When Jonny Simkin was growing up in San Diego, he, like most Americans, relied solely on his car for transportation. So Southern California’s notorious traffic jams were understandably a source of frustration–so much so that it eventually inspired the now-30-year-old to launch Swiftly, a maker of enterprise software used by transit agencies and cities to improve urban mobility.
By integrating with existing GPS devices aboard buses and trains, the company’s software is able to collect real-time arrival and departure data. In addition to helping cities and agencies leverage that data to identify potential chokepoints and breakdowns, Swiftly also supplies data to customer-facing applications like Google Maps in the 45 cities where the company operates, including Boston and Chicago.
“The algorithm basically collects every GPS record from every vehicle in a transit network in real time,” says Simkin. “We then combine historical trends with [the] real-time data to better predict future performance as well as to understand where and when issues occur so that agencies can prevent them from happening again.”
That’s got the corporate investing arms of companies like Ford and Samsung excited, which helped the company raise a tidy $4.45 million in venture funding. Swiftly declined to provide actual revenue numbers, but Simkin noted that the company’s monthly recurring revenue quadrupled between January 2017 and January 2018.
“Most companies I see assume that they should not sell to the government because it’s too hard,” says Xavier Gury, partner at Via ID, a global mobility-focused business accelerator, which chose Swiftly for its first U.S. investment. “Swiftly has been able to demonstrate that it can create a strong business model that quickly scales, while simultaneously forging big partnerships with government agencies or private companies.”
It was 2012 and Simkin had just moved to San Francisco after selling a price comparison analytics program he had built for colleges and universities. One of the biggest adjustments that came with the move was no longer needing his car to get around. “Being car-less is actually one of the most freeing and life-simplifying decisions I have made,” says Simkin. “I find it extremely stress free and relaxing to no longer have to drive and be stuck in traffic. It gives me more time to think about things that are important.”
Of course, there are real drawbacks. Though ideal on paper, public transportation suffers from many inefficiencies, says Simkin.
By 2014, working alongside Michael Smith and William Dayton, Simkin created Swyft, a mobile transit app that functioned much like Waze, the user feedback driven navigation app owned by Google. It combined GPS data and customer reporting to deliver more accurate schedule estimates to its users. But informing passengers that a train is going to be late isn’t as helpful as preventing the train from being late in the first place. So they decided to retool.
The company rebranded as Swiftly, and divided its focus between two products. Swiftly Transitime continues the original mission of keeping passengers informed via their favorite transportation apps. Swiftly Insights gives cities and transit agencies an analytics platform that can be used to identify mechanical failures, improve operational performance, and optimize service reliability.
That dual approach has been key to the company’s growth–particularly since the company’s pricing model is entirely enterprise based. Cities and agencies sign a three- to five-year deal with an annual cost of five to seven figures, depending on the size of their fleet.
“There was a lot of work required–and there still is a lot of work–to develop the data reports and visualizations that cities need to be more efficient,” says Simkin. “Developing these reports as well as adding new data sets and enhanced visualizations is our core focus today.”
Simkin reports good progress so far. Across Swiftly’s customer base, customer complaints and incoming call volume have decreased anywhere between 10 percent to 90 percent. That’s a fairly significant measure of progress, and one that has Simkin feeling confident that Swiftly can expand to thousands of cities in the next five years–that’s, of course, if he can successfully convince people to give up their cars.
That may be a long, uphill battle, but it’s one that Simkin is eager to fight. “We’re building impactful solutions that dramatically improve people’s lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions through more efficient transportation, and reduce congestion,” he says. “There are very few companies that are as focused and as successful as Swiftly at driving global impact.”
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