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November 30, 2015

HouseTrip CEO: Taking on Airbnb with neural networks

CEO Briefing: George Hadjigeorgiou, CEO of HouseTrip, on how it plans to compete with Airbnb.

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Being one of the 50 fastest growing and most disruptive technology companies throughout the UK, HouseTrip has set its goals and is planning win big over rivals like Airbnb.

Speaking exclusively to CBR as part of our Fortune Fifty series, George Hadjigeorgiou, CEO, said that he sees the company as a real competitor to Airbnb, "particularly in key European countries like France, Spain and the UK".

"We target slightly older consumers, 35+, who are after a higher quality of experience."

The company, founded in 2010 by Arnaud Bertrand and Junjun Chen after a visit to Edinburgh, has since raised over $60 million in funding, with top investors being Index Ventures, Balderton Capital and Accel Partners.

It has also expanded and now offers over 20,000 destinations with over 300,000 properties available for booking.

Hadjigeorgiou said: "HouseTrip only offers whole holiday homes with property listings that have been vetted by our team. It can take around seven days from when a property is submitted to when it appears on the site.

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"We also constantly monitor the performance of a property and will delist it if we are seeing bad feedback."

Technology-driven travel company

Far from Airbnb’s 37 million yearly bookings, HouseTrip’s eight million nights booked since its launch have demanded that the company’s IT systems bulked up to answer demand.

"We see ourselves as a technology-driven travel company, not as a travel-driven technology company," Sharath Bulusu, Chief Product Officer of HouseTrip said.

"We start with the problems we want to solve for people who want to book a holiday home and apply the technology that helps solve it. Sometimes it is as simple as sending someone a timely email, and at other times it can be a complex solution in search involving neural networks and other methods."

In order to continue as part of the Fortune Fifty, HouseTrip is taking on board the use of some learning algorithms including machine learning and neural networks.

Hadjigeorgiou said: "During the last few months we have also successfully experimented with using neural networks for ranking search results."

According to the University of Toronto, neural networks use learning algorithms that are inspired by humans’ understanding of how the brain learns, but they are evaluated by how well they work for practical applications such as speech recognition, object recognition, image retrieval and the ability to recommend products that a user will like.

As computers become more powerful, neural networks are gradually taking over from simpler machine learning methods.

Focusing on his mobile app, Hadjigeorgiou said that whilst "most of our competition started out by building an app that lets a guest book a holiday home via the app, we started at the end by building an app for customers who have an upcoming booking with HouseTrip".

However, what does this mean to users? He said: "When you are booking a holiday home it is not the same as quickly buying a small item. Customers value convenience, safety and certainty.

"They want information about their booking, the ability to contact us or the host and other such features while they are on their way to the destination."

All comes down to data

With a growing customer base, just like for most digital businesses, data has become the new gold. "Like most online businesses we get a lot of data about how our product is performing, as well as how customers use our product.

"We use this data all the way from monitoring the performance of our business to designing new services and products for customers."

For example, the company monitors how often different types of customers need to cancel or change their booking. Consequently, Hadjigeorgiou said that this has led HouseTrip to experiment with new ways of supporting those customers.

"Similarly, the data shows us the inefficiency in the dominant model for enquiring and booking in our industry . We are using that knowledge to design an experience that gives customers the ability to book instantly while giving hosts the control they need over their property and the process of booking it.

"You will see a lot more professionalisation of the business as this happens."

 

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