The brains behind the interactive rail planning app, Interrail Planner, recently announced their expansion into the Japanese market, with Japan Rail Planner. Jack MacHugh is one of the co-founders of the site (along with Interrail Planner, Eurail Planner and founder of 50 Pound Social) and a member of Avenue HQ East Parade. We spoke to the busy entrepreneur about how it all started, current plans for the business and all things (ping-pong) at Avenue HQ.
The Light Bulb Moment
The initial idea for Interrail Planner came to light during Jack’s first year of university. To celebrate finishing first year, Jack and friends decided to go interrailing, a rite of passage for many young Brits. But sitting at their kitchen table with countless laptops, maps and spreadsheets, trying to calculate everything from the travel route, to which hostel to stay in each night, proved a near impossible task. Jack and his now co-founder looked at each other and thought that there must be a better way to do this, “we thought we could probably make a website that would put all of those things together”.
From Kitchen To Reality
With the initial concept of Interrail Planner discussed, Jack, and his co-founder, entered an entrepreneurial competition that secured support from a mentor. Despite not winning the Dragon’s Den style competition, a legitimate business plan was created. “He (the mentor) helped us with the initial idea, it allowed us to get a really solid business plan” giving the pair a clear vision of how they could make their dream a reality.
Initially the product was developed with little success, money was lost and the user experience was lacking the detail needed to deliver the core aim of the app, a website that helps you plan and book everything for an Interrail trip. However, through a previous business relationship, a new developer was secured, leading to the launch of the Interrail Planner in 2016. Three years later they have maintained a successful relationship, contributing to the development and success of the apps that followed, Eurail Planner (aimed at non-Europeans) and now, Japan Rail Planner.
The overall objective for the business is to become the go-to for all things rail planning. So after Europe, it made sense to go for somewhere that is becoming increasingly popular for rail travel, Japan. “Japan is huge at the moment, it’s becoming more and more popular. They have the Olympics next year, and people love going all year round, especially during the blossom season.” This led to the development of the Japan Rail Planner. To prepare for the launch, a research trip was a must, with plenty of ramen, sushi and sake on the menu (read more about the trip on their blog). After spending 3 weeks travelling from Tokyo to Hiroshima (and everywhere in between), the project was launched in March 2019. It’s now a key focus, particularly marketing the site and getting the word out to the public, “We want to grow through content marketing, including the blog, we’re working on that!”
With all three projects on the go, Jack says he and his co-founders are keen to improve the core product, as any updates can be applied to all three sites, meaning all users will benefit. However, there are plans to expand in the future, with China and Korea in sight.
Discovering A Community
Before moving to Avenue HQ, Jack tried working from home, but found the experience rather lonely. Jack revealed that the opportunity to be part of the Avenue HQ community is one of the main benefits to his membership. “The staff are great and I’ve built a proper friendship group, which you really lack as an entrepreneur sometimes”. Having East Parade Social and The Rooftop a few steps away from his desk doesn’t hurt either…
Finding A Balance
Being a busy entrepreneur, it’s important for Jack to have flexibility in his life so he can effectively juggle his workload. Being a member at Avenue HQ, Jack sets his own working hours, favouring a later start and a few more minutes in bed (missing the rush hour traffic is also a plus!).
If you could give a piece of advice to new members, what would it be?
Get practising ping-pong. It’s a great way to meet people, but the competition can get serious!
It’s 5 o’clock on a Friday, what are you ordering at the bar?
A Camden Pale Ale, it’s a good beer and goes down nicely.
We’d like to thank Jack for taking the time to chat to Team AHQ, explore his businesses now:
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