As we announce the acquisition of Loco2 by Voyages-sncf.com, we look back on our progress to date, and consider how to build on our achievements.
When Kate first dreamed up the idea of Loco2, our mission was clear: make low carbon travel feasible and fun. From day one our name has meant “low CO2” as well as locomotive travel.
By simplifying the booking process, we hoped to encourage more people to ditch the plane and opt for a lower-carbon journey.
As train travellers we’d been frustrated when booking rail online. So by the time we launched our first product in 2012, the vision had evolved to be more specific: make Europe by train as easy as possible. We’ve encountered many obstacles over the years, both commercial and technical (not to mention personal!), and we’ve learned a huge amount about what it takes to build a successful business.
Today we take a lot of pride in our approach to technology, but we are no less proud of how we treat our customers. We have thousands of great reviews and our commitment to customer support has become a huge part of the Loco2 DNA and an important motivator for our team.
Today’s announcement comes at a time when we feel that we’ve solved many of the problems we set out to tackle. Through many lines of code and vast amounts of data, Loco2 now knits together the booking systems of rail operators in the UK and across Europe, allowing customers to book everything from a simple commute to an epic adventure.
Like any tech startup, we’ve needed financing to fund the investments we’ve made. But unlike many of our peers, Loco2 has never taken venture capital or private equity investment. Instead we’ve relied on a relatively small group of friends, family and angel investors who share our vision for European rail.
Over the past few years the dynamic of the European rail market has shifted. In 2016, fellow start-up Captain Train was purchased by Trainline, itself backed by US private equity juggernaut, KKR (who bought Trainline for around £425m in 2015). We’ve also seen the entrance of GoEuro, backed by a whopping $146m investment from Goldman Sachs and others. We’re proud of what we’ve built with relatively little (we’ve had around £1.8m investment to date), but there’s a limit to what we can achieve with such resources.
Keeping pace with our competitors' spending posed a significant challenge for our small business, and it became clear that we would need to contemplate big changes. We faced a stark choice: raise financing from a large institutional investor and “roll the dice” on future progress, or find a buyer for the company.
Loco2 joins Voyages-sncf.com group
Having worked closely with Voyages-sncf.com since the early days, we know our new owner well, and we’re glad that Loco2 will now be closer to the heart of the European rail industry. We’ll continue to operate as an independent business, and we’re sure that there will be much to learn on both sides. Our remote team will bring its agile approach to technology development, as Voyages-sncf.com brings its industry expertise to the table as we take the business to the next level.
Kate and I will be staying with the company, and we’re both very pleased that we should now have more time and headspace to focus on the things that we enjoy: building our technology and ensuring that our customers are happy.
Although we are confident about the future of Loco2 under its new stewardship, we’re under no illusions about how significant this announcement is. Too often founders claim that nothing will change after acquisition, knowing full well that it cannot be guaranteed. We’ll no longer have final say over big decisions, and we can’t make promises about what will happen in future.
We hope that the Loco2 brand will survive into the long-term and make millions of customers as happy as the hundreds of thousands we’ve delighted to date. There are currently no plans to change anything on this front, and we hope our existing customers will keep supporting Loco2 under its French ownership.
But we’re also prepared to let some things go and be part of a new decision-making team that will navigate new challenges as the company moves forward. We need to be prepared to accept change, and we’re excited (and admittedly a bit nervous) about this prospect.
We’ve written this post in the spirit of openness, and will endeavour to stay true to that ethos as the next chapter of our story unfolds.
One thing we can commit to is our desire to remain open, transparent and honest with our customers.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank the many, many people whose help and advice have helped us get to this point. There are far too many people to mention, but you know who you are. Above all, we would like to thank our customers, especially those who have been with us since the early days.
Thank you for the faith you placed in us, for the feedback, kind words and criticism, and the vital part you have all played in the success of Loco2 so far.
It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, and when times have been tough, it has always been the helpful, heartfelt comments from our customers that have seen us through. Thank you so much, and please stay tuned for the next chapter!