Julius Koehler and business partner Malko Schraner very nearly didn't run into each other, which means their new start-up almost didn't happen. They were already old friends and frequented the same ski resort, but had no idea they were there at the same time. They only bumped into each other again randomly. Not long after that, the idea was formed for an app that would connect acquaintances in that kind of situation.
"We would've actually managed to meet each other if the app was out earlier," quips Koehler.
The new app is CatchUp, which Koehler, Schraner and Theo Sarasin now run as co-founders from the start-up's base in Hong Kong. They see it as the best way for people to share their itineraries and reconnect with friends and acquaintances across the world.
"The problem really with Facebook is that you put [your trip] as a status update and it just sinks in the newsfeed, so it's never actually published to the correct people out of your thousand Facebook friends," says Koehler.
To change that, the team wants people to "open your personal travel plans" with certain friends in order to set up opportunities to reconnect, whether it's on a holiday in Bali or a business trip to Los Angeles.
"What CatchUp does is that it looks into the future, so you can make a booking and search ahead of time and check which people are going there — and arrange to meet them before you actually arrive at a certain city or place," Koehler says.
The app connects with Facebook, but it'll soon get support for LinkedIn to add in business networking catch-ups as well.
Facebook is all about now and what happened in the past and lacks any kind of "location transparency," he says. So the team sees CatchUp as doing something vital — and complementary to the behemoth social network.
Right now, the app's usefulness is limited by the relatively small number of people using it. For your old friends to see your trip, they'll also need to be signed up to CatchUp.
To get it off the ground, the start-up crew is looking to young globe-trotters — specifically exchange students. Koehler — who's German; his co-founders are Swiss — is building up an ambassador network across European universities to get students using the app on their travels and when they're back in their home nations. There are about 800,000 exchange students globally, so this gives the start-up some scope for growth through a network effect, he explains.
After that, the team will weigh other ways of expanding and making money, such as deals on travel or transport, or getting large companies and educational institutions to sign up their employees and students across multiple countries.
The team is sticking with Hong Kong to build the start-up rather than taking it back to Europe. Koehler went to Hong Kong for his MBA, which he completed in November. He sees Hong Kong's techie verve as being as dynamic as Berlin's, and he reckons the territory could grow to become the top Asian start-up hub.