The (long and beautiful) journey towards our partnership with Voyages-SNCF.com
Today is the day we officially begin our partnership with Voyages-sncf.com (VSC) as we previously announced June 23 2016. The news really surprised people on social media: how did a Canadian startup company and B2C player like Busbud become the exclusive supplier of all technology behind bus offers for such a huge player in European travel?
When it all began
To answer the question, it all started back in May 2013 when we began expanding into Europe. At the time, the European market was already very interesting; not only because of it’s largescale national markets, but also because of the growing popularity for bus travel all over Continental Europe. Yet things were about to get even better: the bus market in Germany became liberalized (and France followed suit in October 2015).
At this stage, Busbud was managed by only five people working out of our CEO LP Maurice’s apartment. We hadn’t yet started fundraising and so our priority was to try and quickly convince potential partners to be a part of the very first international platform for booking intercity bus tickets: Busbud.com.
The first European partner who believed in the future of our success was iDBUS (now known as OUIBUS), a subsidiary of SNCF. In June 2013, we began our first European partnership on Busbud’s platform. This was a very exciting moment and since then, we have been incredibly focused on increasing sales.
Even though this journey happened a few years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. The main reason being that my son Olivier was born on April 22nd 2013, right when we were working hard to catch up to the new demand. Our new partnership with iDBUS marked the beginning of numerous European trips. As a new dad, I was happy that my partner Marion and Olivier accompanied me on the first of these trips. We attended business meetings and decided it was also a great opportunity to introduce our little one to my French family. When you’re in ‘startup mode’, you’re great at doing more with less!
Two rounds of financing later (totalling more than 10 million dollars), our team today includes about forty-five collaborators working tirelessly with the goal of creating the largest online bus station in the world. Thanks to the dedication and true talent of our Partnerships team, our inventory now exceeds more than 600 bus companies from all over the world, including more than 200 in Europe offering more than 500.000 different journeys—and we’re just getting started!
Despite our success, we definitely still have a long way to go for anyone to book a bus ticket anywhere in the world, from any country. This is why we had to decide to only focus on the bus market, only on bus offers and nothing else! It was incredibly difficult for us to resist the temptation to also include train routes, flights, car rentals, scooters…and we could have kept going by adding camel rentals.
Given this strategic decision of dominating only the bus world, we then asked ourselves if we would ever be open to the idea of giving other travel companies access to our inventory. We were convinced that it was just a matter of time before bus travel—the most affordable, environmentally-friendly and booming mode of transportation—would become very appealing to the biggest players in the travel industry.
In 2015, the answer became clear. We were in fact ready to share our inventory with other travel companies, even if this meant creating more competition for ourselves. So why this decision? The answer is quite simple. Busbud’s main and ultimate goal is to make the world more accessible to all by helping users find and reserve their ideal bus journeys. And we also saw our decision as a unique opportunity for both us and our partners, especially given the
growing popularity of multimodal travel.
It was a natural progression for us to allow other players who offer different modes of transportation to add bus options to their platforms; we even wanted to encourage these companies to do so! We have never believed in creating a world where the bus is the only way to travel, and we certainly have never believed in making the bus market private and closed off.
The Launch of our API
Once the decision was made, as soon as summer 2015 came along our team began dedicating their talents and bus travel expertise to building a world-class API. The goal was to give our partners unique access to our inventory of several hundred companies.
This opened the floodgates and our Partnerships team was then able to identify which companies would most likely want to get their hands on our API. We successfully launched Busbud Business in May 2016 with partners such as Liligo and Easyvoyage.
Since our API launch, our partnerships are continually increasing and we’ve received nothing but positive feedback from our users. Busbud is growing steadily, as are the sales generated by our API and the number of distribution partners. This is an encouraging pace and a reassuring sign that we made the right decision.
How does VSC fit into all of this?
When owning a startup, any major contract is a huge advancement and our collaboration with VSC is no exception. But what is it that makes this partnership particularly interesting?: its incredibly huge presence in the travel industry.
With 1000 employees and more than 4 billion dollars in annual sales, VSC is a successful giant in the travel world (but a friendly giant). I was mostly convinced of this during my first visit to the VSC offices in February 2015 when a big purple cow with train eyes greeted me in the lobby of the CNIT (Centre of New Industries and Technologies) in La Défense.
As shown by the timeline of events, a partnership of this scale takes time. Things that ‘take time’ are the last thing you need in a startup, mostly because every week guarantees new unpredictable challenges. That being said, the time passed can also end up benefiting you. Because our discussions with VSC took place over a certain period of time, it gave us a good opportunity to reflect. This moment of reflection contributed to the strategic decision of giving more partners access to our API.
So what is the secret formula to successfully establishing a partnership? Patience is definitely number one on the list. But perhaps of equal importance is staying true to who you are. At Busbud, we only enter partnerships that benefit both parties involved; this is the philosophy that guides the everyday efforts of our Partnerships team.
This is why we stayed authentic throughout the process, in spite of how significant this potential partnership would be. Our fundamental values were kept; notably our play nice mentality. You see that smile we have in our logo? We treat all of your users, employees and partners with that same smile. We also stay true to who we are in the way we position ourselves as bus experts, both in the realm of technology and business.
To conclude, here is some data which helps to understand what kind of efforts were made to make this partnership a reality.
Of course, negotiations for contracts like these are not possible without having strong mutual trust. Through our discussions with VSC, we of course knew we were dealing with a huge company, but more importantly, we discovered a team of agile individuals and visionaries, all willing to give smaller companies a chance. We couldn’t be happier to start this incredible journey with them so that we can make the world more accessible to all through bus travel!