Naren Shaam only started GoEuro a little over a year ago. But the India-born, U.S.-educated entrepreneur’s decision to launch the travel aggregator in Berlin has paid back beyond all expectations. And with millions in funding secured, the company is ready to step up its assault on the continent’s online travel market.
Shaam was inspired to create GoEuro following a four-month trek through Europe upon completion of his masters at Harvard. The choice of location fell between two capitals: London and Berlin. After research, the decision became clear when it’s considered that about 60 percent of GoEuro’s labor is tech-based. “London tech resources are really pricey because I’d be competing with Barclays or JP Morgan, the folks who pay £100,000 a head, or whatever. If I had a marketing or an advertising company London would be better for its ecosystem.”
Berlin, adds Shaam, is a big hub for programming talent from central and eastern Europe – especially Poland, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. GoEuro’s 48 employees hail from 21 countries, which helps at a firm that creates itineraries, complete with times and prices, spanning air, rail and road. “The Spanish know RENFE (Spain’s state-owned rail operator), while the Germans know Bahn.de well (Germany’s equivalent). We have people from France, Italy, Spain, the U.K. – every country we’re in.”
That’s not to say there aren’t significant hurdles in integrating transport networks across a continent that houses 50 countries and around 750 million people.
“If you look at any online travel companies – SkyScanner, Momondo, Kayak, Expedia – they all offer three products: airlines, hotels and car rentals,” says Shaam. “Those products are not necessarily linked, they’re all independent products. But when you make a switch from the airline to the train industry, the sheer amount of data we need to integrate is of a huge order of magnitude. For instance, Germany has 10,000 train stations compared to 25 airports.
“The sheer volume of technology we need is massive because there are simply more connections,” he adds. “The second thing is there’s no standardized data. So if I ask you what LHR is you’d say London Heathrow, or JFK is John F Kennedy Airport in New York. Everybody knows that. But if I ask most people what the largest railway station is in Paris, very few would say Gare du Nord – let alone the station code. So there is no standardization from Germany, to France, to Spain and so on.”
It didn’t take long, though, for Shaam’s project to attract weighty investment. In March the firm secured $4 million from Silicon Valley-based Battery Ventures, Berliner Hasso Plattner and a handful of angels. That was topped up this January by a ‘multi-million dollar’ outlay by international investor Lakestar. By January a TechCrunch leak reported that GoEuro had attracted 1.8 million unique views in seven months of operation, and offered information for 23,000 ‘unique locations’ across Europe. Bookings are not currently supported, but are planned in the future.
The choice to focus GoEuro on Europe was a relatively simple one, besides the name (“It’s called GoEuro so it has to be in Europe, right?”). Ground transportation on the continent is generally well-developed. “You have everything from rail to buses connecting pretty much everything, but information sources are very broken along national lines and modes of travel,” says Shaam.
“It doesn’t work in the U.S. because of the lack of trains,” he adds. “Of course we could have gone to south Asia or South America but it doesn’t quite work: South America doesn’t have trains so much and southeast Asia has parts where, for example, only Vietnam has rail, and China and India are huge but not across borders.
“Europe is a very good market because it is an extremely successful place in terms of ease of use,” adds Shaam, who notes the industry’s $475 billion value. “A customer can easily switch from plane to bus, bus to rail if you show them the right way.”
GoEuro is focused on western Europe, which Shaam claims it is attempting to cover in full by the end of this year. Then the company can head east, which he admits is more difficult. “We build technology for smaller nations,” he says.
There is competition, adds Shaam – there are even two small ventures in Berlin’s own 2,500-strong startup community, part of a movement that has propelled the German capital to the top of Europe’s tech pile. “But there’s no-one else I know who are integrating modes of transport across the whole of Europe today,” he adds. In addition to Berlin GoEuro operates in the U.K., added two months later, and Spain, which came shortly after that. This year Shaam wants to be active in seven more locations. “Then we’ll see how much more we can do.”