Yesterday the one millionth query was issued on rome2rio since we launch the site in April last year. A user from Portland, Oregon searched how to get from Portland Airport to Pistol River. Rome2rio nailed the query by presenting several alternatives including driving, taking the bus, and 4 flight options.
It’s an exciting milestone for us since we’re still a small “garage startup” and so far we haven’t spent a cent on any form of marketing to promote rome2rio. Most users hear about the site through word of mouth, often through viral email threads. Here’s one such email we uncovered:
Over 120,000 people used rome2rio in January. Visitors come from around the globe, including from India, United States, United Arab Emirates, Australia, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Canada.
Today we plotted all 1 million destinations searched for by our users on a world map:
This year we will continue to improve rome2rio and further expand train, bus and ferry coverage as we target our 10 millionth query!
Last weekend I mentored the participants of the Startup Hackathon here in Melbourne (startuphack.org). In theirs words, “Startup Hackathon is a 48 hour marathon of coding, pizza, and red bull”.
When we moved to Melbourne to start www.rome2rio.com, we never anticipated the flourishing Startup scene that would await us here. We decided to spread the word by posting our very first blog entry on the subject (blog.rome2rio.com/start-up-life-in-melbourne-0). We’ve since been helping out any way we can (blog.rome2rio.com/out-and-about-in-melbourne-spreading-the-word). When Amir asked us to provide some mentorship to the students over the weekend, we jumped at the opportunity.
The event was huge! There were over 50 university students participating – and one high schooler who quietly snuck in. The event was held at the Inspire9 co-working space (www.inspire9.com.au). Most people stayed there the entire 48 hours, catching an hour of sleep now and then in one of the Skype booths. I had the luxury of going home on Friday (at 2am) and sleeping in on Saturday. I came back on Sunday to see the final presentations and have a retrospective chat with all the red-eyes in the room.
Here are the teams that participated and a link to their project site (in no particular order). I don’t know how long these sites will stay online, since most of them were just created for fun.
- readachunk.com - Read books one chunk at a time.
- lookingatyounow – An online version of “Here’s looking at you” in MX.
- findmyti – A calendar that automatically schedules tasks.
- bitbuysell – Charge BitCoin purchased to your mobile bill.
- wheredoistart.net - Motivation for the un-inspired.
- teaddict – A community for tea lovers.
- staleale – A community to trade beer close to its best-before date.
- ping2hq.com - A realtime mobile tracking application.
- rateyourlecturer.com - Meaningful reviews of lecturers.
- janusjobs.com - A community to facilitate job sharing.
- exhort.me - Get out and do something new.
- FogHorn – Android alarm clock with ratings.
The Hackathon was part of the Entrepreneurs Week event being held right now (eweek.org.au). The goal of this event is to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship at universities around Melbourne and New South Wales. It’s organized by the amazing folks over at agentsofchange.org.au – Amir, Kevin, Tim and Michelle.
It’s been a busy week for the rome2rio team. After a bunch of engineering groundwork over the past two months we’ve been shipping a bunch of changes to the site and adding more transport coverage (mostly trains) around the globe.
The big event this week was the release of an integrated carbon offset calculator. After our launch in April we began working with Offset Options, an exciting startup that is creating a market place for carbon offset providers. Through the partnership, rome2rio now displays the carbon footprint for each multi-modal journey to the user. What’s especially cool is that Offset Options provide a list of projects, and the user can select one to offset their trip. Examples include a geothermal power plant in Turkey or a hydro plant in China. This gives a lot more transparency to the whole process and where your money is going. Now rome2rio provides three axis for comparing vehicle-agnostic journeys; time, cost and carbon footprint.
Yesterday we also pushed out a new release that included Irish trains. Ireland has a reasonably extensive train network that links popular tourist destinations such as Dublin, Belfast, Derry, Cork, and Galway. To make planning your trip in Ireland a bit more complicated there are two independant rail network providers; Irish Rail in the republic and Northern Ireland Railways in the north. There are also a couple of ferry routes linking Ireland to England and Scotland, which we’ve also added to rome2rio to make planning your next Irish adventure easier. Give it a go now, and try a query like this one: http://www.rome2rio.com/?colwyn+bay/kilkenny
Finally, after winning the Victoria startup category, this week rome2rio won the national, start-up category merit prize at the iAwards. An exciting honour for us, and a great confidence boost that the ICT industry in Australia see the merit in what we’re doing. The top prize went to 99dresses, a very cool start-up based in Sydney and run by the impressive entrepreneur Nikki Durkin.
It’s been over four months since we both moved from Seattle back to Australia to start working full-time on rome2rio. With our inaugural blog post we’ve decided to reflect on those first few months, and what it has been like to found a tech startup in Melbourne. It’s been a fun ride so far. We’ve discovered a small but thriving community of startups, investors, web developers and other entrepreneurs. They have helped us along the way with invaluable advice and the feeling that we’re certainly not alone in our journey.But let’s start with the downsides. Perhaps top of the list is the relative lack of local funding. Without doubt there are plenty of investors in Australia. Groups like Melbourne Angels, Mooroolbark Group and Aurelius Digital Angel Dinners in Melbourne or Angel Loft in Sydney provide early stage funding, and there are a few VC firms in Melbourne. However successful local tech companies still tend to look overseas for funding, often by creating a US parent company and seeking investments in the San Francisco/Bay area. This appears commonly motivated by access to more capital, better valuations, and a greater pool of investment expertise (investors that understand your business are more likely to want to invest in it). Local investors will often follow the lead of their US counterparts, so if you can obtain US funding then this stamp of approval can help you get local funding from investors who may not have as deep an understanding of your business’s potential. There are a lot fewer startups coming out of Australia than the US, so naturally the community is a lot smaller. There is no Y-Combinator or TechStars funding and mentoring program in Melbourne to help you get started. A similar program called Startmate recently started up in Sydney, but it’s still small, with only five successful applicants in the first round. But there’s still a fair bit going on, especially in the travel technology area. Adioso is a Melbourne-based and Y-Combinator funded travel startup that has been going for a couple of years now. They’ve built some innovative technology for searching flight airfares, raised over $300K in local and US funding, and built a solid user base. Travellerspoint and Travellr are two other interesting local travel companies. Webjet was founded in Melbourne and has grown to become the number one travel site in Australia, with plans to push into overseas markets. Melbourne is also the home of Lonely Planet. Wotif is another highly successful travel company that started up in Australia. In fact, Melbourne (and Australia) has become a hub for travel startups. It’s not surprising really, given that Australians are renowned for their love of travel, especially independent travel. They are major consumers of technologies that help them explore the world. Other exciting start-ups we’ve come across include trunk.ly (a recently launched social media link aggregator that’s received plenty of press) and Culture Amp who are building Human Resources tools. There’s also the awesome web development group at inspire9 who have a drop-in desk system, plus loads of other folks doing interesting stuff we don’t have the space to mention here. One great aspect of start-up life in Melbourne is the number of technology and entrepreneur events going on regularly. It’s a great chance for us to get out of the office, probably twice a week on average, and meet up with like-minded developers. Some of our favourite events are:
- Melbourne Jelly: a casual co-working get together run every fortnight. A group of 10 to 20 folks, most who usually work from home, get together at somebody’s office, house or cafe and work together for the day.
- Melbourne Travel Tribe: run by adioso [edit: and travellerspoint, thanks KK for the correction], this is a get together for travelers and people in the travel industry. We’ve met people working on travel sites and search engines, lonely planet guidebook writers, and travel bloggers.
- The Hive: describes itself as networking for entrepreneurs. Each month about 40 to 60 folks get together at a bar to chat and network. There’s a guest speaker with some experience, such as Nathan from Inspire9, Robin from Blurb or Tony Wheeler from Lonely Planet who chat and answer questions about their experiences for about an hour. Good stuff.
- Churchill Club: a more experienced crowd than The Hive. At this gathering you’re more likely to meet board members and investors of tech companies than young founders. Unlike all the other events it costs money to attend, usually about $40 – $50. Typically three guest speakers will talk about a topic such as Venture Capital : What’s Hot or How to successfully make deals. Less relaxed, but certainly worthwhile.
- Ignite Melbourne: twice a year, this gathering sees a group of 10 – 15 presenters each give a 5 minute presentation. The slides change every 15 seconds and speaker can’t slow down. Fast and fun. The topics range wildly from anti-bacon eating to developing a fart app for the iPhone to one speaker’s experience with filing for and defending patents.
- UnConvention: A Sydney group called the Entourage ran this massive event that has less of a technology skew, but saw some big names chatting about starting a business. Listening to these guys speak made us glad we’re in tech and not, say, real estate or retail where scaling your business is more difficult and costly.
So all up, Melbourne doesn’t seem such a bad place to launch a startup. Quality of life here is pretty good at the moment; Australia has avoided the financial troubles of the US and Europe largely due to a 20-year long mining boom. There is also access to decent, (mostly) free public health care, which is one major advantage over launching a startup in the states.
Funding is less readily available, so a trip to the US after we launch to raise funds is on the agenda. Limited access to the startup culture of the valley will also make marketing more difficult, and has certainl
y made the task of connecting with other companies to make deals or start partnerships more challenging. On the flip side, it’s nice to be outside the competitive, and sometimes group-think flow of the valley. It’s a shame that Melbourne is so far from the rest of the world. But hey, we are rome2rio and we love to travel!