Startup Diaries from Portugal: Finding a Niche in a Recession Market

Judith Asamoah explains how she found a gap in the market in crisis-rocked Portugal and went on to co-found the country's first professional car sharing service.

Lisbon, autumn 2010: I had the feeling something had to change! After working several years as a coach advisor for teachers at German schools abroad I was looking for a new challenge.

I knew Portugal quite well already, having lived in Lisbon since 2005. I had been observing the political and economic developments noticing the small symptoms of the emerging crisis:

-There were several nice, but little, shops I had loved and become familiar with which suddenly had to close.

- While doing my every day shopping I often overheard talk between customers mentioning the difficulties to pay their bills due to the increasing VAT etc.

One of those days, my now co-founder Stephanie Gérard and I were sitting at the seaside just around the corner of Lisbon.

We were discussing Portugal's status quo. So many people seemed to be somewhat paralysed, unable to develop a creative idea...

I didn't want to wait for better, 'post-crisis times' but had the will to set a new goal. Stephanie felt the same.

We had decided to have a brainstorming afternoon. So, we were searching for a substantial, new idea! It had to be something fresh, fun and cool on one hand but should have a secure future too. According to the economic situation, it should be something useful for people being forced to count their costs. 

We suddenly thought; "Why don't we create a car-sharing service? There are no professional car-sharing service in Portugal yet!"

We started researching and observing existing car-sharing services abroad; comparing them, examining the pros and cons. The next step was to invest in a professional market research.

One thing I had already learned by that time is: Never underestimate the time you need to get things going! That is to say, if you depend on third parties you should always calculate more time until you will receive what you've ordered. 

The result of the study was extremely positive. Encouraged, Stephanie and I started to develop a highly sophisticated 24 hour car-sharing service that includes every square inch of Portugal. Easy to book, save and personalise.

I wouldn't have imagined how many aspects there are to developing an online business.

You have to think of several different scenarios and alway try to be ' your own customer'. It's exciting, fascinating but also demanding!

Full of enthusiasm to start our business straight away, we then began bootstrapping to get financed. We first presented our business idea to friends and family, followed by a large number of banks, plus an endless list of potential investors and seed investors. They all considered it smart and fun, coming just at the right moment to crisis-rocked Portugal.

But as for banks, friends and family the startup costs were too high and investors thought the business itself looked small. This is when we decided to try crowd-funding our project on indiegogo!

We are convinced that it's worth the effort, and we do have the will to fight for it, but we know we'll need the support of the real big crowd!

With we will help the Portuguese people both to save money and to help the environment - we really hope we will succeed!

Judith Asamoah was born in Berlin, but her parents' work as doctors meant that the family moved to Ghana, where they lived for a couple of years. Returning to Germany, Judith went to school and then decided to move to Hamburg to study politics, social sciences and educational studies at Hamburg University. Portugal has always been one of her favourite countries in Europe and in 2005 Judith decided to move to Lisbon - one of the most beautiful cities she knows - where she has launched Portugal's first professional car sharing service,

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