[Hold on there fellow gearheads, there may be some validity in this statement 😃 ]
By Jeff Daum, Ph.D., PPA Photojournalist, Technology & Product Analyst
Interview with Justin Rees (JR), Founder & CEO Ride Systems, Kelly Rees (KR), President Ride Systems, and Ilya Rekhter (IR), CEO DoubleMap.
Backstory: Ride Systems and DoubleMap had just merged at the time of this interview, bringing together two companies with a proven track record of providing safe, fact-based real-time information on transportation alternatives for getting from point A to point B. This includes public transit and on-demand (Uber, Lyft etc.) transit. The combined data bases comprise public transit riders, corporations (employee vans), airports, universities and hotels. While now operating under one holding company, both will maintain their respective brick and mortar headquarters. Both companies have a free app (Ride Systems and DoubleMap GPS) allowing the user to see alternatives available to get from A to B either entirely on one service or in combination, along with real-time indication of when the option will be at a specific location.
JD Let’s start with a statement by you Justin: “Our services offer a quantum leap forward enabling everybody to say good-bye to privately owned cars soon.” Would you please put that in perspective?
JR Timing is everything, millennials are delaying the purchases of large items, cars and houses for example. They also want to live in big urban areas. So, they are already forgoing owning multiple cars or even any car, for more liberating options. The other side of that is that you are seeing even the automakers get into the services business. They want to be mobility companies. As you saw at CES, big companies are investing heavily in autonomous cars, sensors, and smart cities. Those companies are trying to shift from being a commodity producing company into service and mobility sector.
So, you are seeing transportation sharing options greatly increasing and providing short, medium and long-range alternatives, from scooters to ride share, to on demand to public transit.
IR To piggy back on what Justin is saying, it starts with that family that has one car and thinking about buying a second car, the easier we can make it for them to ride public transit and not need to buy the second car, the more it will continue trending that way. Then you take it and make it more personalized with more options including public transit, and combine in one place, and easy to use app, those options to get from point A to point B and more and more people will use it.
JR So why do people hesitate to use the other modes of transportation? It’s the lack of confidence in public transit, for example, where is it? Will it ever get here? How long do I have to wait? All those questions prevent people from feeling comfortable in using public transit. You have to have confidence in it to want to use it. Same thing is true for other alternatives, such as scooters or bikes, on demand cars- you gain confidence if you know where it is and how long you have to wait for it.
Having the information available to them is where we come in. We own the data in that middle market, we are in seven hundred plus locations. We provide real time information for public transit and other modes of transportation. Big cities, small cities, corporations, medical centers, universities. As a result, we have scooter companies, car sharing companies and automotive companies come to us and say since you are already in all of these places if we team up, instead of launching in just a few select places, we can deploy on a large scale using your existing network and contracts with the cities.
JD: Is your audience the same for the public transit as it is for on demand rides?
IR For us it started with the transit riders, but now they can see in the same app, a mesh network to get from point A to point B, an alternative means to cover the distance from where they live to the bus, or from the bus to their ultimate destination, or even not to take the bus at all but one of the other options.
JD But will the individual who uses an Uber or Lyft, now decide because of your app, to use public transit? What is the incentive?
IR Perhaps seeing there are clear options that can save money, particularly if time isn’t critical. The ride share companies are interested in being part of our app to get more ‘eyeballs’ to see their services. Also, it depends on what a particular city has in terms of arrangements with different ride share companies. If they have agreements with for example, both Uber and Lyft, then both would be part of our app for that city.
JD Are taxis favorable to your app?
IR Using Dallas as an example, the city has brokered a deal with Uber and Lyft, as well as the taxis. That is a differentiation for our service, we don’t take a position pro one service or another. The taxis in Dallas have our software in their cars, so they can serve more as an on-demand option.
JR The option comes down to the confidence, do I take a scooter to get to the bus, take an Uber to get to the bus, or walk to the bus. Do I even want to take a bus, is there another option to get downtown? They will find all those options through our app. We have the platform where all those options can be made available. It is all about options, giving the people options to choose from, the freedom to choose how they want to do it. Of course, with your own car, you can hop in it and go where and when you want, but you have the cost of the car, getting there, garaging or parking it, etc. If you don’t have a car, the perception has been that you don’t have freedom. We provide that freedom.
Of course, it will take some time, but people are already doing it- the millennial crowd is already doing it. We think people are anxious to find a better way to get around. Traffic is as bad as it has ever been, parking and the cost of owning a car is going up, as is the related stress. These technologies of making people comfortable to use alternative modes of transportation will help alleviate a lot of that stress.
JD You had mentioned the OEMs are interested in it. Of course, they are focused on the shift in buying habits and have started offering their own alternatives. You have Volvo, Lincoln and Cadillac offering new types of quick leases, no obligation, easy swap from one model to another and totally inclusive monthly payments covering the car, the insurance, maintenance and swap potential. For example, Volvo I think is $500 per month to virtually any qualified individual where they offer the option. Is this in competition to your service?
IR That is actually music to our ears, we don’t own any of our vehicles except for our pending start of our Tesla X car share service fleet. The reasons the OEMs are starting these new types of leases is because they want their cars on the road. We have the advantage of offering the use of any of those vehicles as well. It will be a natural complement.
JD But if you own a fleet, won’t you be seen as pushing your cars vs other options?
IR I don’t think it is a question of one or the other, it is a question of providing as many options as possible.
KR Let’s back up a do a little bit of background on the company. That might help paint a picture why it won’t be a big deal. For example, some of our biggest clients are big corporations, closed campuses, etc. They are the perfect place to start the car share aspect of our business, a specific program for a specific client.
IR For example, where a client may have a fleet of several hundred vehicles and thousands of employees, they can use our app to create on demand vs scheduled rides.
JR Another example, for a client in a big city, we are able to merge all different types of transportation modes (short, medium and long range) and make them available to their employees in one app. Instead of the client having to go to each of the services and try and negotiate and integrate, we do that for them. Cities are hard to get into on large scale because of the bid process and because cities have little incentive to share information with the specific companies in their area. Because of this we are already involved with a lot of these cities, we offer our clients and strategic partners that connection. That ranges from tracking buses and shuttles for commuters to launching new offerings to the communities members in the area like scooters and car share programs.
JD Let’s segue into details on your app.
KR It is more than an app, it also includes hardware.
JR I look at it as three pillars- the first one is what we are known for, our mobile application. It is free. The second pillar is in the vehicle. In buses, most are a step back in time, with clickers for counting passengers, manually changing the route sign, etc. We install hardware inside the bus that takes over all these functions and frees up the driver to focus on safety and driving. The third pillar is that the hardware we install integrates these functions on the bus and sends real time updates to our servers where we do business intelligence. That is then reflected for example, in our app, showing current position, time to next stop, etc., as well as real time passenger load, a more efficient routing and use of buses.
IR It is really the analysis and use of that data for both the bus (or car company) and user that is key. For example, a user can look at passenger load and decide to take a different bus, or if the next bus has a bike rack installed, or can pick up a person in a wheelchair. While on the bus, they can use the app to order a car to pick them up when they arrive.
We also have numerous capabilities we can build into the onboard equipment, such as badge readers, WiFi capabilities, etc.
JD Where are the buses that you have this technology currently running?
JR For example, Reno, University of Nevada, here in Las Vegas, Arrow Stage Lines, a charter bus service, Houston, Tulsa, really in all 50 states., Guam, Mexico and Australia. We haven’t done a lot of press so it isn’t well known, but we are the single largest provider of this type of technology across the world. Our service sounds like an app, but it is like the tip of an iceberg in terms of the full range of services we provide.
JD Would you talk a bit about your new roles now as a merged organization of your two companies?
JR Merging makes a lot of sense from a business perspective. We have been fairly selfless in figuring out what will be best for our employees in both companies, our clients, and how to not disrupt everything. I will be the CEO, Ilya has the same abilities but he also is one of the best guys when it comes to strategies, and numbers and sales and will be President, so that will be his focus, Peter (SerVass) is always about 10 steps ahead of us in looking into the future, he worked very hard on this merger, and will be the strategist. Kelly, her focus will be in marketing and press.
IR We are fortunate in that both companies have very capable and strong individuals. Culture has been very important to us. We have both been self-funded and profitable. This year we are projecting to be an 18 to 19 million dollars revenue company. Basically, blending what DoubleMap and Ride Systems has done really well and making one big win.
JD Do you think you will stay self-funded?
JR We are doing great the way that we are, but if the right opportunity comes along, we won’t turn it down, but we are confident in our ability to do this. This merger enables us to take a risk and really grow the businesses to the next level.
IR The key is that both companies came in with clean balance sheets and profitable. We have the funding to grow organically.
JR So we are open to the option, we don’t want to restrict our growth if the issue is capital.
JD In summary, what would you like to emphasize?
JR Well, we are the largest real time transit information company in the world, no one has as many and as much variety of clients in as many locations as we do.
IR To our existing clients, it is important to know, there is no turnover. We are taking the best from both companies and combining it.
JD You handle a lot of data obviously, what type of security and back up do you have?
JR That’s a really great question. A big and important topic for people. We have secure data centers, AWS with Amazon Web Services, IBM secure data centers, all sorts of redundancy and backups. We take security around personal information very seriously.
JD Anything else you would like to add?
JR We are just thrilled to make this merger finally happen and excited for what it means for the people of our two companies, and for our clients and future clients. The sky is the limit.
IR We are both proverbial garage startups. To grow it to this, we couldn’t be happier. We are going to keep the two (apps) brands independent, but integrate across them as appropriate.
KR Looping back to where you opened this, needing to own a car versus wanting to own a car are two different things. The automotive enthusiast, the hobbyist, the love of driving is different from having to commute from A to B. As the information (transit options) is out there, we believe more and more people will be giving up their cars.
JD It has been fascinating learning the details, and meeting all of you. Thank you for taking the time and sharing your enthusiasm. Continued success!
Copyright 2019 © Jeff Daum