Photo: Joe Meyer, CEO and President of HopStop
If you’ve ever had to get from point A to point B in a major US city, you’ve probably used HopStop, an ultra useful navigation tool.HopStop was founded five years ago and they have millions of monthly users. Their iPhone app is consistently in the list of top 10 downloads too, nipping at Google Maps’ heels.
Competing against Google is no easy feat. We spoke with Joe Meyer, HopStop’s CEO and President, who has welcomed the task of playing catch up to the tech giant. He told us the pros and cons of holding a number two position in a category, and gave us tips on how not to get crushed by Google.
'HopStop is likely the leader here in the U.S. and Canada for transit routing, while Google Maps is probably the leader globally,' says Meyer. 'Any way you slice, it we're neck-and-neck with them. And being #2 is fine as long as it's not in a category in which the #1 dominates.'
Meyer gives the less fortunate Yahoo as an example. Google dominates search, making it extremely difficult for any other search businesses to compete. If you battle one of Google's offshoots, like Google Maps, the fight is much more fair.
If your #1 competitor is Google, that's a good thing. It means you're working in an area with a lot of interest and potential
Google doesn't waste its energy on areas where there aren't growth opportunities. So if you're competing in an area where Google has chosen to invest resources, that's a good thing.
'I would be far more concerned if Google wasn't paying attention to pedestrian navigation,' says Meyer.
'The fact that Google is spending a large amount of time and resources trying to compete against little 'ole HopStop is not only a compliment, but is an true indication that they see big opportunity in this area. They realise, as we do, that providing pedestrian navigation is core to the local user experience, and hence is critical to being a big player in local advertising, mobile and location-based services.'
'Google takes more of a 'one-size-fits-all' approach; they need to be a standardized service to many different people,' says Meyer.
Meyer likens the HopStop/Google transit turf war to homemade cookies. 'Think of Google as store bought, and HopStop as freshly baked,' he says.
'In other words, HopStop provides many more ways for a user to slice-and-dice their transit direction search (to ensure that the end result matches the user's specific criteria as closely as possible), while Google presents its users with far fewer advanced search options (and hence the corresponding results are more generic).'
Although Google Maps is more widespread, HopStop can take the time to really dive into a market for a quality over quantity approach. 'We source and ingest much more transit data on a per market level than Google does, and we don't enter a market unless we have extensive coverage in that area,' says Meyer.
'Google uses very few ingredients to bake its cookies whereas HopStop uses the entire cupboard.'
When you're #2 to Google, others are always trying to catch up, and Google is always looking over its shoulder
Companies on top always need to fear falling. While second place isn't a secure spot either, it's a position with enough power and market share that all other competitors vie for.
'As Microsoft (i.e., Bing Maps) and AOL (i.e., MapQuest) are finding out, being #3 or #4 in the transit category is not a good position to find yourself in since you're always playing catch-up to #1 and #2,' says Meyer.
'HopStop had first-mover advantage, and Google is Google. We're both firmly entrenched as the top two players in this category; it's going to be awfully difficult for Microsoft and AOL to dislodge us anytime soon.'
Who doesn't root for the underdog?
'There are as many people out there who dislike Google as there are who like them,' says Meyer. 'Google is similar to the New York Yankees in many ways. Either you love them or you hate them.
'While Google does do a lot of things really well, people want options other than Google for their everyday needs. HopStop benefits from this mindset. As such, we're more than glad to be a side-by-side competitor to Google Transit.'
'From a professional perspective, I love competing against Google since they keep me on my toes,' says Meyer.
'Although competing against Google on a day-to-day basis is what keeps my staff and I up at night, it's also what gets us out of bed in the morning and is what makes our jobs so interesting and rewarding.'
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