Mobile travel app HotelTonight launched in 2010, way before every on-demand startup wanted to be “Uber for X” (because Uber itself hadn’t even left beta).
On the most recent episode of Re/code Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, CEO Sam Shank explained that getting in early meant his startup had to carefully build relationships with hoteliers, some of whom had been burned by online coupon startups.
“They were like, ‘We don’t want another Groupon,'” Shank said.
Rather than offering broad discounts on all rooms in a hotel, HotelTonight is premised on offering last-minute discounts for rooms that hotels would not otherwise be able to fill. Shank said he expects the company to be profitable this year.
He argued that online user rating systems like his company’s have upended the historical competitive advantage of “big box chains” such as Marriott and Hilton, which promised predictable quality in the absence of any other information.
“They’re not authentic,” Shank said. “People are looking for more authentic experiences when they travel. On the far end is staying in somebody’s house. On the other end is staying at a great boutique hotel.”
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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.