Why are we doing this?
- By Jamie Andrews
- 6th Sep 2011
Now that our new site is live and we are officially open for business, I thought it was a good time to explain why we are putting our blood, sweat and tears into Loco2.
There is a huge amount of buzz surrounding the online startup industry. Every day my Twitter feed is full of the latest advice on how to build the right product, the right team, how to be lean (not in The Streets sense), how to build the right marketing strategy and then sell it to investors; angel investment, seed capital, the A round, the B round and the Exit Strategy.
There are startups that rely on start-ups (“metastartups”) and now it seems there is even a game for people to compete on their knowledge of startups. Around our Old Street offices there are so many companies and ideas floating around that sometimes it’s difficult to separate the hype from the reality.
In many ways Loco2 is much like all the rest – we need cash to get started, we have to understand the latest technology trends, and we have to build the right team capable of delivering our vision.
But in other respects we are not a typical startup, and that’s why I wanted to write this post. The question I want to answer is one that I fear not many companies are asking themselves: not “Why are we working on a startup?” but “Why are we working on this startup?”.
In 2008 I moved to London and began working for AMEE just as it was closing its first round of investment. Founder Gavin Starks was excited because the lead investor was O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. At the time I hadn’t heard of the legendary Tim O’Reilly, but soon after I joined AMEE, I was struck by the gauntlet he laid down to developers and technology entrepreneurs: “Are we working on the right things?”. Watch a few minutes of this video (or the whole thing if you’ve got time):
Tim’s mantra of work on stuff that matters struck a chord, and I believe it is now more important than ever for entrepreneurs to answer his call.
So, why are we doing this? Why are we working on Loco2 when we could be building a much more straightforward business that doesn’t involve taking on the vast complexity of the European rail market?
We founded Loco2 because we are passionate about doing our small bit to tackle climate change. I haven’t taken a flight since 2005 because I don’t want a carbon footprint that I know is deeply unsustainable. I’ve protested at the building of new runways, am proud to count Plane Stupid activists amongst my friends, and I’ve demanded proper action at two UN climate change conferences. When Kate came up with the idea for Loco2 in 2006, it was because she wanted to go on a gap year that would be truly eco; she then circumnavigated the globe crossing oceans and continents over land and sea.
This is a business borne out of the passion of a brother and sister who think it is ridiculous that to travel more sustainably involves paying more money. We face big challenges but we won’t stop until our mission is complete.
As we try and square our vision with the startup buzz we’re surrounded by, it sometimes feels like we’re the geek who’s turned up to the party without any friends and an unflattering pair of corduroys. There’s lots of talk of valuations and acquisitions, and sometimes it feels like the only objective for a lot of startups is to get rich, and the quicker the better. Tim O’Reilly’s keynote above was filmed in September 2008, and it’s hard to see what has really changed, apart from entrepreneurs becoming even more money-focused. A recent TechCrunch post juxtaposed Mark Zuckerburg’s “cool” 1 billion dollars, with the need to respect basic human decency.
But how can we entrench the wider non-monetary goals of our business alongside everything else that comes with building a successful startup?
Both Kate and I have worked closely with the Hub for a number of years, an organisation which exists to support social entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of effort focused on trying to bridge the gap between socially/environmentally-driven projects and an organisational structure that can scale. But despite this, a truly successful model is yet to emerge.
That may be about to change. Couchsurfing is an incredible community of travellers who host each other for free all around the world. As someone who has hosted guests and stayed with many a kind soul, I can vouch for what an inspiring group of like-minded people Couchsurfers are. Human decency abounds as people share their cities and lives with each other, facilitated by a social networking site that truly fulfils the potential of the internet to bridge online and offline worlds.
Couchsurfing recently announced that it would be changing its status from non-profit to “B Corporation”, and with it would be raising $7.6m to fuel growth.
“Certified B Corporations are a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corps are unlike traditional businesses because they: Meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards; Meet higher legal accountability standards; Build business constituency for good business.“http://www.bcorporation.net/about
We take inspiration from Couchsurfing’s brave step to confront the challenge of achieving scale whilst staying true to a core vision.
Here at Loco2 we are building an innovative product, but we have a conventional business model – we take a small commission each time someone purchases a ticket. It’s going to be some time before our sales revenue can cover our costs and in the meantime we need to keep building sophisticated Journey Search tools to solve the problems we know from our own experience that customers are facing. To fund this development we need investment, and that means demonstrating financial viability.
Thankfully Kate and I are now supported by a fantastic team and together our passion is driving us forward. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far but we know we’ve still got a long way to go. In spite of the not insignificant challenges ahead, there is nothing else we would rather be doing.
But we need all the support we can get if we’re going to succeed. So if our story resonantes with you, please, buy a European train ticket, sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook or share a link to Loco2 with your friends (or even better, all of the above!).
We’d love to know what you think about what we’re trying to do, no matter what perspective you’re coming at this from. Maybe you think we’re idealistic hippies. Or maybe we’re just corporate whores trying to improve our image? Either way, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below, or get in touch some other way.
Thanks for reading!