It’s official, Rob Solomon is SideStep’s new CEO.
Rob graciously gave me a call this morning to share the news. He’s on vacation for the next week and will start at SideStep around January 23rd.
He said that “not many people know about SideStep right now, but the people who use SideStep love the service and tell everyone they know about it. The company is where Shopping.com was about 5 years ago.”
As I’ve been saying for a while, I think we’re hitting a tipping point for travel search:
As for travel search (or travel meta-search engines), no one is releasing numbers, and total bookings are tiny compared to those from Online Travel Angencies (OTAs). However, there are a lot of factors which seem to be pointing to a tipping point in the industry: AOL driving traffic to Pinpoint Travel, Yahoo putting FareChase on its main travel page (as opposed to keeping it separate from Travelocity), Google working on travel search, established travel suppliers like Hilton Hotels and American Airlines signing deals with the travel search engines, Amazon choosing to partner with SideStep as opposed to an OTA, DCA3 carrier agreements up for renewal at the same time travel providers are seeing success with direct bookings, Mobissimo (and others) searching Orbitz, Kayak working on cool Google-like aps and an impressive travel only PPC engine, etc.
SideStep is the leader in the meta-travel search arena, but the market itself is tiny in comparison to the online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Travelocity. For me, the company (and the travel search industry in general) took off with SideStep’s downloadable toolbar application – but I think the whole adware/spyware debate probably leveled the rapid adoption of the toolbar – I swear the # of downloads has been right around 8m for a while now. So what’s in store for Rob as he helps the company get to the next level?
Word of mouth adoption will continue to be important for the company, but SideStep needs to step up internet marketing and more importantly, business development activities. When I say internet marketing, I think there is a place for PPC marketing on Adwords and Yahoo Search Marketing, but the problem is that the OTAs make more money on every sale/lead so they are going to be able to outspend SideStep, Mobissimo, and Kayak.
That’s why business development deals like SideStep’s relationship with Amazon or Kayak’s relationship with About make a lot of sense. Expedia and Travelocity can spend more to acquire a customer, but I think the travel search engines have a better story and therefore some forward thinking sites might be willing to forgo short term financial gains for a partnership that will make users happier in the long run. Or maybe the travel search engines have to pay the big bucks to get the big partnerships and lose money in the short term in order to gain mind-share.
So why is Rob a good choice for SideStep? According to the release, “A veteran of portal and search wars, Rob has seen and touched all aspects of Yahoo!’s business – from startup to hyper-growth. He possesses the knowledge and leadership to take SideStep to the next level and capitalize on a search engine on the verge of mass expansion.”
I just spoke with Susie Marino at SideStep and she added “Rob brings a combination of commerce, advertising, travel and search experience. It’s a hard combination to get in one person.” I hope to catch up with Rob and his new team early in February…so stay tuned.
With all the buzz about SideStep, Mobissimo, and Kayak, it’s easy to forget about the shopping comparison engines’ efforts in travel search. PriceGrabber recently launched it’s travel search, Shopping.com launched it’s hotel search this summer (but quickly got caught up with other activities), and NexTag has long had a travel search feature. While these travel search services are not as powerful as those offered by SideStep, Mobissimo, or Kayak, I think it’s only because the shopping comparison engines have not made them a prioroty. Shopzilla, the leading shopping comparison engine in terms of revenue, has simply partnered with a number of OTAs; the company is dedicated to making sure its shopping search is as good as possible before venturing fully into other areas.
While shopping search still has a long way to go, the shopping comparison engines definitely want a piece of the $60Billion+ online travel market, and I’m sure we’ll see some exciting announcements to that end this year.
Selected Travel Search Posts:
New CEO of SideStep – Rob Solomon – January 12, 2006
Kayak – Interview with Steve Hafner – October 24, 2005
Google Travel – Crash Landing? – November 8, 2005
Travel Comparison Engines – SideStep’s Phil Carpenter – August 24, 2005
Captain Picard and SideStep vs. Captain Kirk and Priceline – July 26, 2005
Mobissimo – More Comprehensive Than Expedia & Travelocity? – June 7, 2005
More Travel Comparison Engine News – May 31, 2005
Interview with Brian Barth, Former CEO and current Board member, SideStep – May 14, 2005