The Munich traveltech startup Fineway was founded in 2015 by Markus Bohl and Markus Feigelbinder. Through the platform, users can book complex round trips automatically using a short, digital conversation. Fineway calls itself one of the world’s first companies to develop and use artificial intelligence (AI) to plan individual trips and create personalized trips in real time. More than 70 employees now work for Fineway. According to the startup, they’re financed with roughly 20 million euros. The majority of the venture capital comes from investors such as Bayern Kapital, Axel Springer and Mairdumont Ventures as well as several family offices. To learn more about the challenges faced by the two serial founders and where the travel startup is headed we spoke with co-founder and COO Markus Feigelbinder.
Markus, how did you come up with your business idea and how did you come together as founders?
The initial idea for Fineway arose from personal circumstances. Almost every time I go on vacation, we end up discussing who is in charge of planning the trip. That’s mostly because we don’t have enough time to deal with it in addition to work. I knew Markus Bohl, my co-founder and CEO of Fineway, from when I worked as a consultant. He had the same problem, so the idea emerged pretty quickly to found a company together that offers a solution.
You’ve already successfully founded companies. What advantage did that give you?
The greatest benefit we both took away from our previous companies was a solid network of investors, advisors and supporters. That definitely made getting started easier. We were also familiar with the initial steps and processes. That speeds things up and helps immensely.
Experience and creativity helped Fineway tackle challenges
Is there still something where you think: I wish I had known about that before founding the company?
We were very well prepared thanks to our previous companies. That allowed us to tackle some challenges with the necessary experience and creativity.
What were the biggest challenges you faced while starting the company?
The biggest challenges came from that fact that we’re developing a service that customers aren’t familiar with yet in this shape and form. That meant we didn’t have any examples to use for orientation in the technical development of our trip planning service. And the fact that customers weren’t familiar with this kind of service made it difficult to establish it on the market and get customers excited about it. In retrospect, however, we can say that we did a good job overcoming those challenges.
Tips for other founders: “Be fast and flexible”
And what were your key milestones?
An important point was launching the setup of our R&D division. Since then, we’ve been able to invest more in-depth work in developing our service, which is the core element of Fineway. Another particularly important milestone was the day we were able to record the first 1,000 users for our trip planning service. That shows us how well the service has been accepted and strengthens our belief in our idea. We also continuously reach key milestones because we’re always expanding our offer – be it with additional destinations or improved AI.
What advice would you give other founders?
First and foremost, to be fast and flexible. Quickly find out what your customers want and iterate quickly too. That’s the only way the founding idea can develop without coming to a dead end.
Added value for customers: A central argument for investors
What do you think is the determining factor for sustainable corporate development?
There are two essential factors in my opinion. On the one hand, it’s important to develop a product that really strikes a chord with the customer and offers them real added value. On the other hand, it’s necessary to find investors that are 100% behind the founders or the founding idea. The added value for the customer plays an important role here too. That’s one of the main reasons why investors give their capital to young companies.
Where do you see yourselves in five years? Where is your journey headed?
In five years, we will have reached the point where Instant Trip Planning as we offer it will be the norm and a completely new market will have emerged. Time-consuming search and comparison processes will only be used by a small minority to book an individual trip and will have become unthinkable for many.
In five years, we would like to have expanded our technological edge and data science platform. With the rise of voice assistants, we’re also convinced that we’ll be planning and booking trips with smart conversations in the future.