Start-Up Stories: Virtuo

After co-founding a hugely successful car sales platform in France, Karim Kaddoura set out to build a car rental platform that operated entirely through the use of technology, this is the story of Virtuo.

Tell us about your business, what does it do?

Virtuo is the new generation of car rental. Built out of frustration, we have designed a car rental service from the ground up that is 100% mobile. Every step is carried out through the Virtuo app, from booking and unlocking the car, all the way down to the damage report and customer service.

Our technology means that when you rent a car, you go straight to the vehicle you actually booked, no queues, no hassle, and you can be quickly on your way!

What did you do before you started this business?

Before Virtuo I co-founded neowebcar, a car sales platform in France. The service became France’s leading car sales provider before being acquired in 2014. This experience gave me a fantastic grounding in the mobility world and only increased my desire to explore it further.

What inspired you to start up?

Our passion was born out of our own frustration when renting cars: hidden fees, limited opening hours, long queues at pick-up and returns, etc. The industry is known for its bad customer satisfaction and constant customer complaints, with social media now a battlefield for the industry. The last few years have brought limited changes as wait times and problems with pick-ups and returns have continued to increase. We felt that there was an opportunity to build a car rental service built 100% on technology that would make the process much more seamless and smoother.

How would you describe your business to your grandma?

Virtuo uses technology to take all the pain points out of traditional car rental. You can rent a car just by using your phone which means there are no queues and no hassle.

Where do you get advice, support or help?

I am lucky to come from a family of entrepreneurs which has always been a source of inspiration for me. My father is in particular an important role model and I still go to him whenever I need “external” advice. I also count a lot on my business partner Thibault, with whom I started my previous company as well. We continuously support and challenge each other which allows us to always move forward!

Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?

Virtuo was created to counteract traditional car rental pain points, including time wasted at the counter, hidden fees, and car model not being guaranteed. Those pain points are pretty evident and self-explanatory for most people and so it wasn’t particularly difficult to convince people around us of the value of our solution. This was particularly helpful at the start as it allowed us to raise a first round of seed funding with some investor angels and family and friends.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

London and the UK are a strategic market for us so one of my proudest achievements was launching Virtuo in London which was a huge milestone for the business. As one of the most competitive car rental markets in the world, we are delighted to see how well received Virtuo has been in London. Having launched in five locations last July (St Pancras, Victoria, Waterloo, Kensington, and Marble Arch) we have doubled-down on expansion. Since last summer, we have expanded our service to five other London locations (Stratford International, Shepherd’s Bush, London Bridge, Liverpool St and Earl’s Court) and Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3. London is the biggest car rental market in Europe; its low car ownership and its young, tech-oriented population make it the perfect market for us and we are hoping it will be even bigger than Paris for us one day!

Additionally, we launched in Manchester and Edinburgh this month, with more locations to follow later this year.

How do you differentiate your business from others?

From a customer perspective, we wanted to tackle the issues of using traditional car rental services; from long queues and up-sells, to ambiguous paperwork and receiving a car you never actually booked. Through technology, we are able to find solutions to all of these issues. With our 100% mobile car rental, you go directly to the car you actually booked, and everything is carried out in-app, including the damage report.

From a business perspective, car rental has never been built from a 100% mobile angle. This means that we can operate in a way not seen in the market before. Our technology allows us to innovate and launch features not traditionally expected of car rental; from pop-ups and delivery to one-way rentals, we have a lot of exciting innovations coming soon.

What’s it like to be your own boss?

It’s a great learning experience! While you have a lot of freedom and can make big decisions, there’s a lot of responsibility you place on yourself to make the business succeed. It’s key to make sure that you surround yourself with loyal partners and employees who can help you as well as challenge you.

Where do you see your business in 5 years’ time?

With Virtuo we want to radically transform mass market extra-urban transportation. We are building a new way for city dwellers to experience cars for extra-urban trips. We will bring the consumer closer to the latest innovations, increasing their adoption of urban mobility vehicles including electric and autonomous cars.

Above all, we have the ambition to build a strong European business which means being present at most major city centres, airports, train stations and other popular transportation hubs. We are also looking at the US and we have the ambition to be there as well in the next five years.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

For me there are two key bits of advice for young entrepreneurs:

- Don’t be afraid to try things

It is so important from a young age to give things a go, test ideas and see what sticks. I think it is the very best way of learning as long as you fail quickly and always look back at the lessons you learned. There is no harm in testing a MVP (minimum viable product) and going from there.

- Be patient and build your skills

As much as I would encourage any entrepreneurs to try things, I would also encourage a focus on knowledge and skill-set building. The business world moves at an incredible pace and if your idea takes off, you need to have the confidence, knowledge, experience and skills needed to manage it.

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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