The Mavin Guides founding team.
photo: Mavin Guides

Mavin Guides: City Tours Made Easy

To explore a city, you can either do a lot of research or book a guided tour. Or you use app services like those offered by Mavin Guides. It can be used to start tours when you want and based on specific topics. The Munich startup launched with its offerings in the capital city of Bavaria, and has quite a lot planned for the years ahead. Mavin Guides CEO Felicitas Schäfer tells us more in our interview.

Munich Startup: Who are you and what do you do? Please introduce yourselves!

Felicitas Schäfer, Mavin Guides: I’m Felicitas Schäfer, I’m 29 and studied mechanical engineering in Karlsruhe. Right now, I’m just finishing up my doctoral thesis in the field of thermofluid dynamics at TU Munich. Nick Engelhardt is 30 and we studied mechanical engineering together, but his focus was on mechatronics. He’s currently working as a software developer for BMW. Benjamin Zorn is 27, studied electrical engineering at TUM, and works as a software developer at EFS.

We met during our studies through the international student competition “Formula Student” and stayed in contact. Nick and I had been talking about our idea for Mavin Guides for quite some time, and during the coronavirus pandemic, we vowed to actually make the idea a reality and start a company. While looking for support, we pitched the idea to Benni and he instantly got on board.

At Mavin Guides, Benni and Nick are primarily taking care of our software at the moment, meaning the app and server infrastructure. As the CEO, I’m responsible for steering the company in the right direction.

Munich Startup: What problem does your startup solve?

Felicitas Schäfer: It’s a problem we actually experienced first-hand, and it was at that moment that I came up with the idea. We were on a road trip in the US and were only in Los Angeles for a few days – the city is insanely huge in terms of size and we hadn’t prepared anything. But we obviously still wanted to see parts of it, preferably based on our interests. Wouldn’t it be cool if someone who knows their way around could just put a tour together that I would actually like and didn’t have to plan myself?

That’s exactly what Mavin Guides wants to solve. We’re your friend in a different city who has the tips you need to make your visit relaxed and memorable, basically a tour guide in your pocket.

Ad hoc tours instead of inflexibility

In short, young city tourists want the information and insider tips from a guided city tour, but not the costs and inflexibility. They want to immediately start an ad hoc tour without doing time-consuming research or having to agree on a set time. That’s exactly what we offer with our self-guided city tours in the Mavin Guides app.

The app offers city tours based on different topics: the classics like history and architecture, but also modern tours like street art and tours along the ‘most Instagrammable’ spots in Munich. And during the tour, there’s navigation, pictures, information and audio guides right in the app. We create the tours with anyone who has something to share, including official tour guides, Munich-based Instagram stars, and even friends of ours who really know their way around their neighborhoods.

Munich Startup: But that’s nothing out of the box!

Felicitas Schäfer: That’s actually not quite true – or do you know an app off the top of your head that offers just that? There are obviously already a few players in the market, but no one has come out on top yet, because the offer just hasn’t been right. Some have tours in 100 cities, but there’s only one or two for each city – and that just isn’t an attractive offer. Others have lots of tours, but they’re questionable in terms of quality, so customers end up asking themselves if they’re just wasting their time.

We’re building our offerings city-by-city, which means we only go live with a city when we feel we can offer real added value. We’ve taken all of our tours in Munich ourselves, of course, and we think they’re great. Nick and I moved to Munich just a few years ago and we learned an amazing amount from the tours. And even Benni, who was born in Munich, learned a lot of new things. So it’s worthwhile for anyone to take the tours.

Munich Startup: Was there a point when you nearly failed?

Felicitas Schäfer: Failed, no, but we have obviously also run into some setbacks. When we were just getting started with our company, we did a lot of research about comparable offers and the competition. We found one site that was so similar to our plan that we briefly thought about whether we should really get started at all. But then we took a very close look and investigated their model and offer and came to the conclusion that we could definitely keep up with them – and that we would rather learn from their mistakes than be intimidated by them.

Pre-seed round planned for 2022

Munich Startup: Where would you like to be in one year, and where in five years?

Felicitas Schäfer: We’ll be at the end of our proof of concept stage next year. Until now, all developments have come from the share capital of our GmbH, which the three of us got together. At the end of our PoC, we want to raise outside capital for the first time in a pre-seed round so we can quickly expand our offerings to include other cities in Germany. Munich serves as the ideal ‘home base,’ since we know our way around here and know people who do, too. It will obviously be more of a challenge in other cities. Our goals for next year are Hamburg and Berlin.

In five years, we want to be in the key big cities across Europe, such as London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. To do that, we’ll also need local contacts, partners and employees to make sure the quality of our offer is as it should be.

Munich Startup: What do you think about Munich as a startup location?

Felicitas Schäfer: Everything we’ve experienced so far has been extremely positive in every respect – anywhere we’ve asked, we’ve been given support as well as constructive criticism, so we can make a good start. That being said, we founded the company in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The startup community obviously didn’t meet up as often during that time, so we’ve had fewer opportunities to become a part of it, but that’s changing now and we’re excited about how strong the community in Munich is. For example, we’re really excited about being part of the Bits & Pretzels festival next year.

Munich Startup: Coworking or your own office?

Felicitas Schäfer: I think the coronavirus has influenced how we approach that – there were times that the three of us weren’t been allowed to meet up, so we’ve held a lot of meetings and developments online. With our business model, we’ll tend to have a few employees in many cities in the future as well, so we’ll very much rely on mobile working.

At the moment, we’re working from our private homes and that’s worked really well so far. We would rather make that investment in issues that seem more important to us. But should we get to a point where that stops working, then a coworking space would be the next logical step.