10 Questions with Tom Charman from KOMPAS

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Forty years ago, eating out in a strange city was a bit of a gamble.  If you were lucky you would have a guide book, or newspapers to help you make a decision.  But most of the time you’d have to ask someone, maybe at the hotel or wander around before you found somewhere that looked nice.  Given that competition for custom wasn’t as intense as it is in 2016, the experience could often be hit-and-miss.

In 2016 we have Tripadvisor, Blogs, Food Magazines, Review sites like Zomato, SquareTable, Bookatable, newspapers, Google Reviews, Yelp…the list goes on.  But quantity is sometimes sacrificed over quality, and often those reviewing on user submitted sites are looking to convey a subjective opinion without maintaining any journalistic standards.  So (with my librarian hat on) when a new source of guide and review comes along that give high-quality information, which is not only well written but has nice photos too, I get quite excited.

I recently discovered a company, born here in Exeter by a team from Exeter University called KOMPAS.  You can have a look at their Instagram account which is full of delectable photos and gives an idea of what this app is going to be about.  I am already checking it for recommendations!  So given how awesome the whole thing was looking, I just had to ask  Kompas CMO Tom Charman 10 Questions about KOMPAS.

KOMPAS2Could you describe what KOMPAS is?
Absolutely, KOMPAS is a mobile application for the travel industry that we’re currently building. Using an individual’s personal interests, as well as their previously visited locations, we create an itinerary using smart algorithms. This means that we’re constantly learning about you, and what you want to do, not what people assume you’ll want to do. There’ll be no more wasted time when planning a visit to a new city, nor working out how to get around when you arrive, as KOMPAS does it all for you. For us, we believe everyone is different, and will have different views of places that they visit, which is why we build itineraries that we know you’re going to love. You can think of us as your personal travel assistant, guiding you around the urban jungles of the world.

Where did you get the inspiration to start KOMPAS?
KOMPAS really began to take shape while we were out on our year abroad, under the name Hidden Planet (or Hidden Munich; http://www.instagram.com/hiddenmunich). We realised that there was so much of a city that your conventional guide book doesn’t include, things that we would have hated to have missed out on. We built an Instagram account, promoted those hidden and unique places and that’s transformed into what KOMPAS is today! We want people all over the world to have the opportunity to experience the true story of a city in its various forms. Which cities does KOMPAS cover at the moment? While we’re still in BETA, we’re using Instagram and various other social channels to showcase what we’re building. That said we’re currently operating in 34 cities across the world, though most of these are based in Europe. We’ve got great teams in the likes of Berlin, Paris, Munich, Düsseldorf and Leipzig, as well as some fantastic writers out in La Paz and other international cities! You’ll find a complete list of the countries that we’re covering on our blog (www.blog.kompasapp.com).

You’re currently studying at the University of Exeter, what is eating out like for students in Exeter? Myself and one of my co-founders Olivia are indeed, and there is just so much to choose from! Admittedly, before we launched KOMPAS in Exeter, I didn’t know too much about the sort of things that were available, and tended to stick to the hangouts known by most students. However, after beginning to explore Exeter, I found that there’s just so much to choose from, and one of the best things in my opinion is how easy it is to find locally sourced food. I’ve always been a big believer in eating local, and supporting local businesses, which is one of the reasons Exeter is so appealing to me.

If you had to have a final meal from a place in Exeter, where would it be from and what would it be? That’s a tough one! It’s a toss-up between one of the famous Firehouse pizzas or a roast on Sunday from Tea On The Green. Both serve great food, but it would depend on whether I wanted something casual to share with friends over a few ciders and beers, or whether I wanted one of my all-time favourite roasts!

You spent a year out in Munich, was there a German food (product or dish) that you just can’t replicate over here?
Well, I think I’ve just about mastered the Currywurst now, although I admit, that’s not typical Bavarian food! One of the things that I can’t seem to find anywhere though is a Schweinshaxn or ‘roasted ham hock’, because there’s a particular way in which the Bavarians serve it! Plus, I don’t think it’s really the same without a Maß (1 litre) of Helles Augustiner Beer. That said, I’m headed back over to Munich in 2 weeks, and I’m looking forward to enjoying a cold German beer with some traditional Bavarian food! If you had one message/advice for someone who was going to launch a venture of this scale, what would it be? The most important thing in my opinion, is that you keep focus and don’t give up. There are lots of ups and downs, and while you may find yourself at the top of the world one minute, you can easily find yourself in a slump the next. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, but push through and work hard. Naturally, be sure to test your market and iterate as much as possible, but focus, drive and passion really are key. Right! I’ve signed up for the BETA.
KOMPAS1When will the full version of the app be available?
We’re aiming to launch the BETA in March, and we’re giving 2,000 people the chance to get involved with what we’re doing and shape the future of KOMPAS. We’re then going to be commercially launching in the Summer of 2016, in a select number of cities while we build a database of places in other cities. From there we’re going to follow an approach similar to that of Deliveroo and Citymapper, by slowly expanding into cities all over the world! How do restaurants and venues get included? Do you have a criteria? We don’t have criteria as such, but we personally check every place that we cover, meaning that not only is everything personally vetted by us, but it means that we can guarantee that one of our team has visited, tested and reviewed each location. When we’re looking for places, we tend to search for local, independent stores and venues, or those that are part of a small chain. If there’s something that’s specific to a city, then we’re almost certainly going to include it. The goal for us, is to showcase a city, and highlight the hidden places within it.

What does the future hold for KOMPAS?
Will it literally be world domination? We’ve got a huge amount planned for the future! At the moment we’re raising finance which will allow us to build the commercial product, as well as work on building stronger networks within the cities that we’re operating in. We’re looking at having good coverage of Europe in the next two years, before looking to the wider International markets including the U.S. and Asia in 2018! We’ve got an exciting journey ahead of us, and we’re looking forward to sharing it with everyone, and building something that will not only make travelling easier, but will become a necessary app for finding out where to go, whether you’re local to a city, or visiting for the first time! We’ll also be updating all our early adopters monthly, as everyone that is part of the BETA really is fundamental to the building of the project!

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