Ulmon, the travel app developer behind the popular CityMaps2Go apps, has raised its first round of funding, a seed investment from Global Founders Capital, VC started in 2013 by Oliver and Marc Samwer of Rocket Internet fame and Delivery Hero’s Fabian Siegel. The exact amount was not disclosed but TechCrunch understands it’s under $5 million. Ulmon had 6 million iOS and Android downloads in 2013 and over 10 million since 2010, and up to now had been entirely bootstrapped.
It’s currently cash-flow positive, Florian Kandler, Ulmon’s co-founder and COO, tells me. But Ulmon decided to take funding “to double down and really speed up process of growth. “Seeing how our competitors have taken in funding, we were certain that we had much better chances to keep lead over competitors if we could do the same,” he says. It follows a bigger trend of millions being poured into the travel sector.
Vienna-based Ulmon, founded by self-professed “travel geeks” first as a side project, has been described as Europe’s largest travel startup you’ve never heard of, and for many of you reading this that’s likely to be a fairly accurate assessment. (Little/telling sidenote: I was interested in this story initially because I know that my husband, very much a non-tech type, happens to use the app.)
Kandler says that last year’s 6 million downloads were around four times those of the more high-profile Lonely Planet, and nearly nine times that of Triposo, a venture-backed travel app startup founded by ex-Googlers.
Ulmon’s flagship product, CityMaps2Go, is sold as both a free and paid app, with the bulk of downloads — as you would expect — being of the free version, with people making in-app purchases of $2.99 to unlock unlimited maps and related travel information. (The free version is limited to five destinations.)
CityMaps2Go is at its heart a smart aggregating service. Using basic map data from OpenStreetMap, Kandler says Ulmon created its own IP around certain features, such as its map rendering engine. The key point of this is that it gives you high-quality maps in compressed files that can be used even when you are without a data connection — a key point, considering that the app is aimed at travellers, and they may turn off costly data roaming services when not at home. “That’s our powerful core technology,” Kandler says.
After that, it has also built out a flexible framework to bring in lots of other web data, such as Wikipedia for location history, itineraries through GetYourGuide, local restaurants and sites, and the ability to look up and book hotels via Booking.com.
The latter points to Ulmon’s second source of revenue beyond premium downloads — affiliate fees around other purchased goods and services, which is an area that the startup will develop with its funding. The first stop will be to add more tours and other activities. “We own a lot of eyeballs pre-trip and also on trips themselves,” he says. Combining that with being able to provide context of where people are and what their interests are (based on what they search for in the app), “we know that we can deliver a ‘bookable’ platform,” he says.
That said, what makes Ulmon attractive in this world of in-your-face app promotions is that it has held off from advertising or pushing anything to users in a strong way. “We are not forcing bookables in the face of users, and we have been very conservative, not aggressive. We have chosen to do all of this organically.”
With very little in the way of promotion, Ulmon says that its biggest market for downloads to date is the U.S., with Germany a very close second.