Monday Meetings – An Interview with Naren Shaam, Founder of Travel Startup ‘GoEuro’
While I’m travelling the world, I like to ask inspirational people for their thoughts and opinions in a series of posts called ‘Monday Meetings’. The latest Monday Meeting is a great interview with innovator and entrepreneur Naren Shaam – founder and CEO of travel startup GoEuro, a ‘travel search engine’ that is designed to make Euro trip planning easier and more transparent.
Based in Berlin, which many tech (and travel) startups choose to call home, GoEuro wants to provide one simple search to reveal the best transport combinations for your journey. So, rather than searching separately for planes, trains, and buses, GoEuro allows you to compare the various ways to reach your destination from any starting point.
Your Euro trip planning is about to get a lot easier
Frequent travellers will understand exactly how invaluable that information could be. Instead of spending hours searching for trains and flights, to and from several ‘proxy’ cities, GoEuro will be able to give me all the available options for my trip in one search result, with filters to help me find the most suitable route. Usefully, it also shows me the complete time and cost of air travel, including getting to and from the airport – something most people don’t take into account.
With the site currently optimised for travel in the UK, Germany and Spain (growing to 7 European countries by summer), I had a few questions for Naren, the man behind this ambitious project. You can also watch a video (below) of him being interviewed by The Guardian, filmed and broadcast in Berlin last year.
How old are you?
Put it this way, I can go into any club in Berlin and avoid any strange looks.
I am of Indian nationality.
Who are you and where do you come from? Please tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I was born and raised in India, in Bangalore, went to elementary school there. I am someone who was always interested in math and numbers since I was little. And I love history. History is the reason I got into traveling, to discover more of the world’s history. Hence the journey here!
Do you have a work/life philosophy or any ideals you try to follow?
I don’t think anything is impossible and I believe in thinking big, given that you have a great and sound idea. Work is my life (and my wife) right now.
So you are a traveler yourself; what kind of travel do you enjoy?
Yes I am and this is partly how the idea that GoEuro is based on came into being. I like traveling by ground-transportation. It’s fantastic. I think this is the best way to experience the landscape and also the local life and culture of a country and place. At the moment though my main travel is for business, which means most of the time taking a flight.
How did you decide to start a business? What about it appealed to you?
I was traveling in Europe in 2010, fascinated by the well built-out ground transportation and the possibilities for travel within the continent, but thought the ability to easily find and book specific connections for travel was difficult. Then and there I decided that if a solution to this problem was not built by someone within the next 2 years, I would start a company myself and build it. This was the beginning of GoEuro and I came to Berlin in 2012.
The appeal was to build a solution and to take care of the real and vast possibilities of multi-modal travel in Europe, helping travelers in finding the optimal travel solutions, and doing it all in one place.
How much of a challenge was launching a tech start-up?
It was a challenge for sure. I think starting any company is. Then naturally depending on what you are trying to accomplish the challenges vary. The biggest challenge is convincing large rail companies to give a startup their data (pricing, and inventory). I’m glad we’re not a small startup anymore but the challenges also presented themselves in difficulties with getting a work visa here, building a network from scratch, and raising cash, the normal first time entrepreneur outlook.
Do you write code for the business?
No, I let my very good programmers take care of that. I do sit down and draw a lot of the logic (when time permits).
Why did you decide to base GoEuro in Berlin? What do you like about the city?
The reasons are that there is a very interesting tech startup culture here and that is very much real and not hype. There is definitely business going on here, although Berlin will of course never be Silicon Valley. Berlin is uniquely Berlin. The chances of finding good and qualified labour here are great for a company like ours. I like the German work ethic and the way things are organized here. Then there is a very interesting atmosphere in the city, an interesting mix of things, an alternative culture.
How did friends and family react to your choice of career?
Everyone was very supportive. But that said I’ve always chased my dreams, from the time I wanted to get into Harvard to building my own company, so it wasn’t hard for me to convince them of what I want.
What business resource has been the most useful source of inspiration or information to you so far?
Successful entrepreneurs and the PR they put out (knowing that they are all busy building companies) is a strong source of strength. And advice.
If you could give any entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
Stop going to events, the good ones never have time for it and value gained is marginal after one or two of them.
What would you most like to go back and do differently from the start?
I would definitely move faster.
[I think that one applies to all walks of life! PP]
What is next for you and for GoEuro? How do your future plans look?
We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we will be optimised in 7 countries by the Summer. We are very glad about that, but we also have bigger aspirations. We aim to be the one and only place travelers go to, simply because there would be no need to go elsewhere.
Some really great insights from Naren here, for would-be entrepreneurs and anyone interested in the startup scene in Berlin or elsewhere. You can see more from GoEuro on their Facebook and Twitter feeds. If you try planning a trip in Europe for yourself, let me know in the comments what you thought of GoEuro’s site, or if there are any other euro trip planning tools that you like to use.
A Big Thank You to Naren for taking the time to share his thoughts with us, I found them very interesting and look forward to seeing GoEuro forge ahead with it’s plans.
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All images are copyright © Peter Parkorr 2014 unless otherwise stated and shouldn’t be used without my permission.