Co-Founder and CEO of Flix, André Schwämmlein
Photo: Flix

André Schwämmlein from Flix: “We are far from finished”

USA, Chile and soon India - if anyone knows how to internationalize, it's Flix. In this interview, we talk to Flix co-founder André Schwämmlein about how much planning is required for successful international expansion and what specific tips he can give startups that are currently preparing their market launch abroad.

Munich Startup: Flix launched in Chile in October, next year you will also be active in India – the world map is becoming more and more “Flix-green”. Did you start with this vision over 10 years ago?

André Schwämmlein, Founder & CEO Flix: Of course, it was our vision that Flix would become globally successful. But we had no idea at the time that it would become 42 countries in such a short space of time. But it shows: People worldwide want to travel sustainably and affordably, and our business model is changing the global coach markets with technology.

Munich Startup: And what is your vision regarding internationalization for the next 10 years?

André Schwämmlein: We want to continue to grow profitably and sustainably. Of course, we are also looking at new markets and checking their feasibility. We are planning to launch in India next year, which is one of the largest bus markets in the world. There are currently no plans for further expansion, but we are certainly far from finished.

Little chance, lots of strategy and business model

Munich Startup: In your opinion, how much is coincidence and how much is planning for successful international expansion?

André Schwämmlein: Planning is extremely important, we have our own dedicated team for opening up new markets and the entire Flix team has an incredible amount of experience in internationalization. Everything is analyzed precisely and checked in detail on site. Thanks to our global technology platform, we can now expand into new countries very efficiently and successfully. So, to be honest, there is little chance and a lot of strategy and business model.

Munich Startup: Let’s move on from the overarching to the concrete: What are your current challenges in preparing for the market launch in India versus the market launch in Chile?

André Schwämmlein: In addition to global success factors such as business model and technology, it is incredibly important to understand the specific differences of a new market. This involves regulation, competitors, marketing and sales as well as the local bus industry.

Chile was a very successful launch for us, better than almost all previous country launches. We initially started with a few lines and will now expand them significantly over the next few weeks.

India holds enormous growth potential for Flix: the long-distance coach market is larger than the markets in North America, Europe and Turkey combined. The popularity of online bookings in India is currently growing rapidly and it is precisely this potential that we want to exploit. Our aim is to become the market leader here too – as in the other Flix markets. But of course India is a very special market for which we are preparing very carefully in order to get off to a successful start.

Munich Startup: And in comparison: What were your biggest challenges with the first non-European country? And how did you know how to help yourselves back then?

André Schwämmlein: Our first non-European market was the USA. Compared to Germany in particular, buses were already established there, but also had a certain image. Our main aim was therefore to attract new passengers to the bus. That also worked well: In the early days, more than half of our travelers in the USA had never taken a long-distance bus before. We have expanded the long-distance bus market there and addressed a completely new target group in the form of millennials. Today, with Flix and Greyhound, we are the backbone of mobility in North America.

Learning from data and managing risk

Munich Startup: What are your 5 hands-on tips for startups that are in the process of preparing their market launch abroad?

  • Choosing exactly which markets are really important. We did without the UK for a long time and went to the USA for this. Closer is not always better.
  • Prepare very well for the launch and understand what you can transfer and what you really need to adapt.
  • A local team, even if it is small, helps tremendously to understand the market better. In my view, however, this must also be at least partly responsible for the market from an entrepreneurial perspective.
  • The standardization of the expansion process has also helped us enormously.
  • And then we test markets on a small scale and only invest massively when we see initial results and learn from our data. This allows us to manage the risk very well.

Munich Startup: How important were the takeovers of other companies for your expansion? What was the biggest learning in terms of acquisitions?

André Schwämmlein: In addition to organic growth, consolidation through M&A is a key component of our profitable growth strategy – and we are constantly looking at further expansion opportunities. I find it difficult to talk about the one big learning, but what we can say is that our tech expertise also helps other companies enormously and we can use many synergies.

Munich Startup: The tech integration of Greyhound and Flix was very exciting, as you told us at the festival. You are proud that both apps can now be used. How did the collaboration with such a traditional company work out? What went well, what was challenging?

André Schwämmlein: Just 18 months after taking over Greyhound, we were able to run their booking pages entirely via Flix technology. This shows how efficient and constructive the cooperation between our teams is and how well we use synergies. Passengers can now book the huge Greyhound and Flix network on both websites and in both apps, while also using the typical Flix services. This simply makes our offer even more attractive and strengthens our market leadership.

By night bus from Rio to Sao Paulo

Munich Startup: How important is it for you to have local people in offices in the respective country?

André Schwämmlein: Super important. We have over 20 offices worldwide so that we can really ensure that we can build the business from the market. At Flix, they are also entrepreneurially responsible for the market. They don’t implement the strategy but define for themselves what their path to market leadership should look like.

Munich Startup: What was personally your most exciting trip abroad with a Flixbus?

André Schwämmlein: Thereare so many great experiences, I’ve already traveled in many countries with our buses. But when I was on the night bus from Rio to Sao Paulo, I realized once again what we have already achieved, but also how many great opportunities we still have to grow globally.