David vs. Googliath

HopStop Enlists Yelp and Groupon To Try to Hold Their Own ‘Against the Giant’ That is Google Transit

joemeyer headshot HopStop Enlists Yelp and Groupon To Try to Hold Their Own Against the Giant That is Google Transit

Mr. Meyer

For all those start-ups rushing to be first-to-market, let HopStop be a lesson. Being the first to plant your flag won’t necessarily keep it there, especially when Google comes stomping in. Six years after it launched, HopStop announced a massive transformation Monday, morphing the navigation service, which also has an iPhone and Android app, into some Web 2.0 Frankenstein of local reviews, daily deals, and real-time directions thanks to partnerships with Yelp, Groupon, Zvents, Hertz, and Limos.com. Betabeat talked to CEO Joe Meyer, former VP & GM for AOL’s Quigo Technologies (once run by Hashable’s Mike Yavonditte), about the revamp and how Hopstop is “holding our own against the giant.”

You’ve been facing competition for awhile. Why transition now?

It’s an extension that we probably should have made earlier than we did. We’re already very, very good at serving geo-targeted ads based on people’s searches, most of those ads are promoting a local venue, so it made sense to bring highly- localized content as well as monetary transactional-type opportunities into our user experience. But not to do it in such a way where we’re trying to do what other best-of-breed companies are doing, but instead partner with best-of-breed companies.

You say you should have “made it earlier.” I remember when HopStop first came out, I started using it right away and sent it to all my friends . . .

We appreciate that by the way, you’re one of many.

But since then I’ve gotten an iPhone and I end up using Google Transit. It’s not just them, there are other apps in New York. When did you start seeing a loss in market share from that competition?

We actually haven’t seen a loss in market share. I think Google’s entrance into the pedestrian navigation space has shed more of a light on this market and legitimized it. We invented this category, five, going on six years ago. We had a fairly big first-mover advantage in it. In fact, lot of people “hop stop it” to where they need to go. We’ve only seen growth in core business since Google entered the space and they have not taken share away from us, they’ve actually grown the pie larger.

That’s really surprising to hear–just because of Google’s market penetration in search and mobile.

To tell you the truth, it’s a little bit surprising to me. We introduced an iPhone app two, two and half  years ago and we’ve been in the top ten iPhone app in the navigation category of iTunes ever since. We average 1,500 downloads a day ever since with no marketing. We introduced an Android app less than six months ago and we’re in the top 30, top 40 app in the local travel category, averaging close to 2,000 downloads a day. And then mobile web generates more traffic than both of our apps combined.

But do you have any data on whether people are using it? Because its one of the first apps I downloaded too, but I don’t end up using it because it’s so easy to use Google.

I look at pageviews and searches, that tells me if people are using the app and the growth on our mobile side is extremely, extremely strong. We have many more users than we had one or two years ago.

So you’re growing, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not losing market share.

If Google never entered the category, would we grow more? Would we grow less? It’s completely hypothetical. You could say we would grow less because there wouldn’t be as much awareness and adoption.

But purely market share?

Does Google do more searches on Google map that Hopstop does? Uh, absolutely. Does Google do more Google Transit searches that Hopstop does in the markets in which we overlap? I think that’s debatable to tell you the truth. I think Google Transit does more pedestrian routing searches than Hopstop because they’re in 450 markets and we’re in 60. But in the markets in which we overlap, especially the markets in which we’ve been in for more than two years, I would venture to guess that it’s not too dissimilar.

Is your revenue all ad-supported?

We’re a platform so we also power directions on other sites, thousands of them. Some of them are licensing, some are affiliates, some are rev-shares.

What’s monetizable in the new partnerships?

They each take different shapes and forms.  For example with Yelp, we’re not paying them any money, they’re not paying us any money. But they’re bringing highly-localized content on our site and we are monetizing that content by hosting those pageviews, but we also send traffic to Yelp at a certain point in the user experience.

What happens when Google wants to partner with Yelp?

That’s not going to happen. Yelp already said no to the acquisition, so they invented Google Places. Groupon said no to the acquisition, so they’re coming out with coupons.

Google Places is a mess but is there anything you think that you do better than Google Transit? For example, they vastly underestimate subway transit time. It’s really annoying.

Here’s what I know for a fact. We ingest more data on a per-market basis than Google. So Google only ingests transit data that comes to them on a normalized feed-like manner. Which means that any transit data that doesn’t give Google their data in the exact format that Google insists upon it, Google doesn’t take in that data. In the New York Tri-state area, we ingest data from over 40 different transit agencies, not just the MTA. Google does it from less than ten.

Another differentiator is that we give users  many more opportunities to slice-and-dice a search down to the exact route. People are very particular about how they want to travel, they want a specific mode of transportation, a specific vehicle, a specific line, more transfers, less transfers, more walking, less walking. We think we perfected it in this new tool launched yesterday called the Search Optimizer.

How would you convince someone like me to switch back from Google transit to Hopstop?

I would say give it a try and if you like what you see you’re going to continue using it. And if you don’t tell us what you don’t like and we’ll improve upon it. We actually listen to our end-users. Every single message that gets into our company, we respond to in 24 hours.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com