On the up · 18 May 2018

Sn-ap: The startup bringing on-demand coach travel to more UK cities

Whilst working at one of the UK’s leading travel companies the founder of Sn-ap, Thomas Ableman, decided to leave his job to build his own business.

Since conjuring up the idea for his inter-city coach travel company whilst at dinner with his wife, he has spent the past couple of years developing Sn-ap.

Business Advice caught up with Ablemen to discuss what makes Sn-ap so unique, his business heroes and future expansion plans.

Who are you and what is your business?

Thomas Ableman, former commercial director of Chiltern Railways. My business, Sn-ap Travel Technology, is a two-sided marketplace connecting intercity travellers with high quality coach operators with surplus capacity.

How did you come up with the concept?

Before joining Chiltern Railways, I was product development director for National Express, so the idea may have been percolating subconsciously for some time. But in effect, the idea came to me one evening, almost fully-formed, whilst having dinner with my wife.

What was key in terms of getting started?

The support of my then boss, Rob Brighouse. I shared the idea with him straight away and instead of telling me I was mad, he said, ‘that’s brilliant, can I put money in it?’. Good to his word, he supplied the first starter investment that got us up and running in 2016.

What makes the business unique?

Sn-ap is the world’s first on-demand, intercity coach network. Running trips only at times when people want them means we can offer prices no national network can match. At the same time were accessing a part of the private hire coach market, with exceptionally luxurious vehicles, ordinarily used only by executives, elite sports teams and rock-stars. After each trip, our customers rate their experience; we then use these ratings to offer new trips to our partner operators, which incentivises them to provide fantastic vehicles and exemplary customer service. Weve transported over 70, 000 people since launch and 9/10 people rate Sn-ap 5-star.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?

Convincing customers we werent a scam. No-one had ever heard of Sn-ap and the choices for intercity travel are pretty well-established. People may not love the rail companies or existing coach operators, but theyve heard of them. In our first few cities, it took a while before thousands of people started travelling.

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Weve expanded our service from our test market in Nottingham, to Bristol, Cardiff and most recently Leicester. And with these results in the bag, weve raised an additional 4.3m of investment, in a round led by ADV and Oxford Capital to fund further expansion. By the summer we expect to have carried 100k+ passengers.

Describe your marketing technique what strategies have you used?

So far weve acquired customers almost exclusively using digital and social media channels. Sn-ap already has over 12k Facebook likes and 1, 200 followers on Instagram. People share our posts with their friends and networks, providing the word of mouth reassurance that is so vital for a new brand, particularly in a high trust sector like travel.

In five years? time, I will be?


 
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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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