Startup Story #14: Living on half a salary and almost losing two jobs at once w/ GOWAGO co-founders

Updated: Jan 31, 2019

The Gowago Team - Leo, Patrick, Rutger & Iwan
“I got to choose the people that I’m working with, and I would not get rid of this for anything in the world.” - quote of the founder, Léo Chevailler.

CEO Rutger Verhoef and COO Léo Chevailler share the startup story of GOWAGO, a Swiss mobility comparison platform, that makes it easy for people to get a car for a monthly price. Before GOWAGO both founders used to work for Infinity, a premium brand of Nissan. When it came time to look at new business plans for Infinity they realized there was a real problem: People were not buying, because they were overwhelmed by the amount and complexity of information. So the founders are certain that GOWAGO will play a key role in the furutre because whatever mobility company wins, GOWAGO will compare the prices and offer a reference.

Listen to the episode here

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Why it’s so important to know the industry that you’re in

  • How the right timing helped the team land their investor

  • How the team went about splitting up their shares

  • How two friends can work on a business together

  • What the difference between a CEO and a COO is

  • Why the founders see Gowago be a source of trust in a time of autonomous driving

The GOWAGO service and its key benefits

So basically, GOWAGO is a mobility comparison platform, that makes it easy for people to get a car for a monthly price. It is for people who want a car for a monthly payment on a subscription basis - a so-called ‘flexible leasing’. You can give the car back whenever you want. This is interesting for many target groups where one to mention is the expats. The service is like skyscanner or kayak for traveling - it is just the same for cars. They want to make sure you compare apples with apples in a super intuitive process.

The big challenge if you want to buy a car are the car dealers, since they are specialized in single brands. In comparison to that, if you want to buy a TV you go to the electronics store, tell them what you need and they can give you the brand that suits your needs. GOWAGO holds all the brands and is totally transparent. That is one of the big value propositions of GOWAGO, because customers can trust the platform.

On top of that you can save up to 2700 CHF by using gowago, on average. This happens because GOWAGO creates competition between the car dealers so our customers get better deals. In return the dealers get more leads. So it is a win win for both parties.

How it all started

Before gowago both founders used to work at NISSAN for Infinity, their premium brand. Leo worked in the marketing department while Rutger did sales and operations. They regularly met eachother analyzing the current business, discussing new business plans and figuring out what they could deliver in the next phases. Looking at the purchase funnel they saw there was a real problem of people not converting. It seemed like potential customers were completely overwhelmed by the all the information they got.

The first product they worked on was completely different than what gowago is today. They just wanted to help people select their cars. So it was basically a journey type user experience where you answer some questions to get to your perfect car. In the end that is exactly what current companies do. They just give you a couple of filters and leave you hanging with 100s of choices. Gowago instead takes the customer by the hand. For example, someone knows they have a certain budget for a car or they have seen a certain car model on the road that they like. Further they want it to have bluetooth and navigation. Gowago then offers a selection that fits those criteria.

They explain how they have been juggling around with different ideas first. At some point they decided to stay in the industry they are experienced in. And this has been of huge value! It was one of the big contributing factors for getting an investment.

Financing their lives

To finance their venture and especially their lives they had to keep on earning money somewhere else in the beginning. Therefore Leo quit his job first while Rutger continued working and supporting Leo. Then they did a first pitch deck and applied at different acceleration programs. After being rejected from Mass Challenge they got very harsh, but good feedback from the Swiss Startup Factory. This lead the team in the right direction. And they got in there. After three months in the SSUF program they had to figure out how to finance their growth. Given that a platform like GOWAGO needs visitors and conversions to be interesting for the supply side (in this case the car dealers), they needed a lot of money to drive this traffic. So they luckily got the Tamedia Group, a media company, as a corporate investor on board. They explain that they basically just cold called them, sent a follow-up email and got invited for a meeting. They got challenged quite strictly, but also got a lot of valuable fedback. And then they just continued with this process until they closed the investment. They explain that it was just the right timing for them to approach Tamedia. Their car platform 'Autoricardo' was losing market share so they were looking for new opportunities. In the interview they give a side note and explain that the acquisition of a third technical cofounder was key to success with the investors. It makes a big difference when you have talks and your team is complete with the different skills needed.

Define the roles in the team

So as mentioned above Rutger and Leo had a quite similar job before. So how should they choose who takes what role in their startup? They tried a lot of things. One thing made the difference in the end. First Leo joined a lot of meetings with partners and so on. But in the end they found out that it was more ‘talk blocking’ for Rutger than of any help. Overall, Leo explains, Rutger was much better in doing these meetings by himself. So Leo kept working on other topics.

Today the product has three major topics: (1) b2b with the dealers, (2) b2c with the users and marketing and (3) the product itself. And this is exactly how they split up the work between the three cofounders. As Leo used to do marketing before it made sense that he takes over the role of the COO, which is mainly marketing activities. They admit that this setup led to heated discussions when a strategy decision had to be taken because Leo and Rutger had so similar skillsets.

The biggest challenges & learnings for the two co-founders

When we asked Rutger in the podcast interview about his biggest learnings he mentioned the fact that you need to have a strong culture even when you are still a small team. They didn’t manage to invest time in the office or do fun things together for a long time. Nowadays they are back doing these activities as a team and everyone is so full of energy. Sometimes it is just important to put your laptop down. Overall Rutger would not do anything differently though. He explains that every mistake they made, made them learn something. So they wouldn't be where they are today, if not for those mistakes.

Leo mentions a very personal topic around being a founder. He calls it having to deal with a 'stretched cash flow' compared to others.

"A lot of friends that are in the corporate world have a complete different personal growth curve. They start to buy apartments, get married, have kids. This is really different." - Leo Chevailler.

So he explains that he is glad that Rutger is in the same situation. They understand each other. On top of that he mentions that Zurich isn't really a huge entrepreneurial scene. So there are a lot of people with well paying jobs.

"I could chose the people I am working with and this is not something I would change for anything in the world." - Leo Chevailler.

Leo would do something differently though. It is about an intellectual property issue. They were first named carcodes where they found out later on that an american company had the same name. They contacted them and requested to remove themselves from the trademark. We had to invest quite some time and money into this process. And this is the one kind of cost you don’t like as a startup. You can't bootstrap legal costs. And you also can't postpone them. Legal issues have pure deadlines.

Listen to the episode here

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