Startup of the Week / Avoid Sitting Next to That Annoying Guy on the Plane

SeatID’s booking platform lets users log on through social networking sites, which could help find familiar faces on flights.

Flying these days is a mixed bag: It can be tough or enjoyable, often depending on whom you happen to be sitting next to on the plane. You could end up next to a wailing infant or a backpacker with loads of interesting stories or a woman reeking of perfume. In other words, when you book a ticket you have no idea who will be your flying sidekick – which is precisely what SeatID is out to change.

The Israeli startup’s CEO, Eran Savir, says his company has developed a social seating and booking platform, by adding information from social networks to the process of reserving airlines tickets, hotel rooms, tickets to events, trains or stadiums. “Let’s say you need to fly from New York’s JFK airport to Tel Aviv,” he says. “There are two parameters that are important … price and scheduling. We add another dimension to this, which is social. It could influence which flight you choose.”

Every tourism website that integrates SeatID lets the user log on with a username from Facebook or from the networking site LinkedIn. Once that information is entered, users have access to friends who have also logged onto social networking sites. A couple of airlines have partnered with the firm already.

But what about concerns over users’ privacy? “This isn’t right for everyone, but a lot of people would like to know and choose who they are flying with,” Savir says. “You can find a familiar face or look for a business opportunity, a potential customer, for example.”

The idea for the company got started when his partner, on a domestic flight in the United States, was upgraded to business class but was seated next to a very unpleasant man, turning the flight into an unpleasant experience. “He thought that with today’s social [networking] tools, it didn’t have to be like that,” Savir says. “As I see it, in another five years, the social aspect will be more closely associated with everything we do, including tourism.”

So how does SeatID deal with hotel reservations? “Imagine that you want to reserve a room in Bangkok for up to $100 per night,” Savir says. “You do an Internet search and find dozens of options. How do you choose?” Well, he explains, “If the hotel website has a SeatID window and you log in, you see your friends who have stayed there in the past and you can contact them and ask them how it was. It’s called ‘social proofing.’” He says people naturally feel much about paying for a night’s stay at a hotel that their friends have been to.

SeatID is geared for individual customers, but it is available to them without change. The company markets its wares to hotels, airlines, flight reservation sites and others. The business model is based on a monthly payment by these businesses starting at a fee of a few tens of dollars.

“The monthly fee is set based on the size of the website and the number of visitors it attracts,” Savir says. “Integrating SeatID increases the conversion rate [the proportion of visitors to the site who actually make a purchase]. We have 150 clients around the world at the moment. In Israel, we are working with Club Med and the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem. One client of ours is one of the biggest ticket-sale sites in Italy and we also have two airlines in Africa. We are in the process with several of the largest airlines in the world.”

Savir has a story when it comes to that, too: “In December 2011, our company had just been established. At that same time, Sir Richard Branson, who among other things owns Virgin Airlines, was visiting Israel. Branson was the guest at the Bezeq Expo communications conference, and I rushed to buy a ticket for the event.

“After he got off the stage, I snuck behind the curtains. I saw Branson and slipped a note into his hand that I had written beforehand about who and what we are. He shook my hand and then the security guards whisked me away from there. Later they even contacted me from Virgin, but so far they haven’t joined us.”

The company has a staff of three, working out of the Tel Aviv suburb of Hod Hasharon. SeatID has raised $250,000 so far from private investors and is currently in the middle of a financing round with additional investors and investment funds. Last year it was featured on the Gartner information technology research firm’s Cool Vendor list.

Dreamstime