For those still relying on Expedia or (gasp) flesh-and-blood travel agents, it’s probably time to migrate to the burgeoning world of meta travel search engines. The granddaddy of this genre – which displays deals from a variety of travel search sites and branded airline/hotel sites – is SideStep, which today is announcing that it has raised $15 million in Series C funding. Norwest Venture Partners led the deal, so let’s play 5 Questions with Bob Abbott, a general partner with NVP and the newest addition to SideStep’s board of directors.
1. Sidestep was one of the first meta travel search sites, but now there are a bunch of them. What competitive advantage does Sidestep have, beyond first-mover inertia?
It does have [first-mover inertia] and obviously has good scale today because it’s easier to build upon something than to start from scratch. But a big reason we’re excited is that the management team got a new CEO last year in [former Yahoo exec] Rob Solomon – who’s a great guy – and we really believe in the areas they want to expand into… things like international expansion and user-generated content.
2. Did you look at deals for any of the other sites that are out there, like Kayak or Groople?
We didn’t look at those companies you mentioned when they were out raising money, but we did look at them as part of due diligence relating to the SideStep investment.
3. Legacy online travel companies like Expedia and Orbitz reportedly are experiencing traffic stasis. Are you surprised that they haven’t just started scooping up these meta startups – either to improve their offerings or to reduce competition?
It’s certainly a possibility, but Sidestep is really focused on vertical search – and having that direct connection that not only provides better distribution to the Orbitzes of the world, but also provides users with more options.
4. Southwest has been successful with an online model that sidesteps (pardon the pun) third-party search. Do you expect other air carriers to follow suit?
It’s an interesting question. I think you have to go back to what Sidestep has proven in terms being able to provide a good ROI to anybody who is trying to garner customers. It’s obviously never going to get to the entire provider market, but it can be valuable whether you’re Orbitz or if you’re Southwest.
5. I’m going to VC in the Rockies in a few weeks, and am having trouble getting a good deal from Boston to Vail, Colorado. Do you have a secret backend code that would help me get a better rate?
No… Or if there is one, they haven’t told me yet.