#Asia Israeli 19-year-old’s bus-share startup is scaling fast


SmartBus gives private bus drivers a chance at extra riders and cash, possibly beating inefficient bus companies to new opportunities

Public transportation, even in countries that have poured considerable resources and attention into the industry, will always have its drawbacks. It’s not a sector that attracts major analytical attention or constantly incorporates best business practices. Some bus lines won’t cover stops that would bring more business while others might have too many stops placed too close to each other, making trips longer and burning fuel.

That’s where a service like SmartBus comes in. Piggybacking off the success of the world’s Ubers, it is an app and platform designed especially for bus-goers and drivers.

The concept works in a similar way, but the market is definitely different. It’s not anyone with a car who can benefit from it. A number of large and small bus companies — often times individuals who make money escorting day trips around tourist areas — will have services for small groups on mini buses or shuttles. In touristy countries like Israel, that can sometimes mean wide gaps between actual driving, such as dropping off a group at 9 AM and picking them up at 6 PM.

“Instead of making phone calls and the back and forth, we’ve built a system that connects all of the drivers, private drivers and companies. Put in your details like an airline comparison site and find the most relevant bus for you,” the company’s marketing chief Aharon Zeff tells Geektime.

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Right now, the service is fully deployed in Israel and finished a round of beta testing in California.

“We’re not building an Egged,” Zeff says, referring to one of Israel’s larger bus companies, “but an Uber or Gett for private buses.”

The service sounds more akin to Gett since it calls on people in the bus industry to get more customers, rather than re-appropriating services to laypeople like Uber does. The app is a boon for those drivers who could pick up some extra cash if they find themselves with nothing else to do during a long layover in a tourist-attracting city.

“There’s a lot of inefficiency happening in the bus industry and we’re trying to fix that. Most of the time between 10 am and 5 pm drivers don’t do anything. This creates optimisation during dead hours in getting more rides.”

The benefits for customers should be obvious. You are able to book a driver while comparing rates, something that hasn’t really existed for the minibus and shuttle industry. It also makes clearer the sort of options medium-sized groups have. In Zeff’s words, a group of 10 teenagers could hire someone to drive them all to the beach directly, cutting down on bus time.

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A truly young startup

What’s unique about this isn’t necessarily the concept but the fact that the company’s Founder Yishai Cohen is only 19 and dropped out of high school last year to work on the company.

As the Founder told Geektime back in March, “I noticed that my school lost hundreds of thousands of shekels every year on bus rides and I wanted to understand why it was so expensive and how it might be possible to improve the market and draw investment.”

While there is a large travel industry in Israel, especially on the weekends, there is a bit of disruption here. It can force drivers to push down their prices in order to get those customers.

SmartBus is competing with the classic model of major transport companies with a new tech-based approach that allows for a direct link [from customers] to drivers,” Cohen went on to say. “They optimise their schedule and let us offer prices around 30 per cent or 40 per cent on every trip.”

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Data business?

One of the hidden benefits here might be in the potential as a data business. As someone living in a Jerusalem suburb that needs to reach his in-laws in another suburb fairly often, my family and I have to take two buses or one bus and a shuttle in both directions during hectic hours on Friday afternoon and Saturday night.

If SmartBus is tracking its orders, it can see which direct routes might have a large number of customers and potentially sell that to bus companies. However, that may require a bit more work on the development side since the app doesn’t yet link like-minded riders to pool for the same ride.

“We’ve been thinking about that,” Zeff says, but for now that’s something that has to be organised on the side. “If you would find those extra people, we can charge all of you separately. But our app doesn’t connect two people who don’t know each other.”

One can only hope.

The company, which recently participated in Ramat Gan’s smart city competition, was founded in 2014 by Yishai Cohen. It is in the early stages of raising a Series A round and currently employs seven people. It is looking at testing its service in South America, Europe, and Asia.

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The article Israeli 19-year-old’s bus-share startup is scaling fast first appeared on Geektime.

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