up with other companies and co-promote to your respective mailing lists/social
following, and share the list of emails generated. This works best if you’re offering
some kind of giveaway to incentivize signups.
In our experience: very low conversion
Hitlist + Rank & Style + Aviators & A Camera
giveaway (spring 2015):
125,200 emails sent + 922,800 social
62 new app registrations
Services that you can use to shortcut your own development process
• in-app messaging: Layer
• referral system/personalized links: Branch.io
• ﬂight search: skyscanner
• hotel search:
• Expedia Afﬁliate Network
• …pretty much any travel company
Who to work with
Put your own mask on first before assisting others
(It is generally more productive and easier to partner with a
big company than with another startup)
Travel conversion Mobius Strip
Want to help me make prettier slides? Email email@example.com
Wherever you fall on this journey, look to partner with the people the step
before (for distribution - they can send you trafﬁc) or the step after (for
monetization - they pay you for your trafﬁc)
Who to work with, con’t
• Big companies move SLOWLY - don’t expect to be able to get much done if they’re going
through any kind of corporate restructure (see: US Airways & American merger, HomeAway
being absorbed into Expedia)
• Make sure you know exactly what you want to do together so there is minimal need for back and
• time is money - make sure they’re serious before pouring tons of resources / time into
developing a ‘free’ partnership
• Stay on brand: work with companies who have the demographics you want
• Show up in person if you really want to get the deal done
• Have multiple contacts at the same company & be cross-
referencing between them
• Persistence: follow up, politely, at least 3 times before
leaving the lead for dead. Sometimes people are just busy.
• Conference networking
• soft (wet) diplomacy: this industry drinks. A lot. Prepare your liver or get used to pretending that
your club soda is a gin & tonic.
• follow ups: send a follow up email to every person you met you can ever see doing business with.
It doesn’t have to be long, but if you do you’ll be able to remember how you met and restart a
friendly conversation when you need it.
Sometimes big tech
companies can do
incredibly cool technical
things, but they’re just
Example: this robotic arm that keeps your
beer steady even when you’re breaking it
down on the dance ﬂoor.
As a startup, you may not have all the tech or the
money… but you can do whatever it takes to get
something done, and bring that extra bit of sparkle
the big companies feel like they’re missing.
T Rex trying to chart exponential growth