“Travel planning needs to be more interconnected”- Maxim Nohroudi, co-founder of Waymate
By taking a holistic approach to mobility, Waymate, a travel platform that helps you plan, compare and book your journeys aims to disrupt the world of travel booking. As a consequence, the platform faces the challenge of incorporating both traditional and innovative mobility concepts such as p2p carsharing and ridesharing into its platform, making it an interesting company to take a closer look at. Interview
Before leaping into the startup scene at age 26, the economist Maxim Nohroudi founded the first academic institute for corporate governance in Germany and became the youngest university vice-president at the University of Witten/Herdecke. I spoke with Maxim, now co-founder and CEO of Waymate, at Social Media Week in Berlin.
Waymate is in the process of redefining journey planning and aims to turn it into a more fun and easy experience. How was this idea born?
We had this idea several years ago, when the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland led to the shutdown of European air traffic for several days. This incident made us realize how badly different forms of transportation are connected. If flying is no longer possible, what other equally good ways are there to get from A to B (on the Continent)?
This is why we saw the need for a tool that takes all forms of transport into account and helps you plan your journeys in a more interconnected way. As a seasoned traveler myself, I know how frustrating it is to browse through countless websites to decide whether plane, train or car is the fastest or cheapest way to get somewhere. We are trying to bring all these components into one interface – and make travel planning more simple and fun.
What have been your biggest challenges in building the platform?
One of the toughest things to tackle has been the fact that we are not only working in a liberal, but also a highly regulated market. The players in this market with which we need to build partnerships, such as public transport companies, are owned by the government. Getting them on board and finding ways for us to be able to use their data has been challenging.
Privacy laws in Germany are very strict and make it a lot more difficult for companies to pass on their data to third parties than in the U.S., for instance. Has this been an issue for you?
Yes, it has. And on top of that, the companies we are dealing with are very traditional and not used to sharing their ticketing systems and data. But, I think convincing companies of the advantages of letting us use their data will become much easier as our reputation improves and companies trust us more. With us they can reach new customer segments and of course, reduce their costs for customer acquisition.
Another challenge for us has been building a simple, well-designed user interface. You can’t imagine how difficult it is to incorporate numerous forms of transportation into one platform, without the site becoming distracting. Keeping it simple and fun is very important to us.
What was your experience in getting funding for your venture?
Many people were skeptical whether we would be able convince companies like the German public transport company Deutsche Bahn to become our partner, so getting seed funding was not easy. In the German ecosystem, if you have a business model that nobody has tried before, most investors are very hesitant until you have a product you can show them. Now that our platform is ready to launch, the fact that we are operating in a difficult market with few competitors actually makes us more attractive for investors.
Your platform currently has already integrated public transport, airlines and cars. What other mobility options are you thinking of offering?
We have started talking to the ridesharing service Carpooling.com (also known as Mitfahrgelegenheit.de in Germany). Deinbus.de is also a company we have been watching closely and would very much like to integrate. Long distance busses are also a great alternative to ridesharing for people who might not want to share a ride with a stranger.
Have you also thought about integrating commercial and p2p carsharing?
Yes, we have. It is important to note that Waymate is going to offer two different mobility solutions: one for long distance (Waymate Travel) and one for short distance (Waymate Local). We think that integrating p2p and commercial carsharing is most relevant for our short distance travel scenario. For instance, if you are here in Berlin at Torstraße and want to go to Postdamer Platz, Waymate Local will show you various transportation options, public transport, carsharing, bikesharing or tax, depending on whether you want the cheapest or the fastest route.
That sounds like a very useful tool. When will you launch publicly and what are Waymate’s plans for 2013?
Waymate will go from private to public beta this November. Our plans for next year? By 2013 we will have launched the platform along with our different apps in Germany as well as other European countries. We are also talking successfully to other public transport companies to integrate into our platform.
Thank you for your time!
Visit www.waymate.de to be notified when the platform launches.
Header image: photo taken by Jennifer Hack