Friday, February 26, 2016
Interview with Asher Hunt, Overnight
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Are you one of those last minute travelers, who doesn't make any plans until the last minute for your trips--or with you didn't have to? If so, Los Angeles-based Overnight (www.joinovernight.com) is for you. The startup, which launched this week, is hoping to find both travelers and hosts who don't want to deal with long term plans, and who can respond immediately to finding and offering up a place to stay for the night. We caught up with Asher Hunt, CEO of the company, to learn more about how the startup wants to make finding a room while traveling more like Uber and less like traditional hotel booking.
Can you explain how your service works?
Asher Hunt: Overnight is a mobile app for travelers to book same day, last minute stays, with local hosts. On a high level, it looks like a HotelTonight or Airbnb, but more like an Uber for Airbnb. It's a completely new paradigm for booking a place. You arrive in a location, or drop a pin in a location when you're traveling and set a radius, and you tap “request”. You tell us about your stay, how many people you are with, and whatever other requests you have, and we broadcast that out to hosts within that radius around that pin. It's a little bit different from other apps where you are scrolling through listings. We're matching people looking for places, very quickly, the same day. On the flip side, what hosts get are a push notification, saying someone is looking for a place to stay, and if they have one available. The opportunity is, if you were hosting that night, you could be watching TV with your girlfriend, and get a push notification that someone is asking if your place is available, and I could decide right then that the spare bedroom is available, and you're totally fine with making $90 that night. It gives our hosts an opportunity to not live by a calendar. It's quite a different framework from an Airbnb or HomeAway. On the guest side, when we're not floodgating things, they get an average response to their listings in about 45 seconds.
How did the idea come about for Overnight?
Asher Hunt: I was going back and forth between LA and San Francisco, and staying at a friend's house in San Francisco. One night, I had been up until four in the morning hacking and coding some stuff, and at 7am went to my friend's house to crash on his couch. However, people kept marching around his living room, people were asking other people who wanted coffee, lights kept on shining into my eyes, and I was just trying to get some sleep. I did that for three hours, and decided, I guess I am up, and looked around to find another place to stay. By that time, I had figured out the cadence of pricing for hotel rooms, and had been traveling back and forth between LA and San Francisco for three or four days each week. I'd live here for three or four days, then I'd go up there for three or four days, staying at hotels. Looking around on Airbnb, I figured out that even though they have “instant booking”, there really aren't all that many listings, and that hosts aren't able to necessarily filter who is staying there, it's all just open to anyone to book. Plus, prices were starting at $180. As I was looking at that, I said, there is something crazy here. People want to make money tonight, I need a place, that trade can happen. I kept thinking about that, and kept thinking about it, and thought—what if there was something which could ping people with space and find out if you could stay, in seconds. I also thought, what would happen if we could do this at scale? If so, there would be a step function in the way that people travel, and with the frequency of travels. People who had never before traveled with travel now, because w're surfacing more affordable accommodations, faster. How would that change travel? Would people who live downtown think about finding a place down at the beach, and could we perhaps become nomads for the price of an Uber across LA? Another impetus for this was I saw some of the slides that Mary Meeker had done in the Kleiner Perkins annual PDF that they send around, and I realized that the market was being underserved by Airbnb and other key players in the market. No one was solving that last minute very well, and we really wanted to be able to create something that allows someone to not be tied to a calendar, to have a way to travel spontaneously, and not have to pay the rates of hotels.
What was your background before this startup?
You mentioned some of the other big players in the market, like Airbnb. Is there room for something like what you are offering?
Asher Hunt: Absolutely. If you step back and look at this market, there are a lot of players in the space, but it's not crazy crowded. What we are solving, the same day problem, is a big problem, and ultimately, it's an opportunity to open the market. We're only competitive in that and the end of they day, you're figuring out where you will lay your head down at night. But if you look at sites like Airbnb, they're going very upmarket, and catering to the people who normally would look at booking a hotel, and if you look at HotelTonight, that' s very vacation oriented, and they're still looking at hotels. What we want to do, is make it easier for more people to travel more often, especially people who haven't spent much time traveling. It's a segment that is more spontaneous. Millennials get it. We're a spontaneous travel app, which instead of you taking that one trip to Paris, you might get to do that twice. If you travel twice a year, we let you stay four times a year. I see it allowing the market to open up, to let people travel more often, and to let people spend less time planning travel. I think that's where we play, and where we have our niche, which is a good foothold. We will then grow our business in concentric circles around multiple night bookings. It's all about finding a place to stay, for people who don't need a concierge, don't need a view. It's not about the four walls, it's what's on the other side of the four walls.
So do you this a lot of this is driven by a generation shifting to more of an on-demand, Uber-style lifestyle?
Asher Hunt: It's a number of shifts. There are several things I see aligning. As I see it, people have become used to a shared economy. There's a shift to mobile, which is still happening, and that's a big thing. It's mobile first. There's a shift in frequency of travel. It's also a shift of travel becoming a product, because of things like Instagram, where people want to show off their travels. It used to be about showing off school, your new backpack. But now travel is the thing to show off. In addition to that, more people are traveling to more places, and Millenials are more comfortable around these trendlines. I think it's inevitable that the future of travel,will eventually be more and more spontaneous.
So what's next for your company, and what are the next hurdles you are looking at?
Asher Hunt: We are coming out of beta in Los Angeles right now. We're learning a ton, and we now have hundreds of hosts in Los Angeles. We're now launching in Austin, just ahead of SXSW. We have been understanding this market, and perfecting what we offer in Los Angeles. LA is our laboratory for our flywheel, where we can get that precisely spinning as possible. We will continue to learn more. Austin gives us the ability to stretch that out and see, as we get to the next city, how things will look like. It's a new learning opportunity, in a new area. South By, and more importaly, Austin, is a great opportunity to see how this work in a new market, which is similar to Los Angeles.