When Chinedu Echeruo first moved to New York City in 1995, his unfamiliarity with the city’s sprawling 714-mile mass transit system made it difficult for him to get around the large metropolis. But he had a solution.
Echeruo, 33, founded HopStop.com, a Web-based city transit guide that provides point-to-point directions by subway and bus to get to any location in New York City; Boston; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; and, most recently, Chicago. Echeruo plans to expand HopStop to 14 more cities in the U.S. and abroad over the next year.
“I started thinking about the problem of getting from point A to point B — and how I could leverage technology to solve it,” says Echeruo, a Nigerian-born entrepreneur who has been involved with several Internet startups. “Whether I could make it into a viable business was another question.” Echeruo, who has an M.B.A. from Harvard and experience as a financial analyst, launched a basic version of HopStop in 2004. Today, the site serves 500,000 customers each month and is expected to generate about $3 million in revenues by the end of 2006.
HopStop’s free service is supported by banner ads from companies such as Continental Airlines and Volkswagen. Local businesses also advertise, knowing that they can reach very specific target markets — HopStop can feature ads that run only for a particular neighborhood or even a zip code.
HopStop.com eliminates the need for transit riders to peer at maps while figuring out how to get around the city. For example, if someone wants to know the right train or bus to ride from the Empire State Building to an address on Wall Street, he or she could simply key those locations into the HopStop.com search fields, click on the “Get Directions” button and let the Website’s technology do the work. Walking directions are also provided as an option.
“The New York City subway system is large: 468 stations and hundreds of miles of tracks,” says Neysa Pranger of the Straphangers Campaign, a New York Public Interest Research Group. “HopStop helps commuters unravel the mystery of how to get around.”
HopStop, which has a staff of seven, has expanded beyond its original Web-based model and has introduced HopStop Mobile. Customers can now download travel directions remotely, using their mobile phones and wireless PDAs. The free mobile service generates advertising revenues from companies such as Zagat, the restaurant and nightlife guide.
Some realtors are making HopStop available on their Websites. The idea is to make it easier for clients to find bus and subway directions as they travel around the city looking at apartment listings. The Corcoran Group, a New York City-based real estate company, pays HopStop a subscription fee to integrate the transit guide’s search engine with their Website. Echeruo plans to sell similar services to hotels, municipalities, and other businesses.
The service, which is available in nine languages, including French, German, Italian, and Swahili, is used mostly by New York City residents. But the potential to service the tourist industry is great. “HopStop is definitely tourist-friendly,” says Echeruo,