TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring Australia-based point-to-point metasearch engine Rome2rio.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Rome2rio is a multi-modal travel search engine; it does door-to-door searches across flight schedules, trains in Europe, China & India, ferry routes and driving directions. The startup is based in Melbourne, Australia.
It is co-founded by two ex-Microsoft engineers:
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
- Michael Cameron - Michael is a search engine expert. For his PhD he worked on genomic search algorithms, before moving to Seattle to work for three years as a senior engineer on Microsoft's Bing search engine.
- Bernie Tschirren - Bernie is an experienced, hard-core hacker guy. He spent five years as a senior engineer at Microsoft working on Visual Studio. Prior to that he spent seven years at TriniTeq, helping it grow from small startup into a global company.
We are currently self-funded.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Trying to discover how to travel without flying everywhere is challenging. Popular Online Travel Agents (OTAs) such as Expedia, Orbitz, or Kayak permit only large cities or airports as the origin and destination and then only search flights.
There is no comprehensive metasearch available for surface travel.
Searches that combine multi-modes of transport are especially challenging. Imagine you want to travel from New York to Aachen in Germany.
Aachen does not have a major commercial airport. Trying to discover which airports are near Aachen, the travel time from each airport, which airlines fly to each airport and the flight costs for each option is difficult and time consuming.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Rome2rio provides anywhere-to-anywhere travel search across flights, trains, ferries and driving directions. Users can input an address, landmark or town as the origin or destination. Rome2rio presents multiple options for reaching the destination.
For example, for a search from Chicago to Interlaken, Rome2rio suggests flying to Zurich, Frankfurt, Paris or Berne and then travelling by train to Interlaken:
Rome2rio displays each route on the map, and helps users easily compare the total travel time, airlines and airfares for each option.
The site offers incredibly fast results, typically delivered in less than one second. We have specialized search expertise that we have leveraged to pull off this very challenging computational problem.
Rome2rio can save users a lot of money. For a search from Melbourne to Verona on June 30th, the cheapest result displayed by Orbitz or Expedia is a four-hop flight costing $1,887. Rome2rio suggests flying to Milan for just $962 followed by a two hour train ride to Verona.
Rome2rio searches the following data to find routes:
- Flight schedules for 670 airlines and airfares for over 300 airlines.
- Trains covering almost all of Europe, China and India.
- Driving directions in most countries, as well as some ferries.
By combining and displaying flight schedules and airfares, Rome2rio can offer better coverage than other OTAs. Rome2rio displays a flight schedule and a link to the airline website when airfares are unavailable.
Rome2rio also separates out the process of discovering routes from viewing airfares. The user simply enters a destination, without a date, and can view routes quickly.
When the user clicks the "Show prices" button and selects a travel date, airfares are displayed for each flight segment.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
Rome2rio appeals most to leisure travellers who want to reach less accessible destinations.
The site offers the most value in Europe where the proximity of cities, availability of high-speed rail and range of budget airlines flying into secondary airports makes multi-modal travel very common.
We have utilized a small fan base of early adopters to collect feedback and refine a beta version of the site.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
We received plenty of positive response from users of the alpha version of Rome2rio that validated the idea.
As experienced travellers ourselves, the site was borne out of our own frustrations with the lack of a solid, fast multi-modal search engine with global coverage.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
We use Kayak to present airfares and refer users through their system for flight booking. As we grow, we can earn commissions for those referrals.
We plan to add car rental prices for long driving segments, which will also lead to commissions. Hotel commissions are lucrative and may also fit into the product.
We are also exploring partnerships to license the technology we have developed.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- We are the only travel search engine to provide almost instantaneous multi-modal search across a comprehensive worldwide graph of flights, trains, ferries and driving routes. Our site is targeted at a global audience.
- Travel search is a crowded space. As a new player we need to make the value of Rome2rio known and acquire users.
- As new high-speed rail links appear, multi-modal travel is becoming more popular. More opportunities for travellers to combine flights and surface travel are arising. Travellers are moving from traditional guidebooks for advice on getting around to online travel sites. Also, eco-friendly travel is becoming of greater importance as travellers try to minimize air travel and the resulting carbon emissions.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- Google are one of few players to have the technical search expertise required to build a fast and accurate multi-modal routing engine. With the Google-ITA Software deal likely to go ahead, we may see Google offering some services that compete with our product.
The product doesn’t appeal to everyone. The product does not offer as much value to domestic travellers in the US who typically travel between large cities.
The product is tremendously useful for travel into or within regions with excellent public surface transport, such as Europe.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
We plan to significantly expand the surface transport coverage of the site. We will incorporate new modes of transport such as buses and shared taxis.
User acquisition will be a major focus. We are targeting to have 10,000 unique daily users to the site.
Here is a clip:
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.