Gillian Morris Hitlist Interview

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GillianMorrisHitlistHowIGotHere

David Litwak [00:00:02] Hey everyone. Welcome to “How I got here”. Mozio’s and Phocus Wire’s  weekly podcast about innovation and travel and transportation. I'm David Litwak and I'm joined by Kevin May and today we're honored to welcome Gillian Morris. Gillian Morris is the co founder and CEO of Hitlist, a mobile app, which alerts you when flight prices drop for trips that you want to take. Welcome, Gillian.

Gillian Morris [00:00:21] Thank you David. Great to be here.

David Litwak [00:00:25] So we'd like to start all these interviews off the same way, which is to ask you how you got here?

 Gillian Morris [00:00:38]  I started Hitlist in 2012 at the time I was living in Turkey and I was working as a journalist and a consultant, and I was also learning how to code on the side. I used codeacademy.com and I was always trying to see when flight prices were dropping, both for my own travels and also to try and get people to come and visit me.

I had all these friends who said they were going to come to Istanbul. Then they weren't showing up. And I started alerting them when I saw flight prices drop, and I actually wrote a script that went on Kayak and was just doing hundreds of searches a day.

So I was,  keeping the spreadsheet of good flight prices. And whenever I saw a really good price from New York to Istanbul or London to Istanbul, I'd email my friends there and all of a sudden people started coming in droves and I had all these house guests.

It was great. We had many adventures, and I had people start to say, you know, can you let me know when they're cheap flights to London? Can you let me know when they're cheap flights to San Francisco? And so I started expanding this and I had this giant spreadsheet. And,  I was just being the personal travel agent for a lot of my friends and trying to do it in a systematic way and building this evermore complex and incredibly ugly and incredibly error prone algorithm that was tracking all of these flight prices and eventually,  after about a year of doing other things than just the thing that was already working.  I ended up banding together with some great friends and we started to build Hitlist. I can go into more detail, but that's the sort of beginning of the origin story.

Kevin May [00:03:49] Okay. So, hi Gillian is Kev here. Welcome. Now I came across Hitlist in its, I guess its  its former name  And,  you may be you remember the,   the year, I think it was around 2012 in my previous guides at T news, we used to run Hackathons and we ran a hackathon in London. And you want to, you and your colleagues, I think it was Elliot and Timo were one of the contestants, one of the participants in the hackathon.

And you came along and you won the hackathon with a brand, I guess, probably wasn't even a brand at that point. It was a product that you called TripCommon. So talk to us how you got to trip common and the experience of the hackathon and then how it morphed into  the early kind of versions of Hitlist.

Gillian Morris [00:04:48] Yeah. So that was a very formative hackathon. That was my first ever, and it was also one of the things I alluded to when I said we spent a year building other things. Then the thing that was already working in the sense that people were already enjoying the flight price alerts that I could give them, but,  Trip Common was a different idea.

I lived in Istanbul, my friend lived in London. We want to meet up, what's the cheapest place that we both can get to? And so it was cross-referencing. Good flight deals from multiple different locations. And it's funny, it's an idea that I've seen people build over and over and over again as I've continued to look at the travel startup space.

And at the time I hadn't done as much research and I didn't realize quite how many times it had been tried and failed. But I really enjoyed the experience of doing that hackathon prototyping, building something in the course of, I believe it was two weeks, so it wasn't your traditional weekend long zero sleep on a lot of adrenaline and pizza.

But we got to the hackathon and it was incredibly empowering to get up there and present something. And when,I think I also, Kevin, I think you remember with some amusement, I inadvertently, mortally offended one of the sponsors. Did they sponsor a hackathon after that?

Kevin May [00:06:16]  They weren't a sponsor of the hackathon, a company called Viant, which provided their flights’ API for all the participants to use. And I'm going to paraphrase you here.  Gillian, but when you did your presentation, I think you said, “we tried to use the Viantone, but we couldn't quite get it to work. It was great. So we used another one that we found, which was called Everbred.” Now, those with slightly longer memories than many of us will recall Viant and Everbred were archrivals at the time, to the extent that they went to Court,  fighting over the ownership of the code.

And,  I was sitting next to the two execs from Viant at the audience when you were making this presentation and you made, you very nonchalantly said that, “Oh, you decided to use this other one”,  which many of us felt was really amusing.  Luckily they did eventually, but it I suppose in a way, as you said you were new into the industry. It was a fine moment.

This is your first hackathon, and you won it. So it wasn’t so bad.

 

Gillian Morris [00:07:37] It wasn't so bad at all. I like how you described that the. Torturous world of airline travel.

David Litwak [00:07:49] Yeah, it is. So sorry. If I could,  interject.  I remember, you know, Gillian and I actually met  near the beginning of both of our startup journeys because we had the same lawyers and were mooching off of their office space together.

They told us, when they recruited us,  at least as, we occasionally we could use their office space and we completely took that to the logical extreme of coming in every single day.

And so that's how, yeah, exactly.

 

Gillian Morris [00:08:20]  For two years, great snacks.

 

David Litwak [00:08:30] That's how we rationalize the ridiculously high fees. But,  I remember, at various points, you at one point, you pitch it to me as. Like Tinder for travel because you were going to “swipe” on which destinations you were then going to get flight updates on.

And I would love to hear kind of a little bit of a history of your narrative actually kinda like you started, I'm not sure if that was the first one, but I feel like, how you've messaged what you're doing and how it's how has it changed over time after it became Hitlist and not TripCommon.

Gillian Morris [00:08:54] Yeah. So it's interesting. I think Tinder for travel is very easy to misinterpret, and to be clear, it was only meant in the sense that we were emulating their UI, not in any way a dating thing. Although I did have a really creepy VC suggest that to me once, that I should be using this as a way to show single friends of friends in other cities.

And anyway.

But to address David's question,  so Trip Common as I had mentioned, was this separate idea about meeting up with friends who lived in different places and when we sort of realized that that wasn't working. We spent about nine months working on that full time, and I had in my head, I had allocated, to me this was going to be like “My business school” I mean, it was, it was a passion and I was hoping that it would turn into a giant successful company. But I was saying, I am willing to dedicate two years of my life and up to a hundred grand of my own money to the process of trying to get this off the ground, to get to the point where a credible outside stranger wants to invest in this and, or it's profitable.

So nine months in, I was starting to feel that urgency of, okay, this, this doesn't seem to be working out the original idea. And so we started to enter in, I mean, we'd learned a lot through the experience, and I met a lot of great people in the industry and had started to see gaps in, in other things that we could build.

So we started to do these sprints, these little internal hackathons for a month, and then we went down to a week at a time just building different ideas. And I think we did enter one or two of them in pitch competitions, in or in, in hackathons, maybe another T news one. I think over the course of Hitless life, I'm very proud to say I've won eight hackathons, I believe.

And when we started to build. What became Hitlist. It was the idea that just Tinder was so popular. How about if you could swipe on cities and use that to build up your list, your Hit list of places that you might like to go and then get targeted alerts?

Because there were at the time, and then there still are a lot of players in the industry that will give you fair alerts. There's Holiday Pirates in Europe. There's Travelzoo in the US just to name two of the really big companies.  But I always found those incredibly frustrating because I was just getting a completely random list of deals and it would say, Oh, you know, $79 jet bear, jet blue fare sale to Buffalo, New York, and, and I don't really want to go to Buffalo.

Or,  it would say that these deals were available that were just irrelevant to me. So instead, if you could swipe through cities and sort of. Match,  when you got a fair alert. That was the original idea. And I still have the original prototype that we put together, looked exactly like Tinder. And,  that was something that we built sweet prototypes.

We put it out there. And the reaction when we released it was just totally shocking. People found it really fun to swipe through. And so we went through the first. You know, nine months of our existence with TripCommon. I think in grand total we ended up having a couple thousand people visit the website.

And when we released Hitlist the first version of it. We ended up having, you know, a couple of hundred people in the first week, and then all of a sudden about 5,000. And then within the first month we had 25,000 people who downloaded it and they would tell their friends.

It was just really fun to swipe through the cities. The trouble was, of course, we hadn't really built out the backend very well. And so we weren't doing a very good job of matching them with the deals. And,  and we also had built something that we didn't really had not built to scale. And so that was our first little road bump. But even having the transition from Trip Common, which no one really wanted to use to all of a sudden something that clearly was working in a way that the market was just validating so quickly was a really heady moment.

 

David Litwak [00:13:31] I want it to quickly just ask a follow up, are you, you said previously that had you done more research you would realize everyone had tried to do the friends meeting up thing as someone who did try one of these ideas that a lot of people have gone through, what do you think makes some of these ideas really, really alluring, but just unsolvable, like a trip inspiration does another one, you know, massive travel planning is another, right? Like, I'm curious if it's given you any perspective for anyone looking to get into our industry. Like what about these problems is not solvable?

 

Gillian Morris [00:14:06] Well, I dispute that. I don't think any of them are unsolvable. And I, I think people will eventually build the right products for these. I think we see that every day. We see new products evolve that actually fit a need. We didn't even know we had,  or actually meet a need. That people have been trying for a long time, whether it's Slack or,  I dunno, Gmail back in the day, which everyone said, Oh, you know, people keep on trying to build a better workplace communication tool. And you know, Skype is the be all end all. That's all we're ever going to get. So. I do have a lot of faith that someone will crack these. The thing that I see most often, which is most frustrating, is the people who come into the industry with zero knowledge of the travel industry and try and take on these ambitious projects and generally don't get very far.

And I think that's damaging because, I'm sorry to be clear, I, I am a huge encourager of people to try, but I also think you do need to do your research and understand, and that's something that I have made a lot of effort to do, to talk to other founders in the space and to get a better handle on why certain things work and why certain things don't.

What you have very often is someone who comes into the team travel space with, again, zero context, zero knowledge of the world of travel, which is very complicated and instantly thinks that they're going to be able to solve one of these longer term problems. And I think,  it just takes a lot more research and most of the problems that they try to solve are not the most pressing ones. Or the ones that would most benefit from having a deep well of industry knowledge. So I feel like that's a rather roundabout answer to your question.

 

David Litwak [00:15:56] Just to, yeah, absolutely. Just to layer on top of that, actually, I, I was thinking like Mozio´s first iteration and stuff we won't go into, but I felt like we wasted a year and a half,  because we didn't speak to enough people in the industry to realize that certain things we were doing were kind of untenable.

 

Gillian Morris  [00:16:10] And I think you were doing multimodal right?

 

David Litwak [00:16:17]  Yeah. But we were, we were kind of doing what Rome to Rio and Go Euro eventually did, but we were too early and our angle wasn't correct, you know? And I think Go Euro came around a couple of years later and I think it had better timing. And there's a balance between being told something's not possible.

I think one thing, one reason why we started this, Kevin and I were talking about how it's actually incredibly tough to get meetings with a lot of industry people to learn the ins and outs of the industry.

And inevitably, you're definitely not learning about all of the intricacies. So. I think I, that's, you know, part of the origin of this style anyways, but I don't want to monopolize the conversation, Kevin.

Kevin May [00:17:03] Yeah, I mean, it's interesting. Gillian would you agree that over the last, probably in that period since Trip Common and Hitlist had been around the, those that, you know, the gatekeepers for want of a better phrase.

Have been more helpful or not to start ups coming in in terms of explaining how it works, opening up APIs and things like that. Would you, would you sense it's easier or not? It's coming in now.

 

Gillian Morris  [00:17:39] I think that's hard to say, I think that there are a lot of things that are better document. There are a lot more tools out there like open APIs and standards that would make some of the things that we were doing early on, much easier.

But I also think the travel industry has expanded a lot, and while it was incredibly difficult to get in the door and to talk to the initial gatekeepers. When we started, once you kind of got inside, you felt like you were inside. And I, I'm certainly not in the, you know, inner sanctum of billionaire travel founders, but at least I think most of them at this point, I could get a meeting with if I wanted.

And in fact, I considered some of them friends and mentors, and I think the industry at this point, they're just, there's such a greater.  there's probably, you know, a thousand times as many people starting companies today as there were even seven years ago, and that means that it's going to inevitably get harder to filter down to meet the people that are most important.

Kevin May [00:18:39] Right. And if we can go back then, so you talked just through that, I guess if we can call it phase one of, of, of the business what it was all about. What were you having to do in terms of did you you have to devise some other kind of more,  traditional marketing strategy with trying to find some money to do, to do some various things or how did you approach it?

 

Gillian Morris  [00:19:12] You know, it's funny, I feel like people sometimes ask me for marketing advice or think that I've been good at marketing hit-list because we've gotten to 1.7 million downloads.

But the, the truth of the matter is we've had zero marketing spend. We've not, as much as I'm proud of what we've managed to do marketing wise in terms of,  we've gotten some great PR and most importantly, we've been featured repeatedly by the app store. And that's definitely the number one driver of downloads of a marketing sense, but that's not something you can't pay the app store for that. I mean, we're not buying the ads. We are being editorially featured. So I don't actually have sort of silver, silver bullets on the marketing side other than, you know, get 16,005 star reviews in the app store and they will feature you.

And they'll do that by building a good product. And I wish I were a more savvy marketer. I, in fact, I see, I really admire the marketing Moxie of, of a number of other companies out there from hotel tonight. To Airbnb and even wonder who I would say. I see. I get their ads targeted all the time and Instagram, and I feel like they're doing a great job.

That's not something that we've focused on or, or really excelled in. I think.

 

Kevin May [00:20:32] Just a quick followup on that before David comes in. I mean,  I'm looking at a Hitlist here. You've been featured in inc and business insider and tech crunch and HuffPost and bizarre in us news and Buzzfeed, CNBC, and countless others.

Plus the app store. Was that just by employing some savvy PRS to help you out, or was that good fortune because your users were voting you in well, in the app store, so they take notice of what's going on in the app store, or is it kind of a combination of all of those.

 

Gillian Morris  [00:21:06] I mean, I come from a background in journalism. I was briefly at CNN, and I have a lot of friends who are journalists, and that is something that, I mean, I wouldn't say I actively cultivated in the sense that I was, you know, seeking to be friends with journalists specifically. But that's something that has organically happened. And I've definitely also made an effort to connect the travel innovation community.

At times I've done dinners or I've done breakfasts. And that's something that I think has led to connections with a number of other journalists,  and that's actually probably one of the unexpected side effects of, I would do these breakfasts without their travel founders as a way to just share knowledge and make sure we weren't repeating each other's mistakes. And David, I know you, you and I co-hosted some of these and I think journalists started to hear about that and think that I was some sort of, I don't know, soothsayer  about the travel industry.  and that helped us get more coverage.

 

David Litwak [00:22:14] Very cool. So you mentioned you had these, was it 1.7 million downloads? Was that correct? Yeah. So I, it brings me to the question of how did you start making money? And if you could walk us through kind of like the various stages and the methods that you tried out.

 

Gillian Morris  [00:22:28] Sure. So,  we make money three ways. So the first is the most obvious, which is simply we are given an affiliate commission when people book flights. As anyone who works in this space knows, those commissions are very, very small. But at the same time, I don't, there are a lot of people who say, you can't make money in flights because the commission is so small. I think that is based on two other assumptions, which is that you're paying a lot to acquire your customer and that you're paying a lot for data.

For various reasons that we've figured out we do neither of those. We don't pay for our data. We don't pay to acquire customers, and therefore, you know, it's just margin that we're making there. And once you get up to a good volume, that is a real business as obviously Kayak and Skyscanner and many others have demonstrated, and that is so that's the first pillar.

The second is advertising. Do some native advertising. We've experimented with a ton of different types of advertising, and I definitely have opinions about why some work and why don't, why some don't. I can get into,  in a moment, if you like. And then the third is last year we introduced a premium subscription offering, which allows our users to pay to get a few extra features. So the ability to specify nonstop flights only, or a specific airline or Alliance, or to exclude a specific airline if they don't want Ryan air flights or something like this. And the time of day of departure and access to some extra deals. So that direct subscription is 8.99 per month in the app store right now, and we have a couple thousand people that are on that or on their monthly and annual plans.

 

David Litwak [00:24:19] Very cool. So I know at one point you tried to explore working with these tourist bureaus. And for anyone who's been to a major travel convention, the visit Mexico Boots that is massive,  elaborate, decorated. And I always wondered for the longest time, Oh, what the hell they did and who were they paying to go visit Mexico? And you know, the anecdote for me is I always saw visit California has. In California where I'm from, and I'm like, okay, these people seem to have it incredibly bad use of their funds. And I remember we had a conversation a couple of years ago about how you were trying to engage with them, and then could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Gillian Morris [00:25:01] Yeah, absolutely. So I like you. I've been to all these conventions and seen the massive displays from the DMOs. So DMOs and tourism boards, destination marketing organizations, are a really bizarre industry that I started to get to know. It seems like a match made in heaven been from an advertising perspective because Hitlist is relatively unique. In the sense that we are,  at the junction of people who are, might be flexible on destination. They're at the inspiration stage, but we also have a transaction platform. So,  you can come to Hitlist and say, I want to travel somewhere, the last week of January, maybe to a ski destination, maybe to South America. And that would be a perfect place for a destination to maybe advertise themselves. So. We wanted to. Work with that industry. And we started to attend some of the conferences because there's not just the ITB. There's also the DMAI,  Destination Marketing Association International, I think is the central one there. And I found a lot of people who loved Hitlist, who loved to talk about the deals that we could do together. And a lot of them are on, you know media buying cycles. And that was something that I knew nothing about. The sort of ad buying world in general. And so it took some time to understand, well, if someone's, you know, spent all their budget by may and they won't get money to again, to spend until August.

I really tried for a long time to talk to a lot of destinations, and I found. Some of the things that they spent money on. Completely ridiculous. So I was talking to one DMO. They said they had spent, you know, $8,000 per tweet that Travel and Leissure did about their destination.

And I just thought, that's so much money.  And what is the ROI? How do you know that someone who saw that travel in these, your tweet ended up coming to your destination? And I realized it's a very unscientific process. A lot of these DMOs are,  or the tourism boards. A lot of them are government organizations of people that are either appointed for a relatively short amount of time and, or they're just given these budgets and very little accountability for how they're spent. It's not really a, a very professionalized space. That being said, there are some that really just totally kill it and are winning at the game. Las Vegas,  Florida, New York,   I think are some of the most competitive in the world.

But then you talk to …, I don't really want to name names, but just some of the absurdity of some of the contracts that we were discussing with people and what they thought they were looking for. And,  it was a level of,  my unscientific, you could call it incompetence that was staggering. And finally, I remember having a conversation with someone and I said, I just, I can't get it. How do you decide where you spend your money? And he said, Gillian, we spend our money with the people that we've been drinking with at conferences for 17 years. And that's who I give my big contracts to.

And so it really is this relationships driven industry. You go to DMAI and it's like a high school reunion. It's seriously, it's, everyone does. They've known each other for 10 years. And this is clearly a big event for them. And I do think there's. You know, a lot that could be done to win in that space.

There are certain companies that have done an amazing job networking and winning the trust and the business of a lot of these big destinations. But in the grand scheme of things, it was something that I realized was going to take a lot of time and dedication. And the funny thing is, since we stopped focusing on that.

We've had more destinations approach us, and it's just a matter of time and knowing that we're there and that we've been around the block that gives them the trust and want to actually spend money with us. But,  it was a space that I just didn't see being a clear ROI. That would be trustable because you know, you make a $2 million contract with a destination one year, and then the person that you had the relationship with leaves and you don't know if you're going to get it again.

And so we decided to just focus on other sides of business that we thought were more promising. I, we still are very happy to do business with destinations. It's just been, it's shifted from something that was taking up a lot of my time and, and people on our sales side, time to something that is,  we deal with inbound only.

Kevin May [00:29:57] So in a little bit about your approach to raising capital. You've raised very little, if any  from what we can, from what I can see here, from reputable sources like Crunchbase. I mean, talk to us a little bit about that strategy and how you have approached it.

Gillian Morris [00:30:18] You know, it's, it's a tricky one to say because you can't AB tests, you know, would it have been better if we raised more or less, you know.

Would the company be in a different place? It's true. We've raised very little money in the grand scheme of things compared to most venture backed companies.  However, if you do, Also point out that, you know, we've raised more than a million dollars, and that's something that someone could spend on, you know, five houses or something like this.

It's all relative. I,  the reason that we've raised relatively little money at first was because I couldn't,  I tried very hard and I've spoken to more than 300 investors in the course of Hitlist existence, and it was, I think, over a hundred before I got my first, which I will. Give credit where it's due.

It was actually thanks to you, David.  the first outside investor was Jeff Clark at Orbits who is the, at the time, the chairman of Orbits, David made the introduction,  because he was an investor of yours. And it was the most surreal experience after more than a hundred investor meetings with just getting told no, maybe in the future, which really means no,  to sit down.

Over breakfast and about 15-20 minutes. And Jeff just said,  yeah, I like it. I'm in for 25 maybe 50 and I was like, do you need more due diligence? Do you need my docs doing? And he's like, well, I obviously, I'll review your docs to make sure that they're not crazy. But I assume that it, as long as it's fairly textbook, I, I've done a little research on you.

It seems. In line with some of the trends in the industry. Sure. Let's do this. And,  you know, I'm not going to be super active, but using an abused my name, if it's useful to, to open other doors. And it was the most unbelievable change.  and, and it really.  I am incredibly grateful to him for taking that chance on me.

You know, I do think there are these angel investors out there who have the capital to just spread it around so often. And it took me, you know, a year and a half to get to the point where I met the right person. But, it's possible, I guess.

David Litwak [00:32:44] Yeah. Just to comment on that, he was actually Mozio’s first investor too and the same similar thing. I think we had 30 “No”s until he said yes. And I think the advice I give a lot of entrepreneurs is to find that first champion who has the combination of like, fuck you money, so they're not actually, they're willing to take kind of like a risk on you, but also the specific industry knowledge.

So that, because I think there's a lot of people who don't have that overlapping Venn diagram and Jeff Clark was it for both of us, I guess.

Kevin May [00:33:15] Gillian, a colleague of mine, Jill Menz,  interviewed you last year for a story that she was writing and when you spoke to her, you said,  I'm just gonna quote from there, from the story here, you said, women are more likely to raise on traction and experience, whereas men try to raise on vision. In other words, a woman will pitch a business plan that is solidly rooted in her experience and that she can support with numbers that indicate the likelihood of success.

And a man will pitch a business idea that captures the imagination regardless of whether it is remotely realistic. And you said, I've learned to sell my story. My visionary turns that at times to make me feel uncomfortable.

Can you kind of talk us through some of your experiences around that and what have led to have that kind of - I guess that's a very good - opinion or one we haven't heard before from others.

I mean, talk to us about those experiences that have formed that.

Gillian Morris [00:34:13] I think, I come back to this one time, that I was doing a pitch event in New York city. It's called entrepreneurs round table where there are,  I believe it was, you know, five entrepreneurs would get up and give their pitch and in front of an investor, and he or she would give their, give them feedback.

And it was a really great learning experience for those of us who had no idea how to go about this, how to raise capital. And then the fifth person, the fifth entrepreneur, just didn't show up. So there was an extra slot. So at the end of the event, they said, okay, we'll let someone else pitch their business.

And the investor, Dana Grayson, said okay, If anyone in the audience here has a business idea? And 20 people raised their hands. And how many of you have a product that you've actually built, a prototype at least, and it went down to, you know, six people.

How many people have something that's in the market that has users? And  it was down to myself and this guy, and then, How many people are making more than $10,000 per month? And I put my hand down because we weren't at the time. We were very, very early. And so this guy gets on stage and he gets to give this pitch to the whole audience and to Dana and to get personalized feedback.

And he spins this amazing story about what he's building, but then, in the midst of his pitch, makes it clear that he actually hasn't built anything. He's not released anything, has no users, certainly is not making $10,000 a month and no one said anything. And I just said, wait, I'm here and I'm playing by the rules and I should be the one that has that pitch has this opportunity to be up there speaking.

And I have seen that type of thing happen over and over again.  There's a lot of evidence as well,  studies where women will only apply for jobs that they meet all of the listed criteria for, whereas men will apply for jobs where they don't meet any of the criteria and still get a chance to throw their hat in the ring.

So, I would like to think that we could live in a world where people would actually play by the rules, rather than adapt to the world as it is, but at the same time, you know, I've learned that sometimes you learn to tell the story. I think there is a very important line to be drawn between spinning an outright falsehood.

Like what this guy at the pitch competition in New York city did.  Versus learning how to simply put an inspirational spin on your story. And that's something that I've learned to get better at and sell the vision of what we're building a little bit more, but it's been something that I continually need to work on.

Kevin May [00:37:32] Have you got to a situation where you've felt that there has been some discrimination. And you've called somebody out, like an investor, because you've sensed that they are looking at your business through a different lens because of who you are.

Gillian Morris [00:37:52] Well, unfortunately, I don't think it really tends to work that way because there are a million reasons an investor can say no to anything. They can say, well, I'm certainly not saying no because you're a woman. I'm saying no, because you don't have this type of metric that I'm looking for.

So there aren't really opportunities to kind of call that out that often. It's something that you can look at overall trends and speak to, rather than, you know. I also am not presumptuous. I don't believe that I deserve anyone's money or anyone's investment. I believe that I do have to work for it.

There's this great moment after one of the recent democratic debates where Amy Klobuchar, who's a Senator from Minnesota with an incredible track record in the Legislature here in the U.S and she was talking about Pete Buddha judge, who is this upstart,  mayor of a small town in Indiana who's captured the imagination, is I believe the number one fundraiser in the democratic primary as of now.

And someone did ask her about this and she said, well, you know, do I think that a woman who had, you know. Not one. An office with more than 11,000 votes who had run for chairman of the DNC and lost,  would be the front running fundraiser in, I don't think that would happen.  and so there've been a number of times where I've said, well, it's interesting that this person who has.

Not one hackathon who has not built something that has these metrics, seems to be able to raise so much more money than me so easily. But I mean, at the end of the day. The best way to prove them wrong is to build a successful business. And, and that's something that, to come back to your original question about our fundraising strategy, we haven't raised since 2016 and don't have plans to anytime soon.

We're profitable. And that's been something that's,  just learning to adjust to a different game rather than play. The one that tends to be in the media circus is something that has become our focus.

David Litwak [00:40:15] Yeah.That's an amazing story there. I say this as a compliment. I feel like you're very resilient and do not die. And I think I count myself in Mozio to be in similar situations. That Mozio also hasn't raised actually for about four years. And it stayed relatively lean and at some stages is because we couldn't, some stages we could, but,  you know, things didn't work out.  And I know because we've known each other for such a long time.

You've got a lot of interesting stories. So this is kind of an open ended one to wrap things up here. But from a, your many years in the travel industry, is there an experience or something that's happened to you that you feel like it's worth sharing, that stood out?  I know you've experimented with acquisitions and had gone through that, Is there anything that we haven't touched on that you think is just a really relevant and amazing story?

Gillian Morris [00:41:15]  It is a very open ended question. So many juicy bits, but, I do think something that I haven't talked about is the acquisition process, and that's been a really fascinating thing too. 

I don't think anyone builds it in a company expecting it to be acquired, but I realize there are actually plenty of savvy entrepreneurs who do that. But,  for those of us who are building our vision of our dream world,  I think the acquisition isn't necessarily the outcome that we think we're going for.

But there also comes a point when you've been doing something for a large stage of your life and you realize, Whoa, would it make sense to join up forces with a company that can, you know, our strengths will compliment them and their strengths will compliment ours. So we have gone through various acquisition discussions. I think the only time we started doing them seriously in 2016 and it's been a fascinating process in terms of things that we've gotten close to the finish line and sometimes, crazy acts have happened where a major person has departed or has been fired, and that's changes the tenor of the conversation and they're the focus of the company. So that's something that doesn't really, that was completely out of our control. There've been some where we've gotten close to the finish line and the acquiring company has gotten cold feet in there. There've been somewhere we've walked away as well, and I look back and there's not a single one that I, I really wish had happened because I've realized it's, it's so important to me what we've built with Hitlist. I think. I'm very proud it's in the world that we have, you know, about a quarter million people a month who are, seem to be happily using the product. And,  there isn't a need to. Join up with a company if it's not the right fit. And a number of the acquiring companies that we've talked to have either said, well, you know, we want to hire you because you're innovators.

So it's really just, it's an acquisition and they wouldn't necessarily keep the hitless product going. And I do think we're unique in the market and I, I don't want to shut it down.  There are also other acquisitions where. When we've talked to other companies that have been acquired by that company, you know, oftentimes acquisitions will have an earnout or some sort of bonus according to if you hit these numbers and you get this multiple or this number. And we have one company in particular that I had. Was quite inclined to join up with and talk to another company. They said, Oh yeah, that deal, that looks so amazing on paper. They actually made it impossible for us to hit those targets by just not allowing us to integrate our API, you know, until the time elapsed had come.

And then of course, you know, immediately afterwards, the APIs were available and we could integrate as the business should have been, but they just didn't want to give us that extra money. And that seems like a terrible fate to, you know, put something that you put your heart and soul into and  and, and match up with a company like that.

I'm not,  trying to sound like I'm doing this completely out of emotion and I won't let my baby, you know, suffer if there is a good deal that is something that is good for the Hitlist users and investors.  that is something that I would, I would do. But so far that hasn't, but all of the elements haven't matched up correctly.

David Litwak [00:45:01] Yeah, it's funny, I feel like I'm selling your company as a part of the startup journey that is very rarely touched upon. And, ironically I have a few of lounge buddy is one of my investments that, you know, exited. And I was shocked actually when we had some inbound acquisition interest. We were all, it was all one book that was recommended for people listening.  It's called the magic box paradigm. And the fact that everyone recommended one book and one book only while there's probably 25 books that I got recommended about fundraising is that most people don't even think about this stage very much. So I'm glad you went into that. I kind of hinted at it a little bit.  Kevin, any, any, anything else you'd like to discuss?

 

Kevin May [00:45:51] No, no. I was going to get to the, you know, started in 2012 into 2013 where would you kind of say you are with the business now that we're in 2020, but I sense that you've probably, you've probably just answered that. I mean, are you a head or behind perhaps where you thought you would might be?

Gillian Morris [00:46:01] I think this is the same answer to the fundraising question in the sense that we can't AB test what would have happened if we'd, you know, raised venture and could we be bigger? Could we be. You know, on 10 million phones instead of 1.7, could we be impacting the industry in different ways?  I think in order to remain sane, I have to simply say that I'm happy with what we've achieved so far.

Of course, I have dreams. I mean. I wish, I wish we were a hundred times bigger, and I think that we still could be.

 

Kevin May [00:46:43] Okay. So you talked yourself into a followup question then. Has there been any points where you felt that you aren't sane and you've started going insane, and what might have though, what might have triggered those?

Gillian Morris [00:46:50] Oh, what a great question. Well, I mean, certainly when you talk to over a hundred investors and they all say no, that makes you question your sanity. Yeah.  but the kind of, you know, I, it wasn't, to me, it wasn't delusion. It was something where I was looking at the numbers and I said, well, I think they just don't understand this industry.

They don't see what I see. And so that was what gave me the sort of inner fortitude to keep going, that I'm just a very stubborn person.

Kevin May [00:47:26]  Good. Well, we like stubborn people, especially those that have got some great stories to tell us. So,  for us, thank you very much, Gillian, for sharing how you got here with us today on this episode.

Gillian Morris [00:47:35] Thank you for having me. It's such a pleasure, and I do want to say, I think I count both of you as formative people that I've met in the travel startup journey. I love that you're doing this podcast and thank you for having me on it.

Kevin May [00:47:49]  Okay. You're not the first person to say that. So we're very pleased and quite humbled when they do so. That's really nice. Thank you. So, for the audience then, so you've been listening to another episode of How I got Here. Mozio’s and Phocus Wire’s weekly chats where we explore the stories behind travel and innovation in transportation. So I thank you very much again to Gillian also, and finally, thank you very much from David and myself,  looking forward to seeing you all on the next episode. We'll see you next time. Thanks so much. Goodbye.

Coming soon!

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