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Startup of the Week – Waymate, the "travel agency 3.0" Written by Michelle Kuepper on 16. January 2013

After keeping their heads down for the past few months, travel app Waymate is making a splash in the Berlin scene since their launch at the beginning of the year. Entering the highly competitive, yet extremely lucrative travel market, the team behind Waymate is working hard to make the startup the ultimate travel app.


We caught up with founder Maxim Nohroudi (side note: he’s is also the winner of the VV Best Dressed award) to chat about how Waymate is revolutionising the travel industry and why investors can be a fickle bunch…

Hi Maxim, tell us more about what you’re doing?

Waymate is aiming to become the travel agency 3.0. So right now, what you see online is a lot of comparison machines and price brokers and at the same time the traditional travel agency which doesn’t work like it used to 20 years ago. There’s a tremendous shift. But the customer doesn’t just want price comparison, they want an honest travel companian, too. Travel planning has become a pain in the arse, it’s the part of the trip that sucks.
Most travel planners aren’t fun to use. And some even rip you off because they don’t show the exact prices, they change them once you click through to the flight. So what we want to do is go back 20 years and take the concept of a loyal & trusted travel agent that is your friend, and your mate, and bring this idea back into web & mobile travel industry.
The second thing we thought was that the travel industry hasn’t understood how mobile commerce affects their business. So travel agency 3.0 is something where you have quality, service and all your preferred travel options you’d like to have, on web, mobile and beyond. You can adjust it to get the cheapest option, or the quickest, or the most comfortable – which is a combo of price, time and numbers of stopovers.
As you can see, we work on two products: One is Waymate Travel – our long-distance web-app. Here you can buy your railway ticket super fast. You can see all your travel options in a cool visual timeline. And then the other product is Waymate Local – an mobile app for urban transport. So, for example, to get from here to Zoologischer Garten in Berlin, it shows all your options. A taxi will take 17 mins and cost €13 and you can call it now, or use DriveNow which is €4.93, and the closest one is five minutes away, or take Car2Go, but that is a little further away. Or you can take public transport – bus, tramway or subway. We are negotiating with public transport companies in Germany to include mobile ticketing into this app. It works in all major german cities, but it’s still in private beta.

How did you come across your idea?

When the volcano exploded in Iceland and there was chaos in the airports etc, we thought “why isn’t there an app that shows me my alternatives?” And you can do that on our app – you can turn off air travel, for example.
Then we thought – Hey, our idea isn’t rocket science! So we looked into it, did lots of research and found out it is quite difficult with data, but we thought it was worth a shot. But when we started, no one was interested in what we were doing, everyone was telling us to go into social. But thought – we’d be like the 500 others who are out there doing that already.

Who’s your cofounder and how did you find each other?

width="154"My cofounder is Tom Kirschbaum, who was working as the executive assistant to a banking CEO. He works as the CFO here.
I was Germany’s youngest university vice president, of the University Witten/Herdecke. I founded an institute there at 25, which was unusual. So that institute was my first startup, in an environment that is very not friendly for startups. I met Tom during this time and we became close friends and had many entrepreneurial ideas.

What makes you different from everyone else?

Almost no one was tackling the travel industry when we started in 2010. Now almost no one can do what we will be able to do, because it is so hard to gather the necessary data. Platforms are selling airline, and very few do train tickets, but they aren’t a perfect fit. And the perfect fit, in my opinion, is – hey, I am here, and I want to get from ‘a’ to ‘b’, either in an urban environment or for a longer trip. And for it to be fun to use.

What is your business model?

We get a commission from the providers when we sell tickets on the app. We have the same prices that any train or travel company would give you – but they want to work with us, because we’re bringing in more customers.

Who is financing you?

At first it was really tough to get seed funding, because we’re not a copycat and the market entrance point is higher in travel industry. But once we proved we could get the contracts and data then suddenly all these investors who weren’t answering our calls before were coming up to us and asking us about Waymate. I hated that! But that’s just part of the game Is guess.
But we’ve received substantial funding from a great business angel last year.

Is there something that you’re missing?

We have a great team. We need HR I guess. We have lots of talent though –we’re really happy!

Who would you like to have a lunch with and what would you talk about?

I’d have lunch with Peter Sellers and we’d talk about humour.

Any advice you’d give for fellow startups?

I’d warn them about how difficult it is to get seed funding. Because the scene tells you the contrast – everyone talks about how easy it is to get seed funding, so either we were the complete exception or it’s just hot air from the town. If I had known that, maybe we would have started in a region where that is easier, like the UK or US. And planning is important. Solid planning, down to each single step. Not just a gut feeling approach.

Where will you be in a years time?

Within the next three years we want to have integrated all the main and developed railway markets. Within three to five years we want as much of public transport integrated. We thought that was a ten year plan when we started, but governments are more open now!

Why Berlin?

It was the market we knew best, we know the players and how to work here. If we had known how difficult it would be to get funding, especially when you need larger funding, we might have gone somewhere else. I don’t buy the “it’s so cool, it’s an ecosystem” etc. We only have one huge startup, and that’s Zalando, that is really heavily funded. For such a large country like Germany, I think that’s too little, actually it’s a shame for our economy. That’s why Tom and I do a lot to convince people to invest more into our startup-scene. I think that’s really important, because we have so much talent out here!
Image credit: Flickr user Jsome1
Flickr user aresauburnâ„¢

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