The Next Leg of the Journey: An Inside Look at Busbud’s Vision to Build a More Connected World
Following yesterday’s announcement of the closing of Busbud’s $14M Series B financing, I thought it’d be a great time to look in the rearview mirror and reflect on the progress made by our small but mighty team since our $9M Series A in 2014, as well as look ahead to what’s next on our itinerary!
Busbud was founded in 2011 on three core beliefs:
- Buying bus tickets should be much easier for travellers: Whereas travellers once used paper guides to find bus schedules and queued in long lines at bus stations, a mobile experience could redefine the way we book bus travel. My own experience backpacking in South America was evidence of this. A top-notch mobile experience could also help travellers choose the bus more frequently relative to other travel options, such as flights or trains, but notably also the solo car. In a similar way that Uber or Lyft have redefined the taxi riding experience and increased the appeal of intracity shared mobility, there is an opportunity to attract more travellers to longer-distance shared ground mobility.
- Selling more bus tickets is a good thing for the planet. Bus is among the greenest forms of travel in the world. When you consider that 1 bus can take up to 30 cars off the road, getting more travellers to swap into the bus is one of the best things we can collectively do for the planet. This leads to less CO2 emissions, less pollution, less traffic and less road congestion. Buses emit 0.03 kg of CO2 per passenger-kilometer; this is half that of trains and radically smaller than the amount emitted by cars (0.11) and airplanes (0.18). Also, when bus operators sell more tickets, their occupancy rates increase, their profits grow, and they can make additional investments to upgrade their fleet and customer experience. There is a virtuous circle here. Over time, operators can also be more efficient, serve more routes and increase their numbers of departures. More buses on the road and millions people less in cars, that’s a sustainable proposition.
- Travel is an increasingly mobile and multimodal world. Travellers are roaming the world in new ways. You can book a flight, a hotel and a car ride in less than 5 minutes. Travellers now expect to have all the relevant information at their fingertips. Multi-modality is helping to address that. But one important mode, with millions of departures every week, is too often absent from this travel mix: the intercity bus. It’s time this changed!
Setting the course
Of course, at the time, these were only ideas. To generate some impact for travellers and for the planet, we’d need to build a product that would help and inspire travellers worldwide to take the bus more. Something like a “virtual bus station” that fit in your pocket. But many steps would be required to get there.
We’ve been inspired by Elon Musk, who published two blog posts on Tesla’s incredibly ambitious corporate strategy (Part One in 2006 and Part Deux in 2016), to use a similar framework to take a look at “our road travelled” so far!
While we may not be sending travellers to Mars anytime soon (unless Musk’s colonization plans bear fruit and makes intercity bus travel on Mars possible!), we feel that our work and mission at Busbud is definitely very ambitious and full of world-changing potential. This is especially true if we can help a large number of travellers decide to forego the solo car and ride the bus.
Part one: The first years
When we first had the idea for Busbud, we imagined a mobile bus experience that would allow a traveller to book any bus ticket between two cities, from any bus company, anywhere in the world. To execute on this, we thought we’d simply connect into an existing central database of bus schedules and display that data to users with a great user interface. Reality was a bit more complex. First of all, that central database did not exist. We set out to build it. Here was the plan:
1. Build supply partnerships with top bus operators in the world
First, we’d work to earn trust from the best bus operators worldwide to get access to bus schedules and ticket inventory. We traveled to meet them and learn about their business and challenges. Without solid supply relationships, we wouldn’t be able to build an amazing product experience for users. We collaborated and partnered with bus operators, building our entire business around the intercity bus industry, and progressively established the Busbud team as leading specialists of intercity bus. We also showed our partners that we could increase their bus ticket sales by driving incremental demand, especially from international travellers.
2. Maintain the largest database of intercity bus schedules worldwide
With solid relationships established, we’d start data integration. We built connectivity to each bus operator’s backend system to gain real time access to their ticket inventory. We understood that each operator had different systems, hardware, business logic and context; one size rarely fit all. We managed the reality that API documentation and technical integration processes will be in many different languages. We geolocalized tens of thousands of stations and stops to assist our customers. We harmonized data formats and developed an internal data standard to store and regularly update millions of bus routes, departures and prices – all of them in constant change.
3. Develop a site and app to make these schedules accessible on the go
We’d start with a website, which would be easier to build on given our team’s strengths. We studied demand patterns and demonstrated that many international travellers are interested in booking bus tickets remotely (ie. not at the bus station on the day of, or often not yet physically in the country). We wired up the site to update millions of prices and departures in real-time. We proved that our business operations could support the journey of travellers, from ticket availability and confirmation up until the moment they board the bus. We developed excellent and friendly customer support, to make as if a friend was travelling with you and helping you out along the way (ie. the “bud” in Busbud!). We also packaged all of this into a simple mobile app for smart travellers.
Over this period, we built a platform that enables global travellers to shop and book intercity bus tickets on over 1.3 million bus routes worldwide from over 1,300 bus companies in 16,000 cities across 75+ countries, available in 11 languages and supporting transactions in 30 currencies.
Of course, the journey was not always a straight line, and there have been many surprises, roadblocks and challenges along the way, but our team has carried on, fuelled by their commitment and passion to build a better experience for bus travellers worldwide.
Part Two: What’s next
Part one took about five years to execute on and scale to critical mass. Here is our plan for the next 5 years:
1. Expand internationally to cover all the bus routes in the world
We want to enable the world’s travellers to easily book a ticket on any bus anytime, anywhere. While our coverage is now abundant in North America, Europe and Latin America, there are still many countries in these regions that we are working to expand our coverage in. In these regions, we will work to continue to add new carriers and routes in countries we serve, so that travellers always have the best options for their trip. In 2017, we launched our first routes in Asia and Africa, but have much more work to make sure there is deep coverage across these two large continents.
2. Redefine the mobile-first bus travel experience
As travellers are now always on the go, their bus ticket booking experience needs to be able to keep up. We’ve seen the popularity of mobile for bus booking, which accounts for the majority of our customers’ searches. We will continue to develop a world-class mobile experience that will lead the market, by allowing users to compare all bus travel options in one glance in as many countries as possible. We will keep building a set of new digital features that will make travellers happier than ever to take the bus. This includes enhanced destination search based on your trip, customization of the trip based on traveller preferences, easier and more varied payment options, seat selection where possible, notifications along your bus ride and recommendation of in-destination travel options. We’ll make it fun, fast and easy to choose the bus.
3. Make the journey seamless by collaborating with bus companies
Search and booking are important, but your journey itself in the bus matters as well – a lot. We are in the middle of a bus renewal. Bus operators around the world are investing massively in their fleets. Many have added wi-fi and electrical plugs, increased seat comfort and legroom, offered new discounts, and expanded their routes and bus services following the deregulation of the intercity bus market in many countries. All of this to create a comfortable trip and a productive environment for travellers, all with the safety of a professional driver (ie. more peace of mind than ride-sharing). We want to expose all of these amenities so users can make the most informed choice. E-ticketing has rightfully gained popularity from bus operators in the past years, and we will work with bus companies so that passengers have the smoothest boarding possible. We will actively work to support our bus partners who are innovating to improve the end-to-end experience, from search to arrival. We will also continue to collect customer reviews that will allow travellers to leave feedback on various aspects of their bus experience for the benefit of other consumers, and help bus operators make service improvements. We are in this together: we want every bus ride to be amazing.
4. Make intercity bus part of the online travel industry
The online travel industry has been focused in the past two decades mainly on flights, hotels and tours, and a few other related categories (cruises, rental cars, etc). Intercity ground transport is a missing link in the product ecosystem. Having assembled the most comprehensive supply pool in the world, Busbud can now play a role to help large online travel agents (OTAs) offer bus ticketing. We’ve already launched our API and Busbud Business service, which gives partners access to our API for both search and booking. We will continue to work with innovative travel industry players to increase the visibility of the bus category. This will help to expose to a larger audience the bus as a convenient, low-cost and green travel option in a multi-modal world.
5. Move mobility forward
The transportation sector is on the verge of major technology-driven changes, evidenced by the rise of transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Lyft and Uber. Much of this innovation to date has focused on shorter distances. There have also been major advances in technology for autonomous and electric vehicles. For instance, large electric vehicles already have a wide range, given reduced constraints for battery space. Autonomous buses are already in production and being tested in several markets around the world. As the world urbanizes at an ever faster rate and the demand for transportation grows, the current infrastructure becomes congested. There’s then a need for cheap, spacious, energy efficient passenger solutions which can be rolled out quickly. We know buses are one of the best tools to meet those demands. Many new trends are also emerging, such as algorithmic routing, dynamic pricing and curbside pickup, which will open up many new travel possibilities for travellers. We’re excited help facilitate technological advancement across the board in this sector to do our part in shaping a connected, sustainable world.
Busbud is at the nexus of ground transport and shared mobility. We are powering millions of bus journeys, and will power many millions more in the coming years. We will continue to play our part to help people easily choose bus transportation and save the planet, by making the bus more accessible and easier than ever.
I want to sincerely thank our thousands of bus partners, as well as all of our customers, for their trust along the journey. We will continue to work hard to earn it everyday. Thanks to our incredible team for their passion and commitment. We will continue together to drive towards our shared goals.
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