Rome2rio. Overseas focus for Aussie startup.
Rome2rio, the Melbourne-based travel startup, has taken a different path. The company bootstrapped its growth and remains somewhat under the radar as they have built their transportation journey planner. They are seeing success too; traffic alone put them as one of the biggest online travel companies in Australia. So why have they largely eschewed the local market?
Rome2rio never considered building their transportation journey planner with Australia in mind. They are building the product with a global market in mind because the problem Rome2rio is solving — how do I get from A to B? — is most acute in markets with dense populations and complex transport infrastructure, markets such as Europe and Asia.
Taking a global view has paid off. Each month the company hosts over 10 million visits to their website and mobile apps. Those visitors are people who know where they are going but are unsure of the best way to get there. As transportation has become more competitive and deregulated, the options available have exploded. For many searches in Europe, Rome2rio shows air, rail, bus, rideshare, and sometimes ferry options.
What is best depends on your personal preferences. For some, price is crucial. For others, it is comfort. For others it is avoiding airports, the hassle of security and waiting around at departure gates.
“At first we were a little tentative about tackling a global market from a base here in Melbourne”, says Rod Cuthbert, Rome2rio’s CEO. But over time we came to understand that the web has shrunk those distances. We have the same access to foreign markets as our competitors who are based in Europe. That is apparent when we visit partners in Europe and are told that we are the only ones who visit their offices. All their European partners see them at conferences and on Skype, but rarely take the time to visit in person.”
Michael Cameron, Rome2rio’s co-founder and COO continues: “We think we have an advantage over in-market competitors; we call it the tyranny of scale. Companies based in large markets like the US, Europe or China are often unable to see beyond the demands, opportunities, quirks and requirements of their domestic market. Their view of the global market is blurry and they tend to build with an entirely domestic market in mind. Taking a product that is successful in your domestic market onto the world stage is a challenging proposition.”
“From Australia we have a clear view of all the big overseas markets. Our domestic opportunity is small, so we place domestic requirements in context and do not let them drive product features and direction.”
That’s not to say Rome2rio ignores the reality of its distance from key markets. To combat that problem, the company provides staff with five weeks annual leave and a grant program that pays for a trip to Europe every two years, along with ground transportation costs. Staff are required to book all their transportation on Rome2rio and experience the product as a user. Upon return to Melbourne they present their findings, warts and all, and the company uses that feedback to refine their product.
Rome2rio also employs a team of in-market researchers, spread across 14 countries worldwide, as on-theground eyes and ears. “When a new ferry starts operating between Piraeus and Santorini, we want to know about it right away,” says Cuthbert.
“We know we could track that sort of activity from Melbourne, but it is a much faster turnaround when you have feet on the ground.”
With many Australian companies making the move overseas in order to chase those global markets Cameron offers some parting advice: “For technology businesses building solutions for the global market – it can be done from Australia.
Take advantage of the breadth of talent, support and clarity of vision afforded by staying local to build your product and reap the benefits it brings.”