Tom Charman is a “studentrepreneur,” an EO Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) finalist in 2016 and co-founder and CEO of KOMPAS, a city exploration application helping people discover amazing but little-known adventures hidden in the world’s urban jungles. He’s been previously featured in Octane, writing about the value of mentorship and apps that can make life easier. We asked Tom about his experiences and inspirations.
You were an EO GSEA Global Finalist in 2016. In June 2017, you won Visa’s Everywhere Initiative. How did your GSEA experience impact you?
My GSEA experience provided the opportunity to refine my pitch and really understand what problems and cultural challenges people face when exploring cities. KOMPAS aims to help people explore the city where they live or are visiting, and integrate with people of all backgrounds and cultures. Being a part of GSEA helped my company hone and develop its existing offering. As a result, we were selected to represent the U.K. at the world finals of the University Startup World Cup and Digital DNA. All of these pitches combined made our pitch to Visa well-practiced, precise and clear.
Our key takeaways from all of these competitions are, first, to make sure you develop a product that people really want, and second, consider your audience by understanding who they are and how to pitch to them. Tailoring our pitch to specific judges and peers in each competition helped improve our chances for success. As a result of this strategy, we’ve often placed in the top three and won a number of awards for innovation and technology.
How has winning the Visa Everywhere Initiative (VEI) at Money 20/20 in Copenhagen impacted you as an entrepreneur and the direction of your company?
Winning VEI has already had a big impact on both me and my company. We’re now working closely with Visa to provide our community with an even better experience, incorporating new technologies within the Fintech and payments space to create a truly seamless travel experience. As an entrepreneur, it’s allowed me to build my own profile, and leverage that to showcase KOMPAS to a wider market, as we continue to establish strategic partnerships. We’re also actively raising a significant round of funding; winning VEI has both extended our runway, and also built credibility around what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it.
I can’t recommend the experience of competition highly enough to young entrepreneurs: It provides an opportunity to connect with well-established entrepreneurs and CEOs who share valuable insight and helps those involved refine their product pitch for future presentations. It’s the growth experience of a lifetime.
What inspires you most?
The pure ambition I see so often in the startup space, where people are consistently trying to build something that they care about, and are willing to step outside their comfort zone to do so. I see people give up a huge amount to start a business, and it’s this drive that inspires me to continue building what I believe in. The best part is that I don’t just see this quality in other entrepreneurs; I see it in my own team. They’re all extremely passionate about building our app and making sure it’s well-received around the world so that it will positively impact millions of people.
What lessons or encouragement can you share with other student entrepreneurs?
The most important thing is: Don’t give up on what you’re doing. If you truly believe in something, don’t let people put you down. Continue to follow your passions. There will always be people who don’t understand what you do or why you’re doing it. Surrounding yourself with people who are as passionate as you are, but about different things, and want to have an impact, is a good way to ensure that you’ll succeed.
Our actions are determined in part by the five closest people to us, so you absolutely must surround yourself with inspiring people. It’s also critical to constantly develop and challenge your mind. The moment that you stop stimulating the brain is the same moment at which you’ll no longer feel motivated or intrigued by new projects or ideas.
What are your plans to evolve your business in the future?
We’ll use our next round of funding to develop our technology and protect our existing technology. Our app uses artificial intelligence and advanced machine learning to provide a hyper-personalized and scalable experience. So far, the market has adopted our product quickly, and we’ve been growing at an average of 84% each month. We’re hoping to hit 100,000 users at the start of next year. Perhaps an equal indicator is the app’s retention rate. We’ve managed to keep our monthly users at close to 50% of total users, an industry-leading rate for our operating space. We frequently ask for user feedback, which helps us develop a product that they believe in and feel a part of, which is how we’ve built such a strong community.
We’re scaling quickly, aiming for over 100% monthly growth. Currently, we operate in four European cities; we plan to grow into 17 cities over the next 12 months. The goal for us is to make sure that our users not only enjoy the experience of finding new things but most importantly, are traveling in a way that they never have before, no longer worrying about bookings, tickets and new places. We’re changing the way people travel for the better.