Photo credit: Andrew Ranta
Michael Cameron is a technologist by trade. But he puts his idea to develop a fast, comprehensive travel search engine—Rome2Rio.com—down mainly to the experiences he had while travelling for a year with his wife.
“When I was travelling a lot, especially in Europe and Asia, I discovered what I saw as an obvious lack in the existing travel search tools,” he says. “They were very much focused on air-only search. When it came to other modes of transport—trains, buses, ferries, driving routes—there really was a gap in the market.”
“It seemed a very sensible problem to be solved.”
With a PhD in search technology, and previous experience helping to build the Bing search engine with Microsoft, he could see that technically, the problem presented an exciting tech business opportunity—and a challenging one to solve.
A Big Idea
Michael admits, though, that he didn’t do a lot of research to see if the product was feasible before they began.
“The first thing I did was try to track down some flight data to see if we source that in a reasonably cost-efficient way. Once I discovered that that was available, I thought, okay, let’s give this thing a go.”
“It really was a matter of seeing if they could develop the technology to do what they wanted”, Michael says, and for that, they just had to get their hands dirty. “It seemed like a good opportunity, a problem that should be solved, and I was in a position to help solve it,” he says.
Ultimately, that’s what spurred him to take the plunge, and spend a year living off his savings while developing the product with Rome2Rio co-founder Bernie Tschirren. The site launched six months after development began, and Michael and Bernie spent the next year building and refining the technology behind the product.
Of his motivations, Michael says: “We’re passionate about doing something and doing it really well.” He adds that since launch, they’ve stayed “focused on our core mission, which is to provide accurate results, really quickly, delivered to a user for a search anywhere in the world.”
New People, New Opportunities
“I think the single most valuable thing you can do in a startup is recruit other people,” Michael says. “If you can recruit the right people, that’s huge.”
Around 18 months into Rome2Rio’s life, the opportunity to hire a CEO came up. Since then, CEO Rod Cuthbert has helped steer the technology-driven startup toward new business opportunities, including business to business ideas that, Michael says, they never would have spotted without Rod.
“He has very much pushed the B2B option since he joined. He brought a lot of expertise and connections that made that possible, but he also made it a focus and pushed us to focus more on the B2B aspects of the business.”
Going after those new opportunities has necessitated growing the team even further, to include a third developer and a content manager.
That content manager plays an important role in helping Rome2Rio realize its potential. One of the business’s points of difference is that the data it delivers isn’t necessarily published elsewhere online. Chris, the content manager, hires people from all over the world to add information about modes of transport and routes to a database that Michael and Bernie developed themselves.
It turns out that custom-building is a standard practice for these guys—and for good reason.
The Biggest Opportunity of All
“We’ve built a lot of things from scratch,” Michael says, including database systems, serving infrastructure, and the content management tool.
“The technology that we see as valuable is the technology that we’ve built,” he adds, “rather than any off-the-shelf piece of technology.”
That value is delivered to users, as it means Rome2Rio can provide information that’s not available elsewhere online. But it also helps the business gain value in the eyes of potential acquirers—larger businesses that might buy up Rome2Rio for themselves.
This opportunity is one that the co-founders have always had in mind for their business, and Michael believes that being a developer puts him in a good position to be able to pursue it.
“I think it’s also a US-influence thing,” he says. “I think if you’ve been in the US, there are a lot of acquirers there—big companies looking to pick up new pieces of technology.”
So his exposure to the US startup scene helped Michael gain an understanding of the opportunity to sell a tech-based startup.
And now, along with motivation to do good work, his passion for travel, and an expanding skillbase within his team, it’s helping him to chase that opportunity down.