Press Release: A new take on multi-city travel can save travelers thousands of dollars

Cleverlayover, a flight search engine that focuses on adding layovers to a flight in order to save money, has rehauled its service to provide a new take on booking multi-city travel. Users now have the option to extend their layover for as long as they desire as well as choose the location of their layover. Compared to traditional multi-city search, the extended layover method can save travelers thousands of dollars.

“Current multi-city travel is priced based on demand, so taking multi-city as an extended layover can often be cheaper,” says CEO Phil Hu. “We definitely won’t be cheaper on all multi-city combinations, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work for the first trip you try. It depends on the combination of cities and dates, just like how one airline might be cheaper for some routes on some days while another airline can be cheaper on other routes and days.”

Consider a multi-city trip from Boston to Honolulu and Sydney on December 21 returning January 2, with 8 days in Honolulu and 4 days in Sydney. As of early November, the traditional multi-city flights cost $4285. Taking the exact same trip as an extended layover instead costs $2411. Similarly, looking at those same dates of travel, the traditional multi-city itinerary for Boston to Chicago and San Francisco costs $815 while the cleverlayover trip costs $675.

“Cleverlayover started out as a tool for finding cheaper flights by adding a layover that combines two non-partner airlines. Our algorithm would automatically choose the best layover location based on price, and on one-in-three routes this would be cheaper than anything you could find on any other site. The downside was having that extra layover in the middle of the trip. We wanted to turn that layover into a positive, though, so we now allow the user to choose a fun layover as well as extend that layover for multiple days. For travelers that want a multi-city trip, cleverlayover is a great tool to consider.”

Other examples of multi-city trips that are cheaper using cleverlayover include the following (contingent on dates of travel and fluctuating flight prices over time):

  • Detroit to Portland and Honolulu
  • Atlanta to Chicago and Tel Aviv
  • Amsterdam to Paris and Savannah
  • New York to Boston and Reykjavik

For more information, contact phil@cleverlayover.com or visit www.cleverlayover.com/press

How McKinsey made me a better entrepreneur

When I graduated from college, everyone advised me not to work at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company if I wanted to be an entrepreneur later. They warned me that McKinsey doesn’t build any of the skills necessary to start a company.

I went to McKinsey anyway because I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to be a startup founder. Ironically, though, as I doubled down on my career at McKinsey by going to business school, I found myself starting a travel company for a school project.

Almost two years later, I can definitely see that many of the skills I developed at McKinsey aren’t applicable to founding a company. Small companies just don’t face the same problems that Fortune 500 clients brought to the Firm, and the network is more conducive to becoming CEO of Disney than to raising money.

Nevertheless, I turned to lessons learned at McKinsey many times as the startup struggled through the early days. Though no one should go to McKinsey for the explicit purpose of becoming a better entrepreneur, my time at McKinsey did teach some valuable core competencies. I’ve synthesized three takeaways below and offer a deep-dive into each.

1. McKinsey taught me the importance of preparation. I never entered a meeting with a client not feeling ready. We thought through timing, discussion dynamics, appendix pages, meeting goals and follow-up questions.

When starting cleverlayover, I brought the same diligence to team meetings and presentations. This was especially important in a setting with high ambiguity. Conventional wisdom suggests that meetings waste time, and startups especially should avoid over-engineering meetings. I found that preparation for meetings helped decrease the number of meetings because they were more likely to accomplish their purpose, and the time I dedicated to over-engineering the meetings would save time for my colleagues.

2. McKinsey taught me the importance of presentation. Every presentation at McKinsey focused on the storyline. I learned to communicate a story succinctly and to keep track of the message throughout pages of data and research. I became effective at influencing others to see my viewpoint by telling my story.

Every startup founder needs this core competency. Businesses must present their story to customers, to investors, to partners and to influencers. At cleverlayover, we need to tell our story to our users, to the partners that make our service possible and to the key opinion leaders who love discovering something new and sharing it with their audience.

3a. McKinsey taught me to methodically approach ambiguous problems. I learned to structure business problems into approachable chunks and to simplify problems into concretely stated questions. Regardless of the industry or function, every engagement involved problem solving in an ambiguous situation.

While building cleverlayover, I found this skill to be invaluable in a post-traction world. Coming up with the idea required creativity and inspiration. Developing the product was an exercise in engineering and design. Launching and creating traction tested our tenacity and resourcefulness. However, when pursuing growth, we faced ambiguity. Some problems, like choosing growth channels, were distilled to a science, while others, such as balancing brand value against short-term survival, could be less precise. Applying the mindset I developed at McKinsey helped provide a structured path forward.

3b. McKinsey gave me the confidence to compete in a crowded market. The Firm works with client companies that are often leaders in their industry, but competitors abound. I saw companies grow successfully despite competing enterprises, and I paid attention to the benefits of superior implementation.

Travel search is a crowded space. Many flight search engines exist, but I pursued cleverlayover anyway because I knew we could provide additional value. Startups can’t be afraid to compete. Companies aren’t grown in a vacuum.

A better search engine for trains

Recently, we added a new search engine that searches for Amtrak routes. Not only will it search regular Amtrak routes much more quickly than Amtrak’s own site, but it also looks for ways to “split tickets.”

For example, the 177 Northeast Regional from Boston to New York Penn Station might be $154, while the same train from Boston to New Haven can be $102 and it would cost $36 from New Haven to New York Penn Station. Splitting the ticket saves $16, even when buying the ticket on the exact same train! No train transfers are required.

Check it out here.

What’s the secret behind cleverlayover’s algorithm?

Cleverlayover is able to search more routes than any other site, and it finds cheaper flights than Kayak, Expedia, Orbitz and any other travel search engine. Cleverlayover compares all the possible ways to get from A to B, including all the possible ways to buy tickets from A to C to B. So what’s behind the cleverlayover algorithm? How does it compare so many routes with just one search?
Continue reading What’s the secret behind cleverlayover’s algorithm?

5 signs you’re spending too much money on fights

Flights can be the most expensive part of any trip. Flight prices can also fluctuate wildly, and airlines have all sorts of tricks to squeeze every last dollar out of you. If any of the following scenarios sounds familiar, you might be spending too much on flights.

Take a moment to see if you can change anything about the way you travel:
Continue reading 5 signs you’re spending too much money on fights

5 tips for breezing through airport security lines

Going through airport security can be a nightmare. I once sat through a fire alarm at an airport where nobody budged. Everyone had reached a silent consensus that going through airport security again would be worse than fire.

airportlines

As a seasoned traveler, though, I’ve found I can usually get from the curbside to the departure gate in less than ten minutes. Here are five tips to help you do the same:
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MBA student builds magic mirror

Ever since Michael Teeuw built a magic mirror, I’ve seen impressive builds pop up on Reddit (here and here, I used the latter’s open source code and the former’s hardware recommendations) and Medium. The magic mirror seems like the best ever gift, so I couldn’t resist building one myself.

Sure, I’m a business school student instead of an engineering student or Google employee, and sure, I have no experience in woodworking or hardware, but what could go wrong? I decided to document the ensuing amateur hour for public entertainment.
Continue reading MBA student builds magic mirror

Finding cheaper flights through layovers

By Louisa Xu

The idea for Cleverlayover was born from our journey to Istanbul last winter. We realized that it would be cheaper to fly from Boston to Israel on one ticket and then fly to Turkey on another ticket. While this seemed counterintuitive, buying one more flight actually cost us less. With the money that we saved, we dedicated four days to exploring the bustling streets of Tel Aviv as well as the humbling history of Jerusalem. After we returned from Istanbul, we realized that our flight search methodology could be turned into an attractive business. The opportunity to visit two continents on a budget gave us a new perspective on how travel should be booked.

There hasn’t been a huge innovation in the flight search industry since meta search. Airline pricing is so inefficient that flying to more places can be cheaper and immersing in more cultures can cost less. For years, the online flight-booking space has been dominated by a few companies with significant pricing power. We wanted to use our experience and data to empower everyday travelers to do what they love to do within their own budget.

As we looked at the flight data, we realized that on 60% of all international routes, visiting a second destination can result in cheaper fares. With both the data and the experience telling a compelling story, we were convinced that this would be the future of leisure travel. We built www.cleverlayover.com to radically optimize travel booking: we simplified the process by revealing the most cost-effective layovers, and we display search results from low-cost carriers that are not partnered with the major airlines to give travelers a broader range of flight combinations. Cleverlayover isn’t just a search engine to find more affordable flights; it’s a tool for experiencing travel in the best way possible. Begin your travel with Cleverlayover to make the most of your trip.

Growing a marketplace? How to balance sellers and buyers using customer lifetime value

When I spoke with the founders and early employees of famous two-sided marketplaces such as Airbnb and Thumbtack, I consistently heard the same story: acquiring sellers was the focus early on, but it became harder to grow the buyers at a suitable rate over time. This is a natural progression for two-sided marketplaces, and balancing buyers and sellers is probably one of the most difficult problems in the growth stages of a company.

A two-sided marketplace is any platform where buyers and sellers come together to transact: drivers sell their services on Uber to riders, who act as buyers; hosts sell their room nights on Airbnb to the guests that buy them. In order to get initial traction, the marketplaces need both buyers and sellers to use the platform. But why are sellers more important early on? And how quickly should marketplaces grow buyers compared to sellers?
Continue reading Growing a marketplace? How to balance sellers and buyers using customer lifetime value

3 Rules for Building Disney

In 2010, I worked at Disney. I built the technology that went inside the parks, technology that touched millions of lives every single month. I worked in a culture full of passion, a passion dedicated to providing an unforgettable experience for the guests. I worked in teams that were innovating at the forefront of animatronics and virtual reality and good old-fashioned storytelling.

It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, but I chose not to continue working there because I saw a bureaucracy. I saw a legal team that touched every single creative decision, and I saw a company structure that would obscure the best of ideas.

Five years later, my team and I built cleverlayover, a flight search engine that finds cheaper flights with significant savings over Kayak, Orbitz, Expedia and any other flight search engine. Though cleverlayover doesn’t quite impact the lives of its users the way Disney impacts the lives of its guests, I like to think that cleverlayover has been able to add value with every single visit, that in some small way our team has been able to provide happiness to the world. My biggest aspiration as we build cleverlayover is to emulate the quality and engagement that Disney provides through its attention to detail and passionate culture, yet my biggest fear is that we emulate the bureaucracy of a large conglomerate as we scale.
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Maintaining morale

By Phil Hu

This summer I worked on cleverlayover, a flight search engine that finds the cheapest flights by using advanced graph search algorithms. My team and I started the company during a Harvard Business School class on entrepreneurship, and we were able to gain good traction during the first month of launch. I decided to take the plunge and work on cleverlayover during my summer.

futureThe first few weeks of cleverlayover were incredibly exciting; when we had fewer than 1000 users, each new visitor validated our work. I was connected to people I had never met through the hard work I had put in over the past few months. The tool would affect their lives and hopefully provide them with cheaper flights. Then the press rolled in, and I read each article at least 100 times. We were mentioned by radio shows and television shows and blogs based in countries halfway across the world. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before, and my life was filled with purpose.
Continue reading Maintaining morale

Personal experience

When I travelled to Istanbul this year, I realized it was cheaper for me to fly to Israel on one ticket and then fly to Turkey on another. It seemed counterintuitive, but buying more flights allowed me to spend less. With the money I saved, I dedicated four days to exploring the bustling nightlife of Tel Aviv and soaking in the humbling history of Jerusalem.

The opportunity to visit two continents on a budget gave me a new perspective on how travel should be booked: airline pricing is so inefficient that flying to more places can be cheaper, immersing in more cultures can cost less and not searching for a richer travel experience can be a lost opportunity. Looking through the flight data, I realized that on 60% of all routes flying internationally visiting a second destination can result in cheaper fares. With both the data and the experience telling a compelling story, I was convinced that this would be the future of leisure travel. My cofounders and I built www.cleverlayover.com to optimize bookings. Cleverlayover isn’t just a search engine to find more affordable flights; it’s a tool for experiencing travel in the fullest way possible.

5 insights from starting a company while at Harvard Business School


Harvard Business School
Harvard Business School. Picture source: Bloomberg


Each year, every first-year student at Harvard Business School spends a semester building a startup in teams of five or six. In total, 180 teams work to gain traction and prove a viable business model in less than six months.

I learned a lot from starting cleverlayover with my team as part of this Harvard experiment and from watching the other teams tackle incredible challenges. It was definitely inspiring to see some of the innovative ideas developed by our peers. I’d like to share some of the insights we learned through all the hard work; after all, rarely do you get the chance to observe 180 teams of top-performing students solving real-world problems.

1. Ideas can come from both problems and solutions

A common pitfall in entrepreneurship is not focusing on solving a customer problem. Too many startups have tried to create behavior changes without addressing a pain point. In order to avoid this, Harvard took all the students through an ideating process that began with identifying a customer need.

However, while startups definitely need to address a real problem, it doesn’t always help to start the ideation process by identifying the pain point. We came up with cleverlayover by looking at flight data and realizing that inefficiencies exist in the market. Cleverlayover solves a real problem: finding cheaper flights. In fact, this is the most fundamental value proposition in travel. Finding a cheaper way to reach a destination will always be in demand, but had we started with identifying a problem, we’d never choose “finding cheaper flights.” It just doesn’t seem possible given how many flight search engines exist. Cleverlayover is proof that great opportunities can be missed by focusing too much on identifying the pain point first.

The cleverlayover team
The cleverlayover team

2. Every business model has a unique challenge; choose the opportunity based on which challenge you want to face

We came up with a list of over 100 ideas before settling on cleverlayover. As a team, we had a strength in brainstorming, but funneling down the ideas to a single choice was daunting. When debating all the ideas, we identified the core challenge of each business.

For example, many of our ideas were two-sided marketplaces: sellers and buyers would come onto a platform in exchange for a transaction fee. These businesses require getting over an adoption hump to hit critical mass because they have strong network effects. The difficult part of these businesses would be keeping the early buyers interested even if there aren’t enough sellers and vice versa. Addressing this challenge would require the ability to step in as a buyer or seller.

On the other hand, some of our ideas were products and services for small businesses, which would require long sales cycles. These business-to-business ideas would require more than six months to prove traction. We also came up with many consumer services that targeted specific events in a person’s life, where the main challenge would be marketing cheaply: the limited repeat usage would require continuous customer acquisition. As a general rule, the higher the transaction value and the more expected transactions per customer, the more acceptable it is to throw money at marketing, but with single-transaction businesses, marketing has to rely less on spend.

Ultimately, we chose cleverlayover because the main challenge for this business model is developing the analytics. Given our team’s strengths and weaknesses, we felt most suited to address this challenge.

Uber is a two-sided marketplace
Uber is a two-sided marketplace. It was successful because it seeded one side of the marketplace early on with black car service companies looking for more utilization. Picture source: CNN Money

3. Diversity matters

Our team has a diverse skill-set that allowed us to create the product and take it to market effectively. Harvard Business School’s mission of diversity pays off tremendously, allowing students to form teams that include operational, marketing, financial and technical expertise. Many of the businesses were successful because they combined great operators with domain experts in beauty products, clothing manufacture and healthcare delivery.

In Silicon Valley, the emphasis is on technical co-founders. As a technical co-founder myself, I’m pretty happy with this mindset, but it undervalues the other skills involved in building great companies. The reason I’m so proud of cleverlayover today is not because it’s an interesting technology but because it has made a difference in people’s lives. People use it and enjoy it. This wouldn’t have been possible without solid marketing, product design and business analytics.

4. Embrace uncertainty

We built our businesses as part of a structured class, yet even in this environment, there’s limited guidance on how to best utilize time and resources. More broadly, when founding a startup, no one has clear deliverables or set schedules. Often times, teams react to this uncertainty by looking for points of validation such as raising capital and adding advisors or by creating artificial deliverables that distract from the main goal of building a business.

In less than six months and with limited capital, many of the teams created fully functional businesses with profitable customers thanks to a focus on executing despite the lack of a structured environment. Teams should seek to add structure by creating a good operating cadence within the team, not by adding artificial deliverables or seeking capital before they are ready for it.

5. Invest in team-building

I trust my team with my life, and it’s this trust that helped us reach some moderate success. Some of the best-performing teams were the ones that spent time on team-building activities outside of work. Trust and coordination within the team help it execute effectively.

More importantly, though, even if the startup fails, if you’ve invested heavily in team-building, you’ve made friends you can count on for life. Ultimately, that’s worth more than a successful business.

Cleverlayover escaping the room
Invest in team-building

By Phil Hu

Hack travel. Book differently. Save money.

Cleverlayover finds cheaper fares than any other flight search engine. On one in three searches, cleverlayover can find savings, and those savings average $200 per flight. Check out http://www.cleverlayover.com/?ref=blog!

So how do we find cheaper flights?

Airline pricing is inefficient. For example, sometimes it costs more to fly from Chicago to Detroit than it costs to fly from San Francisco to Detroit. Other times, you might find that flying San Francisco to Chicago and then Chicago to Detroit is cheaper than buying a ticket from San Francisco to Detroit, even though that flight stops over in Chicago anyway.

Cleverlayover takes advantage of these inefficiencies. Many times we’ll find cheaper flights by breaking up the ticket into two when an airline prices the combination higher. In these cases, you take the same flights as if you were to buy one ticket, with the same airline, but because you purchase the flights separately, you pay less. Other times we’ll combine two different airlines and get you the cheapest airline for each leg of the flight. This often works because different airlines are popular in different regions, and some airlines such as Southwest are limited to smaller regions but offer the best fares within their area of service.

What is the tradeoff of flying cheaper?

When you split your trip into two tickets, you’ll have to check-in again at your layover destination. This might involve going through customs or missing your second flight when the first is delayed. Cleverlayover always builds in at least 3 hours at your layover to help mitigate the risk of missing your flight; however, you can also choose to stay at your layover for longer than a day. This has the added benefit of giving you another city to visit.

If you’re taking a longer trip, the savings could be worth taking an extended layover. Additionally, cleverlayover can sometimes save up to 90% of the cost of the ticket, in which case you could literally purchase multiple backup flights and still come out ahead.

Where is cleverlayover going next?

We are constantly improving the user experience on the site, and we’re also working to improve the user experience during the trip as well. Stay tuned for updates there.

Fundamentally, though, we are going to put pricing power back in the hands of the consumer by offering more options. We develop new insights from the data every day, and we can’t wait to show you more clever tricks.