Tom Charman wanted to change the way we travel. This desire led him to co-create KOMPAS, an app designed to enhance the travel experience by recommending food and activities based on one’s personality and interests, rather than price, location or reviews from strangers, as most current travel apps do.
He took his innovation worldwide by representing the United Kingdom at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, hosted by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, in Bangkok in May 2016. What started as a trip to increase awareness for KOMPAS led to a networking opportunity with seasoned entrepreneurs who would later become invaluable mentors to Charman as KOMPAS expanded.
Related: 10 Ways to Find Your Ideal Mentor
“As an entrepreneur, it’s all too easy to bury our worries and let our ego prevent us from asking for help. Seeking advice does not make you weak. It shows that you’re prepared to seek experienced opinions when the time is right.”
He expands on the importance of mentorship in this Q & A below.
Q. Tell me about your business and how it got started.
A. KOMPAS was ideated in Munich in 2014. My co-founder and I faced a problem that’s far too common for people living within a large city: Where should I go? and more importantly, Will I like it? As we’d recently moved to the city, these problems were amplified. After questioning just how many people face this problem, we found that we weren’t the only ones suffering from an information overload. We found that people between the ages of 22 and 30 understand the value of exploration, demanding a level of personalization and customization as they do. The average person spends £200 [approximately $245 U.S.] per week on leisure activities, such as eating out, events and holidays. We wanted to make it easy for these people to explore and find unique and independent places. My own background stemming from startups and innovation, combined with my passion for exploring, would later aid in the creation of KOMPAS, a mobile application that uses our proprietary artificial intelligence engine, to help people find places they want to visit, based on their own, unique interests.
Q. What challenges did you encounter when first growing your business?
A. One of the big problems when first growing KOMPAS, was working out how to connect with local businesses. As a small startup, attracting the attention of established companies in a crowded marketplace was certainly difficult. That said, we were able to overcome this hurdle through the use of social media. We built an online presence, talking about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, before then leveraging our social following to connect with businesses and build partnerships. Today, that readership has grown to more than 26,000.
We also had to think carefully about how we scale our own user base. Any entrepreneur within the mobile app business will tell you that getting the first few hundred people to download your application is the hardest part, but we also wanted to make sure that those downloading it would benefit from what we’re offering. Naturally, our social media presence certainly helped us grow quickly, but it was focusing on particular areas that really helped us grow the user base efficiently and quickly, but in a way that would keep people coming back and checking out new things happening around them.
Q. What personal challenges have you encountered on your entrepreneurial journey?
A. Unsurprisingly, I’ve encountered several challenges in previous ventures that have had an impact on my personal life. Perhaps one that has been particularly important is being able to build a strong team. This is one challenge that has created problems in previous ventures due to a misalignment of the company’s future vision among the team. However, I’ve learned a great deal throughout my entrepreneurial journey, and today building a strong team is something that I take great care in doing.
I’ve also had difficulty balancing my time in the past. With so much to do, it’s easy to forget about having a social life, as well as your friends and those who support you. I’ve found myself getting caught up working long hours, so it will come as no surprise that many of my close friends refer to me as a bit of a workaholic. It’s vital that you have some downtime, to relax, step away from the business and have a chance to think creatively. Find some time to think about other things, as mindfulness is particularly important for entrepreneurs and founders.
Q. What sets your brand apart?
A. There are three elements that set us apart from anyone else currently out there. Perhaps most important is the hyper-personalization that we’re able to achieve using our technology. We’re working on understanding unique personality traits about each individual user before matching them with places nearby that people can relate to. As a result, we’re showing our users places they’re much more likely to enjoy, enhancing their overall journey when using KOMPAS.
We’re also generating our own distinctive and honest content for each city we launch in. Places you find on KOMPAS are unique, independent and local hotspots, and the reviews you read about these places are from people similar to you. We’re the antidote to fake reviews and business directories. The reviews you read are honest and suited to your personality.
The third and final element that sets us apart is our living itinerary. Those who use KOMPAS can plan a whole day, taking into account how long you have, your interests, live city information and directions to generate a unique and tailored living itinerary that adapts to you, for free. KOMPAS is redefining city exploration, and helping you find places you never knew existed, right in your own backyard.
Q. How did you first hear about the Entrepreneurs’ Organization?
A. I first heard about EO while working on a previous venture. It was something I could immediately relate to as I could see the benefit you could gain from sharing experiences and problems with people similar to you. I’ve always been passionate about helping people achieve their goals, which is why I set aside time each week to mentor and meet new people. EO seemed like the sort of place that you could do that. After traveling to Bangkok in 2016 and meeting people from across the globe with different views on startups and entrepreneurship, I realized that EO was something that fit with my own personal motivations.
Q. Why do you think mentors are so vital to success?
A. In my opinion, mentors are vital to success for three main reasons. When considering business, they’re experienced individuals who are able to take an impartial view on what you’re doing day-to-day. They’re able to help you identify problems that might not be obvious to those working closely within the company.
Secondly, they can act as very good sounding boards, when you face problems within your company. The myth of startups constantly being fun, exciting and invigorating is exactly that, a myth. In fact, depression is a problem that exists throughout the world of entrepreneurship. Having someone who you can turn to for advice when things get tough can prevent entrepreneurs from feeling lonely, lost or deflated.
Thirdly, and finally, having a mentor can help your personal level of development. Their experience and understanding can help shape you as an individual, and help you realize what it is that drives you to push forward with what you’re building. That and they can prevent you from making the same mistakes they did when facing similar problems.
Q. How has that experience shaped you as a current mentor?
A. Having mentors who have taken an impartial view to what I’m doing has helped me look through a wider lens, not just in business, but when approaching problems more generally. This is something that I’ve applied when working with my mentees. It can help stimulate creative approaches and novel answers. Equally, acting as a sounding board for other businesses forces me to do the same for my own business, which has helped me see problems in a whole new way.
As a mentor today, I take time to make sure that the team I am working with is in sync, so that they’re able to work together to ideate, build and bring their minimum viable product to market as quickly as possible. As I’ve also specialized within innovation and strategy, I like to make sure that the teams I’m working with are on target, by sounding out strategic plans and go-to-market strategies. As a result, they’re able to meet their objectives quickly and effectively, be that raising a round of investment, creating new partnerships or growing their customer base.
Q. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are looking for a mentor?
Seeking advice does not make you weak, it shows that you’re prepared to seek experienced opinion when the time is right.
A. Firstly, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help! As an entrepreneur, it’s all too easy to bury our worries and let our ego prevent us from asking for help. Seeking advice does not make you weak, it shows that you’re prepared to seek experienced opinion when the time is right. That said, when you do ask for help, it’s important that the person you’re asking has experience in the field you’re seeking advice for. Perhaps equally as important is making sure that you don’t just ask one person. Ask lots of people with experience, as it will help you get a wider opinion, but also builds a network of industry experts around you.
When it comes to finding these mentors, take advantage of networking, events and mutual connections to make introductions for you. Generally speaking, people will always take some time to help you, as long as you’re polite about it. When you’ve built that perfect network of mentors, return the favor by passing on your own knowledge and experience to new people. Start helping people that are in the same position as you were previously, and add value with your knowledge. By doing this, you get a better perspective on how your own mentors view you, which will help you develop both as a mentor and as a founder.
Q. What’s on the horizon for KOMPAS?
A. Well, I’m sure it will come as no surprise that growing our user base is at the top of our agenda, as we scale into new places and build out our product. That said, we’re equally focused on building a fantastic product for our users, which is why improving our algorithms, and the application itself, is also at the core of everything that we do. Over the next 12 months we’re going to be expanding into new cities, developing our team, and building our product. We’re aiming to become the market leaders in city exploration in the next three years, and it’s our understanding of data science and our market that will put us on that path.
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.