Rail website Quno launched in the UK earlier this month, and will be competing with companies like thetrainline for online ticket bookings.
I’ve been talking to MD Jeremy Acklam about the company…
Why launch Quno?
What we’re doing is simplifying the process of finding the best ticket for rail travellers, so we’ve opted for a simple and lightweight homepage.
What our research has shown is that a number of people are unsure about reading rail timetables, and we are aiming to make them easy to understand. What we’ve done is to look at other travel sites, not just from other rail operators, and use some of the best features for Quno.
Air websites are often more usable, and it is perhaps no surprise that up to 70% of flights are booked online in the UK.
The percentage of people booking rail tickets online is much lower, around 13% across Europe, and just under 25% in the UK. We want to increase this percentage.
The main reason many people don’t book rail journeys online is that it’s not always easy to see the data and prices. With Quno, we are aiming to remove this complexity, and our system is built by people who have a lot of experience creating other online booking systems.
One thing people cannot do at the moment is to cancel rail tickets booked online, and this is something we’ll be adding to the site soon.
Are you planning to expand beyond the UK?
We are listing tickets from every UK rail operator, and we’ll be adding Eurostar towards the end of the year.
This will be the first stage of a wider extension of Quno, and we’ll be looking to list journeys across Europe. We will add the option of booking rail tickets across Belgium, France, Germany Spain and Italy within the next six to nine months.
We feel there is a gap in the market here, especially with the roll out of high-speed rail networks across the continent.
There are a further 9,000 miles of rail to be added over the next few years and this will start to tip the balance from air to rail travel.
For example, after high-speed rail travel was added between Barcelona and Madrid, the number of flights dropped, and rail took 70% of the market within 18 months.
Will you be rolling out the booking service for mobile users?
Yes, we already have an app in the development stage, and we’ll be bringing that out in due course.
There are still challenges relating to booking train tickets on a mobile phone, but I think it does represent the best way of communicating directly with customers.
Have you taken funding for Quno?
Our parent company is Silver Rail Technologies, a global transport systems company, and has a wealth of experience in this area.
We have taken $9.5m in Series A funding from some top table VCs in the US.
Why decide to launch in the UK first?
We are using the UK as a launch platform for the B2C website due to the size of the UK rail sector, which is worth around £6bn per year.
This is also a platform from which we can expand into the European market – worth £60bn.
The UK rail sector is also relatively complex, which means that if we can make it work in this country, if will work anywhere.
What are the major challenges in creating a rail comparison website?
The sheer amount of data represents a challenge. There are 250m different fare combinations in the UK. Creating a simplified interface for users from these options is the challenge.
We’ve done this by only showing the cheapest available fares in each category and dividing the results into flexible and non-flexible tickets.
How long was the design and development process?
The site took us six months to develop and build, and was all created in house.
It was really important for us to build the site from the ground up. It’s easy to use existing systems to present a series of fares, but the challenge is to make it easy for customers to understand and choose the fares they want.
We also ran a beta test of the website for several weeks, which led to a number of adjustments based around user feedback.
How have you been marketing the site?
We are also looking to exploit opportunities with paid search, such as search terms related to routes and destinations.
Where are you looking to be with Quno in 12 months?
We want to be able to offer services on mobile, as well as rail travel across Europe. We’re looking to attract customers who currently don’t book rail travel online, so we hope to increase the numbers booking online in the UK.