A Great Business Eliminates Surprises: With Basil Elotol, founder of Triphop.com

By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner

“We are completely transparent in how we reward customers and we pride ourselves on having zero fine print. We also try to eliminate any surprises…”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Basil Elotol, founder of Triphop.com, a company designed with the business traveler in mind. Triphop doesn’t force you to bundle packages or trick you with gimmicky promises of points that will just collect virtual dust. Instead they focus on providing the best business travel experience at the best price and reward customers with cold-hard cash.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Triphop was founded by three business travelers who spent more
than 70 percent of their time traveling. We were all enrolled in practically every hotel and online travel website’s loyalty program. Each year, we would find ourselves struggling to understand and keep track of the different loyalty programs we were enrolled in while helplessly watching a bunch of our points expire at the end of each year. Even when we were able to redeem our points in time, it was a difficult and unrewarding process. It seemed that all the nights we were interested in were categorized as blackout nights! It became obvious to us that we needed to gain top-tier status with one or two hotel chains to marginally benefit from their reward programs. Unfortunately, that meant being limited to certain locations and often overpaying for rooms. We quickly realized that the travel rewards industry was in desperate need of disruption and this realization just so happened to coincide with the successful exit of our previous startup, which presented the perfect opportunity to start our new venture, Triphop.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?

Our funniest story begins when we launched the first version of the Triphop website. We were super excited and would spend a lot of time analyzing the website traffic while watching what users were doing on our website in real time. Then finally, we got our first hotel booking. The entire team was elated and we spent two hours celebrating; only to find out later that day that the booking was fraudulent and had been completed with a stolen credit card. We had to cancel the reservation and refund the money that same day. It is funny looking back at it now, but in that moment it definitely was not comical.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our two biggest differentiators are our philosophy and execution of loyalty rewards and our transparency with customers. We believe customers should have the freedom to choose how they want to be rewarded and we offer them this freedom in the form of unrestrictive and instant cash back. Our customers receive up to 15 percent cash back on every hotel night they book with us and are able to redeem their rewards as soon as they checkout from their hotel. We are completely transparent in how we reward customers and we pride ourselves on having zero fine print. We also try to eliminate any surprises by calling the hotels for every single booking to make sure that the booking is in the hotel’s system prior to the guest checking in. Recently, one of our customer’s reached out to us expressing her appreciation for our process. We confirmed her reservation with the hotel a day prior to her checking in, sent her an email confirming that the room was ready and then reached out to her after checking out to ensure that everything went well. Finally, we sent a reminder that her $73 cash back was ready to be redeemed.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?

I have to give a huge shoutout to my mom. She was always supportive of me and believed in me even at times when I was doubtful of my abilities. I do have some family members, friends, mentors, and colleagues who I’m grateful
to, but my mom is at a different level compared to everyone else.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We want to create a community of global empathic citizens. When you travel, you are exposed to new cultures, new people and even new ways of thinking. This experience gives us the opportunity to see the world beyond our own bubble and expands our knowledge as a whole. Our hope is that by making travel more affordable it will, in turn, impress these unique experiences upon individuals focused on improving our world for the future; not for some, but for all inhabitants.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my startup,” and why?

  1. Don’t start a company alone. My first startup was founded by me only. The idea was good and the market was big. However, the number of decisions I had to make and the people I had to manage as well as the opportunities I had to explore were too much to fit in a 12-hour working day. Having a co-founder significantly increases the chances of a startup’s success and growth.
  2. Start with a basic product and improve it as you go. We made the mistake of spending too much time developing our product because we wanted to go to market with the perfect product. It did not take us long to figure out that customers did not value a lot of our “killer” features as much as we did!
  3. Break things and fix them along the way. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. In my first startup, I was always scared of making a wrong decision. This fear slowed the company down and some decisions were simply made too late.
  4. Hire like your life depends on it because it does! When we started, we were so eager to have an iOS app so we hired quickly without looking at important non-technical skills such as personality and work ethics. We ended up with someone who negatively impacted our entire technology department. Some of our top developers were about to quit because of the culture he created. Fortunately, we let him go in time before causing any
    permanent damage.
  5. Always stay positive. As a startup, you will have your good days and bad days. People will discourage you. Your customers might take a bit longer to adopt your service. But you need to believe in yourself and your team, stay positive and focused. Positivity and negativity are both contagious. You will be amazed how fast your team will pick up your mood!

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would have to go with Mark Zuckerberg. Although he is younger than me, I think he has accumulated more knowledge and wisdom. I’m impressed with what he has done over the years and how he has managed to stay focused and committed to what he believed in which is: connecting the world. I also admire his courage and willingness to make mistakes as well as learn from them. I also appreciate all the philanthropy work he has done and continues to do. Facebook is well-oiled machine and I think I would learn a lot from him.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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