9 Ways To Disrupt And "Hipmunk" An Industry

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9 Ways To Disrupt And "Hipmunk" An Industry


disrupt and hipmunk resized 600hipmunk [hip-muhnk],   1.  verb:  To bring sexiness and simplicity into an existing industry with a fresh approach that delights people.  Example:  The real estate mortgage industry really sucks.  Someone should hipmunk it.  2. noun:  Startup funded by Y Combinator that makes it easier to find flights. 

The word disruption is thrown around way too much.  It's often used to describe ideas that are not disruptive.  Recently though, I've noticed a trend of YCombinator backed startups that follow a similar theme: Go after an industry or process that is excruciatingly painful and make it better. Sure all startups are about solving a pain point, but in the case of Hipmunk and others, the pain is chronic and unbearable.  

Find Something Tied To A Process That Consistently Sucks

Some things are just a pain and never ever change. The industries that can be hipmunked are ones that you repeatedly ask yourself "Why hasn't anyone made this better?" It can't be a temporary cure either, it needs to be a full blown relief of pain. In the case of HelloFax , it seemed like a silly idea at first to most. Fax machines are a thing of the past it would seem, but in reality they aren't. With all of the innovation we've had, trying to send a fax is still a pain. EFax is cumbersome and real fax machines are far worse. Every blue moon, there is no way to do anything other than send a fax. It's still horrible. With HelloFax, they took a process that consistently sucks and made it just work.

Simple And Clean Interfaces Come First

One of the best ways to make a product enjoyable and easy to use is with an interface that is simple+clean. Give the user what they want, the bare essentials, and make the information easy to digest. It's not about being the prettiest either. I love the hipmunk interface, but it's not whiz bang beautiful. It's clean, simple, and organizes information well. The flow of information should come first and foremost in a clean interface. Problematic and painful industries usually have a high amount of friction between the customer and information. They usually want to access or deliver information in a fast manner, but it often takes way longer than they would like.

It Will Probably Be Unsexy...So Make It Sexy

The industries most ripe for disruption are usually the unsexy ones that no one wants to touch. That's okay, look at it like the startup version of the popular teen movie "She's All That". Find the ugly one and turn them into something absolutely beautiful. It's not in the DNA of unsexy industries to think about everything else in this article. That's why they're unsexy and people despise them. The travel industry? Absolutely boring. Look at email. Everyone thinks that email is long dead and gone, but at the end of the day it's still widely used. Companies like Groupon and Thrillist are growing faster than any other company before. They figured out how to leverage an unused, unsexy asset and make it work for the user.

Take a look at Square.  Payment processing is a sleezy, unsexy, and just headache of an industry.  Square took that and turned it on its head.  They added a beautiful interface and made it frictionless for real world merchants to have a payment processing engine without the headaches involved.  

Call Out Your Competitor

Don't be afraid to call out your competitor and wage war. You should be respectful of course, but it's okay to stir the pot. Look at Salesforce. They proclaimed the end of downloadable desktop software and Marc Benioff was no stranger to letting the world know the companies that are his enemy. His spat with Microsoft is supposedly one of the greatest things that ever happened to the company!

Deliver Great Support

Most unsexy industries don't have a love for customer support. It's not that they deliver bad customer support, it's just that they don't deliver GREAT customer support. Zappos for example... they sell shoes. Who would have ever thought that a shoe retailer could be an iconic company? Well, Zappos is really a company with great customer service that happens to sell shoes. If you have a passion for support that mirrors Zappos, you can extend the great experience you deliver with your application to the real human interaction you may have with customers.

Look For An Industry That Rarely Changes

I've always believed that those who get comfortable and think they are immune to disruption are the most likely to be disrupted. Having a large customer base makes large incumbents feel like they will never leave. In actual reality, they will, but they just need a great solution... your solution. Problems don't make people change. Problems make people search for a solution. Until a good solution exists, they stick with the current one. It's like a do while loop of seemingly neverending pain. Do deal with pain while looking for a better solution, until you find a better one.

Work Towards Building Fanatics

The hipmunk mascot is barely a year old I believe, but boy do people love that little critter. Some have even created fan art! In a short period of time, Hipmunk has created valuable brand equity and fanatical customers. Some companies never get to achieve that. If you're able to resolve pain, finding fanatical customers will happen a lot faster.

Be Disruptive, But Respectful

It's fun to shake things up, call out your competitors, and make a lot of noise, but always be a gentleman or a classy lady. Have logic and let people see the rationale behind your argument. You should always have an answer that is more than "just because". Show those trapped in the Matrix why your solution is better and will free them from the pain that currently exists. Use a loud mouth and PR to get the world's eyes on you, but deliver sound logic. There is a thin line between being passionate and just being insane. Rationale is usually the difference.

Focus On Power Users

Not every solution should do this, but I noticed that it worked very very well for Hipmunk. A lot of the people that I know who are Hipmunk users, travel VERY often. Sometimes you just want to focus on the normal users, but you can get fanatical users and strong advocates by solving the pain for those that have it the most often. A person that travels multiple times a month with long flights is much more likely to want your solution when you first launch/unproven than a person that travels a few times a year, often for vacation+light work travel. Hipmunk, padmapper, hellofax, and others are just the start. The number of processes that are beyond painful run deep and present a world of opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs. What other industries are ready to be "hipmunked"? My vote: the domain purchasing industry. Someone should "hipmunk" Godaddy :).

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Posted by Jason Baptiste on Mon, Feb 28, 2011


Thanks for the heads up on the correct verb for what we've done to allocating stock options.  
Now, when someone asks I can say that we hipmunked the allocation process when we built Option Sanity www.optionsanity.com)

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:56 AM by Miki Saxon

Great article. Thanks Jason.  
Clayton Christensen coined the term disruptive innovation to describe what you wrote. He wrote a big book on that. You beautifully described it in a few paragraphs. 
I can think of few industries that need hipmunked: 
1) Buying automobiles 
2) Doing taxes 
3) Grocery shopping 
My company Vaayoo (http://www.vaayoo.com) is disrupting the way people develop rich native mobile applications.  
If you have a great idea and want to create a killer mobile app out of it, you can do so by doing drag and drop and without writing a single line of code. Time to market is tommorrow and costs are negligible. We have helped several non-tech entrepreuners turn their ideas into market-leading and money making mobile apps. They came to us with an idea. 
The best thing about our platform is that it allows our customers take their ideas to market at lowest cost and fastest time. They will pay a small monthly subscription fee only when the app is submitted to the app store. If it does not work out they can just walk away.  
If interested, please ping me at ranjits@vaayoo.com 

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 11:03 AM by Ranjit Sawant

I love the product! 
I hate their ads all around the web! 
Please stop it! I deserve a vacation from your ads!

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 11:08 AM by Giovanni

Love disruptive startups making a massive pain less painful. Thanks for alerting me to Hipmunk - a Suitcase Entrepreneur I'm not sure how I've not come across them before. 
Great article as always. 

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 11:51 AM by Natalie Sisson

I now a company that is on the way of hipmunking tax relief. 
It's callwww.rocketrelief.com

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 11:51 AM by Diego

I discovered Hipmunk's elegance back in August of 2010. I'm glad to see they're still disrupting the travel market with user-centric design. Go Hipmunk!

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 11:56 AM by Kurt Schlatzer

What a smart article ... and what a great idea Hipmunk is. I tried it and it just sings. It's a perfect example of how to simplify something that is just a pain in the ass. 
Thanks. This gives me all kinds of ideas that I think should be simplified. 

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 12:08 PM by Rosemary Breehl

Great read. I've been building hellofax.com. It's not your web 2.0 sexy idea, but signing + faxing documents is a huge pain in the a#$. Reading this article was great validation.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 12:09 PM by joseph

I think its worth noting that you really need to take into account why things are a certain way before you go and try to "hipmunk" an industry. Hipmunk has succeeded with its awesome interface but you can't just go into any industry and say "well the interface sucks, so if we fix it everyone will want to use us". Travel is unique because of the low switching costs of using any different provider. There are no network effects and almost no data advantages that established players have so success is really based in the experience which the major players have been ignoring for a long time. Entrepreneurs looking to "hipmunk" other markets should definitely take into account the structure of those markets before assuming that just making a better user experience will make them win the market.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 12:14 PM by Jamie Quint

A lot of people have written about how innovative Hipmonk's interface is... which really annoys the people at ITA who have had an interface like it for years.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 12:30 PM by Chris (Amateur Traveler)

A Hipmunk for taxes would be out of this world...

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 12:38 PM by Ben

We've hipmunked office and meeting spaces. Now if we can hipmunk insurance! THAT will be a big deal.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 12:41 PM by David Gibbs

Publishing industry and companies immediately came to mind. Yes there's POD, vanity presses or from your own websites, but it's still the same system - just 'upgraded' for the digital age.  
I'd like to see a streamlined process to the dog and pony show that traditional publishers put authors through.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 12:46 PM by Gina

We're doing the same for self-help. Livifi Just launched friday for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Livifi.com, We've paired concise, engaging, evidence-based information with an intuitive tool for setting goals and tracking progress. Check it out..

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 12:57 PM by Lowell Winer

Great article or disruption but I politely disagree on Hipmunk being a disruptive force. When I think of disruption in the recent past it is Mint. I don't think anybody uses quicken client anymore. May be Minted should be your verb or InDineroed ( if you want to use a Ycombinator start up)?

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 1:02 PM by Ranga

we'll have to think pretty hard how to apply this to the oil and gas industry ;)

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 1:04 PM by setiri


posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 1:19 PM by BOB

Never heard of hipmunk before, but you have enlightened me. I loved the points, but the emphasis on "disruptive" is interesting.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 1:26 PM by Sylvia Seamands

Hipmunk lacks creativity and innovation. It can be copied in a second by the market leaders. It is dissapointing to see start-ups waisting time and investors $$$ doing the same old thing...can you guys come with something unique and original. What is the value add of another travel website yet? you are trying to sell us the 'agony' and 'hipmunkiness' because the product really has little substance...I challenge you to bring something unique and original to market....

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 1:49 PM by tony

Inspiring... This is exactly what I want my startup to be... beautifully disruptive. Now don't forget that all the sexiness in the world won't be enough if your execution is not exceptional either... You have to actually fix the fundamental problem that plagues the industry you're trying to disrupt. A nice, simple UI is generally just a symptom, not the core of the problem. Ex: Google's UI vs its algorithmic approach to search. Or: Twitter's UI vs its realtime approach to spreading news.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 2:07 PM by Kevin Biebie

Hipmunk hasn't been all that disruptive. Finding flights still sucks and all they did was wrap a visualization layer over Orbitz (and maybe some other flight providers by now). Has the online travel/flight booking industry or process changed or been affected since the launch of Hipmunk? No. I doubt that traffic numbers to Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity, etc. have dropped much at all. 
I agree with all your other points though.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 2:20 PM by Jeff

I've never heard of hipmunk and never had a problem finding and purchasing flights. I'm wondering if this post is simply here to stir up publicity for an unknown startup. I would like to know how hipmunk "called out" its competitor though. The example is for salesforce vs. microsoft, not hipmunk. I'm itching to call out my competitors but I don't want it to backfire on me.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 2:57 PM by Richard

I love hipmunk and use it over kayak for the sake of supporting a startup and because it IS marginally cooler than kayak. But do you really think that the pain of booking a flight on Kayak, or even cheapflights.com (do they even exist anymore) is chronic and unbearable? Go hipmunk! I am all in favor of building a better mousetrap even if marginally- and I agree that other places should be hipmunked... just not sure hipmunk hipmunked online bookings in quite as flamboyantly as you suggest:)

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 3:05 PM by adam

The "Yo mama" domain registration company has been hipmunked by hover.com.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 3:12 PM by John

I still haven't got an idea what "HIPMUNK" means and if it applies to my industry. Could somebody, anybody please enlighten me? 
O-ya, my industry is fabrication of orthodics and prostheses.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 3:22 PM by BOB

I couldn't agree more about keeping it clean and simple. I've witnessed far too many cases where startups think adding 'more' will help them appeal to a larger audience. In reality, it does the exact opposite. Instead of seeing something that solves a specific problem in an interesting way, potential users see a hodgepodge that does a hundred different things.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 3:54 PM by Nick Oostveen

I think hipmunk is a great tool. Been surprised by all the "hate comments" on sites. Raving fans and returning customers, can't be a bad thing for a new y combinator company. 
I think there are several industries ripe for a big disruption, including real estate and banking.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 3:55 PM by Alan

The restaurant "Point-of-Sale" industry is ripe to be Hipmunk'd. Most people interchange POS with "Point-of-Sale" and "Piece of Shit". The software in the industry is that bad!

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 4:45 PM by Pete McCarthy

Wow, great article..I guess I have been a hipmunk for let's see now, 25 years! In engineering terms, I used to call it just being efficient, but I guess everyone needs a catch-phrase nowadays...that is cool..if it helps one person get it, then by all means...hipmunk away!

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 6:56 PM by Jeffrey

Great article. Good collection of points. Particularly liked target the industry with large user base as the promoters are comfortable and not thinking of new ways.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 9:16 PM by Bharat Lohani

Checkout iwantmyname.com for simplifying domain purchasing.

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 10:26 PM by Brett

In India, there are lot of industries that are waiting to be "hipmunked".  
You will encounter unbelievable bureaucracy - but if you can get past that you can create some fantastic companies. 
The first thing people here told me was - "you cannot sell cosmetics online to Indian women". I decided that that is just the thing I wanted to do! - So hence I am setting up http://cosmetix.in/ 

posted on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 11:24 PM by Sridhar

Great article, right on and I loved it. We are already doing a few of the ideas listed here for the Project Collaboration software we are developing, like identify the enemy (basecamp), making UI sexy and focusing on the customer.

posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2011 at 2:00 AM by David Robins

Great Approach, I really appreciate it and get a lot knowledge which will help me to face such challenges and to overcome on them. Off course this will also boost my career, if I will succeed.

posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2011 at 2:36 AM by Mehndi Songs

Great ideas! As an accountant, I have observed small businesses struggling with basic function such as bookkeeping. The service is almost generic at this point, but could use someone to Hipmonk it. Same with tax preparation, as noted above by Diego. Will check out the site he mentioned.  
Thanks for the information.

posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2011 at 9:52 AM by L McKee

Very thought provoking Jason, thank you. 
In the UK, the delivery of healthcare could do with a good Hipmunking. There is very little choice outside of what the National Health Service offers. 
Remote medicine, doctor via webcam on a subscription basis could work. Anything like that in the US? 
Toby Andrews

posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2011 at 10:42 AM by Toby Andrews

Big fan of Hipmunk. As a frequent traveler, it's the first time I've felt like organizing plans with the right price/pain ratio isn't an awful hassle. And I find I actually spend more on flights, because layovers, airlines, times etc. actually come into play instead of just price.  
If you want the Hipmunk of domain registrars, look no further than http://dnsimple.com. Geared towards developers, with a command line interface for managing domains.

posted on Tuesday, March 01, 2011 at 11:25 PM by Lar Van Der Jagt

Disruptive success is usually when the change is on the delivery side. So those interested in disrupting a specific industry or segment, study the delivery processes. Whatever makes it easier, simpler, cuts one steps (which means saves time money for final delivery) is disruptive. Those who quote or know Christensen who coined disruptive innovation also mentioned finding ways to make "non users" your customers. The combination is real disruption. In emerging markets the "non user" is the largest segment. Those who control markets dont even notice such disruption, and when they do its tool late. SO when disrupting do not recommend calling your competition out. let them find out when its too late. 

posted on Wednesday, March 02, 2011 at 9:35 AM by uday pasricha

I was about to try Hipmunk, when my friend pointed out that Kayak is superior in so many ways. Hipmunk doesn't even have any of the helpful features that Kayak does. 
I made sure to save my friends from using the disaster that is Hipmunk!

posted on Wednesday, March 02, 2011 at 3:25 PM by John

Great article Jason. 
Being around for 20 months makes us feel old atwww.acceleratedfreefall.com  
Even so, just watch what's gonna happen in the next 3 months. A spinoff project that will hipmunk a market that is just crying out to be disrupted.

posted on Thursday, March 03, 2011 at 4:48 AM by accel

Great article. So true that not all new services need to be all web2.0 and flashy to succeed. Much better to make something dead-simple for people who actually never thought that it could be improved. 
We atwww.chapter101.com are trying to do something different in the ecommerce market by letting people get in control of their products.  
But thanks again for the inspiration with this article.

posted on Friday, March 04, 2011 at 2:30 AM by Stefan Jørgensen

This article is so good, I'm NOT going to share it. I'll keep this one to myself, thanks. That's about the highest compliment I've got.

posted on Saturday, March 05, 2011 at 11:36 AM by Dave

Very insightful and inspiring article. My startup has set out to disrupt the last mile delivery industry. We think that if you can get a pizza ordered and delivered in 45 minutes then you should be able to get a camcorder ordered and delivered just as fast. The same item is probably on the shelves at 5 different stores within 5 miles of your house.  
John Livingston 
WebToDoor llc

posted on Saturday, March 05, 2011 at 1:03 PM by john livingston

Exactly what we are working on right now. Disrupting an old industry trying to get out of its own way. Blue Ocean Strategy. Great article Jason.

posted on Sunday, March 20, 2011 at 2:40 PM by Matt Canepa

We're working on disrupting the house cleaning industry.

posted on Saturday, April 09, 2011 at 1:33 AM by Juan Chaparro

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posted on Friday, April 29, 2011 at 11:38 AM by humzayunas

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