CEODevinDeVries

WhereIsMyTransport is a Google-backed effort to map chaotic transport systems in emerging economies

Just over 10 years ago, Devin de Vries was close to completing his business studies course at the University of Cape Town.

On the hunt for a final thesis topic, and broadly aware he wanted to use technology to improve the quality of life for as many as possible, inspiration soon struck close to home.

"One of my friends had to pay for a shuttle bus to get to his exam," de Vries tells Business Insider, speaking over Zoom from his apartment in Mexico. "I just thought, 'This really shouldn't be so difficult.'"

In many developing countries around the world, public transport infrastructure can vary from unreliable to non-existent, with many forced to depend on private taxi services or friends and relatives with vehicles of their own to get around.

Building on his classmates' experience of Cape Town's transport network, de Vries started to think about how you could build new systems from the ground up, and the integral role data could play their design.

After spending several years refining the idea and assembling a strong line-up of business experts and engineers, the WhereIsMyTransport team relocated to London, where the company was officially incorporated in 2015.

Since then, the firm has effectively mapped 40 cities throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, collecting local transport data and partnering with local authorities to make thousands of routes more standardized and accessible.

"Our mission as a business has been to transform the end-to-end public transport experience for billions of people in these emerging market cities," says de Vries. "Too many people have been forced to depend on unreliable, unpredictable, and often unsafe services."

Impressed with the team's decade-in-the-making endeavor, venture partners at both Google and Toytoa Tsusho Corporation approached WhereIsMyTransport last year – and ultimately contributed to the firm's $7.5 million Series A funding round.

Asked about the prospect of having such big name investors on board, de Vries smiles: "I mean, obviously it feels different, right? There's this sense that the stakes are shifted in some way.

"But at the same time, I also firmly believe in sticking to your knitting. So whether it's a massive company like Google or a much smaller company, we know what we do: We know our value proposition, and we know where we can really make a difference.

"At the end of the day, it comes down an alignment of vision, and we were lucky to find that with both Google and Toyota Tsusho Corporation."

In the present, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause unrest around the world, de Vries is thinking about how he can turn his firm into a truly "remote-first" operation.

"If we are moving into a 'new normal', then you have to be thinking not just about how you'll survive it, but thrive," he says. "We want to eventually become a completely 'weightless' organisation, so to speak, in which we can source all the best talent from around the world, regardless of where they're located.

"As far as opportunities go, that's definitely one of the upsides of this situation."

This article was first published by Business Insider on the 2 September 2020. 

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