Exclusive: Travel startup Pintrips, with Expedia pedigree, launches beta today

I get a lot of pitches from travel-related startups, ranging from “experiences” concierges Peek and Vayable to transit search engine Mozio. One that’s launching its beta today has an interesting pedigree: Its co-founder was part of the founding team at Expedia.

Pintrips is being incubated at Sunnyvale’s Plug and Play Tech Center, where young CEO Stephen Gotlieb buttonholed me a few months back. While the site’s name deliberately evokes that of Pinterest, it’s not built on sharing travel pictures. (That would be another just-launched newbie, Traverie.) Gotlieb is working on a less sexy, but potentially more useful, solution to a problem he encountered last year while trying to book a trip to the Bay Area for his parents, who live in Israel.

Gotlieb – a structural engineer who holds an MBA from Berkeley – hated the process of searching for fares, emailing them to his folks, then waiting for them to get back to him amid a 10-hour time difference … only to find that by the time they did so, the fares had often changed or the searches expired.

So he decided to cook up a site that saves all those airline searches on one dashboard, lets you share them with others and keeps the itinerary prices updated in real time. In other words, there’s no need to keep performing the searches again. “I do the search, I pin the itineraries and go to bed,” Gotlieb said. Then his parents can log in and book the fare they like best. (Worth noting: He’s not so much promising that his users will snag the very lowest fares; what he’s offering is convenience and portability.)

A screen grab showing pinned searches on PintripsPintrips, which functions as a plug-in on the Google Chrome browser, works with sites such as Kayak and Orbitz as well as individual airline sites (including that of my wife’s employer, Southwest). Revenue comes from an affiliate agreement with airline search engine FareCompare, and Gotlieb is working on a host of other potential money-making approaches (while building his audience by, among other things, courting executive assistants who book travel for their bosses).

Plug-ins for other browsers, and a mobile app, are on their way soon, and Pintrips is about to start raising an $850,000 seed round to add to $210,000 already stockpiled from friends and family.

All that said, the site isn’t as intuitive as I’d like it to be, and the FAQs could be a little more idiot-proof — at least, judging by the experience this particular idiot had trying to plan a ski trip. But a lot of the functionality, like being able to book fares, is brand new, having been added since an alpha test in which several hundred users participated.

The site took a quantum leap forward after a friend put Gotlieb in touch with Timothy O’Neil-Dunne, who’d been one of the founding managers at Expedia. O’Neil-Dunne’s first response after Gotlieb approaching him for advice was something along the lines of,  “Find another business, kid, travel’s a lousy racket.”

But after O’Neil-Dunne got a look at the site, he scrapped the consultant’s role he’d proposed and instead took an equity stake as co-founder.

“Pintrips is really a great tool for the neophyte as well as the experienced traveler,” he told me via email. “Helps me to make sense of the seas of information – not all of it easy to use!”


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