Captain Train, a Parisian operator of an online portal that sells inter-city European rail tickets, has been acquired by Trainline, Britain's largest digital rail-booking operator for UK train trips.
The seven-year-old startup was approached last year to unite forces, it confirms today, according to a statement on its French blog.
Trainline is owned by the private equity investor KKR, which bought the company in January 2015 for a deal estimated to be at least (but not publicly disclosed at) $643 million, or 450 million pounds.
Details on the terms of Captain Train acquisition weren't disclosed. But in a scoop, TechCrunch reports that sources told us the deal was worth up to $189 million.
Captain Train says it sells about 5,000 train tickets a day and that it has 1.4 million users and is licensed to sell tickets on behalf of SNCF and Deutsche Bahn, the contintent's two largest rail giants, in multiple European countries. The Trainline says it has 5 million users and has rights to sell tickets for British train operating companies, Deutsche Bahn, and Trenitalia.
The industry reacts
The combined companies will challenge other competitors, such as booking sites RailEurope, Loco2, KelBillet, and even Deutsche Bahn's portals and the SNCF/Expedia-owned Voyages SNCF, plus (though indirectly) multi-modal sites like GoEuro.
Jamie Andrews, co-founder of British-based train ticket startup Loco2, told Tnooz:
"We welcome this news as an indication of how attractive the increasingly open European rail market is becoming for major investors, and congratulate Captain Train on the high sale price they were able to achieve.
The deal is particularly interesting given that KKR only recently paid a significant amount for Trainline partly on the basis of their European expansion plans. The additional high price tag for Captain Train reflects just how challenging Trainline have found entering the European market.
Although the news represents a significant shift in the competitive landscape for Loco2, we remain confident in our own prospects. We retain our unrivalled coverage of the European rail network (neither Trainline nor Captain Train cover Spain), and our robust technology platform provides a very strong basis for further expansion.
Our growth for 2016 is on track to be over 100%, despite having already achieved annual turnover figures in the tens of millions. Most importantly, we continue delighting our customers, with an average rating of 92% after over 7,000 independent reviews on Trustpilot."
Yann Raoul, the CEO of France's KelBillet (which competes with multimodal companies like GoEuro, Wanderio, and Rome2Rio), told Tnooz:
"This combined operation is a good representation of the huge potential of the ground transportation distribution market in Europe.
"The situation is slightly moving from a rail market dominated by national champions to one dominated by European champions.
Captain Train created a great technology company. This merger will give the operation a way to develop more traction more quickly, thanks to the marketing synergies with TrainLine.
The news also validates KelBillet's strategy to grow internationally and to become the european champion in the adjacent but different multimodal sector."
Captain Train's CEO Jean-Daniel Guyot said his company will keep its separate Paris-based offices and teams, via the company's blog today.
He added, in rough translation:
"We believe that unite our forces will allow us to go faster in building a single product for all those traveling by train in Europe. Captain Train crew will bring its expertise with the continental European rail market, and Trainline will bring its important experience in understanding a market which is completely liberalized and has strong growth."
The startup had raised $11.9 million over a few rounds, including venture funding from Index Ventures, CM-CIC Capital Prive -- with its most recent December 2014 funding led by French firm Alven Capital.
Last summer, Trainline's CEO Claire Gilmartin said:
"We are well positioned to capitalise on great growth opportunities driven by the systemic shift to online in rail and the step-change in mobile and e-fulfilment, as well as international opportunities."
TechCrunch, which has a lot more reporting on the deal, says:
"Trainline doesn’t have its own itinerary calculation system. The company pays millions every year to use SilverRail."
In a statement, KKR's head of technology, media, and telecoms in Europe, Philipp Freise, said:
“One year ago when KKR first invested in Trainline we had the vision of creating the clear global leader in digital rail mobility. The combination of Trainline and Captain Train is an important step on this journey, and will bring together a management team of world class talent in rail, tech, product and marketing.”
Tnooz's profile from 2013: Capitaine Train is France’s first well designed website for booking European rail tickets
Earlier: Capitaine Train raises Euro 5.5 million in further funding