We were surprised to catch Gillian Morris long enough to interview her. She’s on the move, and her new app, Hitlist, is designed to get you on the move, too.
If you haven’t heard of it and you have occasional mild to severe wanderlust, I suggest you download it immediately. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it feeds you cheap flights to wherever your heart desires, places you didn’t even know you wanted to visit, and places you didn’t even know existed. I’m opening Hitlist right now, and I’m seeing “Flight to Berlin, $431,” “Flight to Copenhagen, $398,” “Flight to Cartagena, $352” and I’m wondering why I’m still here, typing this. We spoke with Gillian about risk in business, vacationing in Afghanistan, and the future of Hitlist.
What was your motivation for founding Hitlist?
My motivation around founding Hitlist was to help people travel more. Right before we started building the product, I was living in Istanbul, Turkey, and working as a risk analyst in the Middle East, concentrating on the transport and energy industries. I started learning a bit about how the travel distribution industry worked and felt like there were a lot of inefficiencies. That means there’s space for a company to come in and help the system work more effectively, help people travel more, and probably also profit. On a more personal note, I was working on a lot of less stable parts of the world and I felt like the transport/tourism industry was the most positive contributor to economic development in areas that really need it. It’s the best redistributor of wealth and both locals and tourists tend to learn and profit from interacting with each other.
Once I really started to dig into the current travel industry and how consumers transact, I realized consumers seldom feel like they’re getting a good deal when they buy travel, and they usually aren’t. The chances that you’ll be searching for a flight or hotel when it’s actually cheapest to purchase are close to zero.
We help consumers book at the optimal time by alerting them when trips they might want to take are available at attractive prices. Implicitly, we’re able to understand more about where they’d like to go and help the right vendors reach the consumers most likely to convert, and thus increase overall conversion, so consumers save money even as vendors make more money.
How would you describe the startup world and your process for getting Hitlist off the ground? How much of a risk did it feel like?
I didn’t expect any of it to be easy, and I knew I was risking a lot financially. I had a good, well paying job. But I also felt like I’d proved to myself that I could make enough money to support myself and I could come back to that career if I needed to. So the real risk was: did I want to change my lifestyle in order to pursue this idea? And that wasn’t such a hard decision. I’ve never been that into fancy meals or expensive hobbies. I’m passionate about this idea and I love how much we’re learning in the course of getting there.
I saved up enough to be able to last two years without salary, and told myself that if I hadn’t gotten the business to a place where I could justify a small stipend by then then I should move on. Fortunately we were able to raise funding before I hit the two year mark.
What are the best and worst parts of being your own boss?
I’m not my own boss – our 360,000 users are all my bosses. Seriously. I appreciate that I have control over the vision of what we build, but the market has control over the outcome, so I’m reporting to them.
Were there ever moments when you thought, “okay, this isn’t going to work”?
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
I think battery technology has the potential to be as impactful as what we’re building in an entirely different way. So maybe I’d be getting more into hard science and batteries. But that would be a very different life.
What is your dream trip?
I like going places that are misunderstood. The last real vacation I had was to central Afghanistan. You have to be very sensitive to the situation, but if I can spend my tourism dollars in a way that might positively impact the community, and if I can help show my friends in the rest of the world the good side of wherever I’m traveling, then it’s well worth it. I also like seeing places that I know are going through change and will be different if I’m able to come back in 10, 20, 50 years. Some of the top places on my travel bucket list are Iran, Gaza, the Congo, and Libya.
What’s next for Hitlist? What’s next for you?
We just launched v.3, which has amazing new features and integrates more curated content. We have a component of the app called “trips” that allows users to look for flights to events and concerts around the world. For instance, right now you can look for flights to Austin City Limits or The London Design Festival. With our newest update, you can also now create your own trips and therefore search for vacations with more flexibility. If you know that at some point this winter you will want to take a vacation to the Caribbean, but you don’t care where or when, you can create a trip with flexible parameters and then save it to keep tabs. Friends can also follow your trips, making group travel easier. In our future updates we hope to incorporate more aspects of travel, including hotels and activities, making travel even easier.
What’s next for me: focusing on getting better every day, working with the best people I can find to get everyone in the world traveling more.