Back in 2011, Carl Partridge created London’s first live bus timetable app from his bedroom. Some six years – and three million downloads – later, his company, UrbanThings, has released transport apps that serve the whole of the UK and even major cities in Chile and the US.
Since that first app, Partridge has made the “m-ticketing” market the primary focus for UrbanThings, tapping into the almost limitless potential of passenger ticket sales. As the tagline of his most recent product suggests, its about “travelling without tickets”.
Business Advice caught up with Partridge to hear more about the journey so far, and what some of the main challenges are for an app-building startup.
Who are you and what’s your business?
I’m Carl Partridge, founder and CEO of UrbanThings. We’re in the “intelligent mobility” sector which is a fancy way of saying we build apps and platforms to help people get around.
How long have you been around for?
In 2011 I created London’s first live bus times app, “London Bus Checker”, from my bedroom. I bootstrapped the company up from there and around 12 months ago we focused our efforts on transport ticketing, an industry that’s complex, fast-growing and ripe for disruption.
How do you make money?
We take a commission from the charges that people pay for their transport tickets. There are six billion passenger journeys annually in the UK alone, so the global market size is mind-boggling. We’re also proud recipients of UK government funding to build our latest product, “Ticketless”.
What makes you different and why should people take notice?
Imagine travelling around on buses and trains without ever having to fumble around for a ticket, card or cash. We’ve built the technology that powers this, we have a great team to deliver it and we think it’s going to change the way people travel forever.
What was key in terms of getting started?
Being first to market was key to the success of that initial app, but also understanding the passenger journey and providing a user experience that goes the extra mile to be intuitive. There are still way too many bad apps out there – doing it properly takes real thought and effort.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
Shortly after the release of our first paid app, we topped the charts for travel apps in the UK on iPhone and Android – that felt pretty awesome.
What setbacks have you had along the way?
In the very early days of the company, when it was just me, I once released a new version of our most popular app that crashed on launch.
It threatened to bring the entire revenue model crashing down and I had to stay up for around 36 hours solid just to fix it. Fortunately, there are more people and processes in place these days.
In five years’ time, I will be…
…in a position where I can say we’ve done for buses and trains what Uber did for taxis.
What one tip would you give to others starting out?
Believe in your idea, but listen to your customers and don’t be too proud to change it.
Who are your business heroes and why?
James Dyson, simply because he had utter self-belief in his product and risked everything in spite of the knock-backs. If you’re a founder, and your behaviour is looking a little crazy to the outside world, you’re probably on to something. The world needs more people challenging the status quo.
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