hipmunk [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 SucksSome 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 FirstOne 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.