Tag Archives: Google Transit

HopStop Explores The Local Potential of Transit Directions

Local consumers are presumably in buying mode when they are researching where to have dinner, attend an event, or go to the movies. How about when they are researching directions to get there?

In fact, mass transit directions in themselves represent a host of opportunities for local services and advertising (along with parking garage info). Companies engaged in collecting, sorting and leveraging mass transit directions include HopStop, Google Transit and Urban Mapping. Most large public transit agencies have also developed an infrastructure for mass transit and walking directions.

HopStop was the first service out of the gate. The five-year-old, 12-person company is now providing transit and walking directions in 16 metros throughout the U.S. and Europe, and plans rapid expansion in Q3 and Q4.

During HopStop’s early days, its directions weren’t always reliable (note: amassing and normalizing mass transit data is no easy task). These days, however, its directions tend to be very good. A team of us here at BIA/Kelsey recently relied on HopStop-powered directions to get around New York & New Jersey, with excellent results.

Besides mass transit and walking directions, HopStop is also providing information about alternative transportation options, such as car sharing and limo/sedan reservation capability (via partnerships with ConnectByHertz and LimoRes). It also estimates cab fares, which is an especially useful feature.

CEO Joe Meyer, a former eBay and Quigo executive who came on-board last April, says the quality of the service and its scalable routing engine are close to where they need to be. He notes that it has been quite an effort to collect data from hundreds of transit authorities — including, for instance, 30 transit agencies in the New York area alone. The service also enhances and improves the data via a user feedback system, with user improvements coming in via Facebook, Twitter, email and SMS/chat.

Roughly half of HopStop’s traffic comes directly to its site. Other users come in via local media affiliates, who either work directly with the site or use its open API. Not surprisingly, the highest traffic day part comes during regular business hours, with half of the transit queries pertaining to points-of-interest such as local events, restaurants, museums, tourist attractions.

Other searches pertain to business-centric locations such as office buildings and conference centers. Meyer says they are all highly suited for contextual and geo-targeted advertising.

What’s really been evolving rapidly is HopStop’s utility as a mobile service. Over the past two years, HopStop has launched an iPhone app, a WAP site, and advanced test messaging capabilities (Desk-to-to-SMS, and SMS-to-SMS). The company has recently recruited Scott Margolis, the former Director of Mobile for FoxNews.com and FoxBusiness.com, to head-up it’s mobile initiatives.

While desktop directions still account for the majority of usage, smart phone usage is growing at a much faster rate. HopStop now has plans to develop mobile apps for Android, Nokia/Symbian and Blackberry.

In terms of ad revenues, the site provides free listings to local merchants, using a home-grown database as well as one populated by CitySearch. Most of HopStop’s revenue, however, comes from national advertisers, including Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, CitiBank, CapitalOne, Duane Reade, CVS, Monster, CareerBuilder, Delta, JetBlue and The New York Times.

These advertisers typically utilize a mixture of display and text ads, which HopStop’s geo ad-server targets down to a street address level. “It is all about hyperlocal” for such advertisers, says Meyer.

Although HopStop asserts rapid growth, Meyer is upfront about the challenge posed by Google Transit (which is tightly integrated into Google Maps). In his mind, Google Transit is an overly rigid solution. For instance, it only accepts data from transit agencies that conform to its specifications. Conversely, HopStop takes more of an open approach, he says. It accepts scheduling and routing data in every format, giving users many more routing options, as well as more accurate directions.

“It’s a double-edged sword having Google as your primary competitor” says Meyer. He adds that Google’s entrance into local transit navigation validates the need for direction searches, and their commercial viability.

New CEO at HopStop Pushes for Fast Growth

HopStop, which provides public transit routing and schedules, plus walking directions, has brought in new leadership and expects to pursue rapid growth to 200 cities. It is currently in seven markets (or eight, if you count Long Island as a separate market).

New CEO Joe Meyer, a former Quigo and eBay executive, was brought in by HopStop’s investors, which include top leaders from Quigo, a contextual search engine sold to AOL in late 2007 for $340 Million. The former Quigo execs and others came in during a funding round one year ago.The previous CEO, founder Chinedu Echeruo, is starting an African hedge fund.

Meyer notes that the service has grown year-over-year since its launch in 2005, and is “dangerously close” to profitability via several revenue streams, including contextual text ads, and direct and indirect sales of display ads. People using mass transit are good targets for “going out” services, such as personals or event ads, he says.

The service is also making increasing revenues by licensing its API. For instance, Duane Reade drug stores uses its API in the Northeast.

For a user, HopStop has been a mixed bag. Its execution has been spotty as well, as transit routing information hasn’t always been reconciled. The site has seemed unmaintained for months at a time. There have been startup issues, generally, in working with transit authorities, some of which were initially resistant to a third party site.

But Meyer says the site is over any hiccups it may have had, and currently providing excellent quality service; it has a clean new redesign; and that the brand recognition for local users in New York and other places is strong enough that people have even begun to say they’ll “HopStop” it when they are seeking transit directions (i.e. to “Google” it or “Mapquest” it).

Meyer says the service also competes well with Google Transit, which has more cities but less depth, says Meyer. And it is very focused on B2C, while other services, such as Urban Mapping, are more oriented on B2B, he says.

“It is a very utilitarian service that gets users from ‘point a’ to ‘point b’ via walking and mass transit directions, he says. “We’re very unique in what we do. We’re aggregating together a seamless user experience.”

While HopStop does well as a destination site, Meyer says it also is very complementary to local media partners. Companies such as CitySearch, Yelp, OpenTable, Yellowpages.com and Fandango would be natural partners, along with newspaper sites such as The New York Daily News and The New York Times. The site currently works with The New York Post, The Village Voice, Intuit’s Boorah and others. “We’re national in scope and local in nature,” he says.

Looking forward, Meyer has set a course for a very aggressive growth plan. The site is currently in New York (and Long Island), Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, London and Paris. In August, it launches in Philadelphia; In September, it launches in Los Angeles; and in October, it launches in Atlanta. “We’ll have over 200 cities” when the build out is finished, he says.

The key to launching in a new city is not whether they are primarily mass transit-oriented, Meyer adds. It is whether a lot of people use mass transit. Car-obsessed Los Angeles is actually a “Top 5” mass transit city, he points out. Atlanta is in the top 10. The site also provides intra-city information for Amtrak and various bus lines. “We put people in the seat of mass transit,” he says.

Mobile also plays a major role in HopStop’s development. “We are continually improving and enhancing the user experience,” says Meyer. “We’re the perfect mobile app.” Platforms include iPhones, a WAP site and SMS. Also in development is a Blackberry app.