In an industry that’s shucking a lot of oysters, here’s a business that might have found a pearl. Oyster.com started out as a review site similar to Trip Advisor, except that it left the investigative reporting to professional writers. That was in 2008. In March 2010 Fishbowl NY reported that the review site would become a hotel transaction service more like Expedia and Hotels.com. After three months of facilitating bookings through a third-party inventory provider – not to mention laying off the editorial staff and adopting a freelance model – founder Elie Seidman told mbStartups that the company has seen a spike in revenue.
We were curious as to how well the merchants handled negative reviews and unsexy photos like the ones posted on BusinessInsider last month, but Seidman told us it wasn’t a problem. Because the hotel listings are pulled from a third party, there is little to no interaction between Oyster and the merchants. Oyster gets a cut of the sales in the same way, said Seidman, that a universal ATM profits from dispersing cash from multiple banks. More importantly, the customers appreciate the honesty and also like the convenience of booking a hotel straight from the site.
A quick search for a hotel in Washington D.C. revealed some gorgeous boutique hotels near the main attractions, but did not include a last-minute commuter option, like the HoJo outside of Baltimore. But thrifty bloggers like us are not the target market. About a third of Oyster’s customers are international and most of them are accountants, lawyers or executives who are looking for 3-star hotels and above. “We focus a lot on service,” said Seidman, which is why Oyster’s customer service hotline is based at the company’s headquarters in New York.
The company is looking to expand its coverage into Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, with Europe on the list for 2011, as well as more functionality and features for the site. Seidman told us he plans to take on a few more engineers and according to the Jobs page, Oyster is also hiring a freelance blogger and a customer service representative. On Mediabistro’s job board the company has a listing for an unpaid editorial intern. Working for free is always a gamble, but given Oyster’s growth projection, it’s not a bad bet.