How We Got Started
The Million-Mile Club and a Bad Stay in Alaska
Elie, Eytan, and Ariel are the three entrepreneurs behind Oyster.com.
Elie and Ariel spent much of the years between 2000 and 2006 traveling around the United States as they built their first startup, Epana, and its 15+ U.S. offices. Racking up a million miles before your 30th birthday is exhausting, but it also yields valuable insight into what makes a hotel great. Elie and Ariel have seen it all, from five-star luxury operations to serious dives.
Even with the Internet, a good hotel was hard to find.
Throughout their stateside travels and during a year spent visiting tourist destinations around the world, Elie and Ariel encountered a recurring problem: It was hard to know in advance whether a hotel they'd booked would meet their expectations. Elie was looking for hotels with cool design, a terrace, solid water pressure, reliable Internet access, and comfortable beds. Meanwhile, Ariel wanted places with kid-friendly mini-pools for his daughter and well-stocked minibars for him.
Even given these relatively simple criteria, the pair found it nearly impossible to compile a list of satisfactory hotels by using online resources. Hotel data on the Web simply wasn't organized in a digestible fashion. Furthermore, they encountered a lack of objective, independent hotel reviews based on firsthand experience. A Google search would often turn up a hotel's own website -- not exactly an impartial source. The photos might have been doctored, and the text was often written in opaque marketing-speak. When Elie and Ariel checked travel sites for user reviews, they were greeted by a torrent of praise and complaints from people they didn't know, whose judgments and standards often couldn't be discerned.
Sensing an opportunity, Elie and Ariel called Eytan.
Eytan was working for Microsoft's Internet search business to increase the relevance of its results. He therefore understood the technical side of the problem of finding hotel information on the Web. Elie had a simple question for Eytan: "Isn't the problem I'm having a search problem?" Eytan responded with a simple truth: "Search can't provide the answer if the underlying content doesn't exist." That problem -- a lack of underlying content -- crystallized in the summer of 2007 when Elie and Eytan took a vacation to Alaska. They booked a hotel through one of the big online booking sites. Based on the information they had found online, it had seemed like a fine choice. One look at the actual place, however, perfectly illustrated the dangers of relying on the Internet for travel plans. Online, it looked great. In person, it was a dump.
After experiencing directly how a trip can be ruined by a disappointing hotel stay, the founders started Oyster in the spring of 2008.
Oyster has a very simple mission: to give a comprehensive preview of the hotels you might choose to stay at, from the beds you'll sleep in to the bathrooms you'll use to the food you'll eat.
Oyster supplements firsthand written critiques with hundreds of honest photographs about each property visited. They love taking beautiful photos of the world's best hotels. But they're also not shy about showing the mold in the bathroom grout, the unwiped table in the restaurant, or the garbage piled around the corner from the pool. These dirty little secrets can ruin a trip but are hard to discover on the Web. Oyster is here to change that.