How WhereIsMyTransport Found Product-Market Fit: Startup Autopsy (Part I)

The question, “What is a startup?” is oft-asked and in these parts of the world, the debate tends to end up with people arguing about whether we have startups or if they are mostly SMEs. We decided to take it upon ourselves and cover some startups from the SADC region in order to help make…

The question, “What is a startup?” is oft-asked and in these parts of the world, the debate tends to end up with people arguing about whether we have startups or if they are mostly SMEs. We decided to take it upon ourselves and cover some startups from the SADC region in order to help make it clearer what a startup is, what the business models and markets look like along with reflecting on how startups raise money and how that affects shareholding. 

The first of such startups we chose to analyse is WhereIsMyTransport. We chose them in particular because unlike most startups operating in Africa, their registration in the UK meant we could take a closer look at their financial statements and thus have a clearer understanding of the business and shareholding. 

Our coverage of WhereIsMyTransport will be a three-part series looking at

 i) How a startup finds product-market fit and the right business model,

 ii) how the shareholding of a startup evolves over time and

 iii) what went wrong for the company?

Finding a market

WhereIsMyTransport was a mobility software as a service startup that ran from 2015-2023, providing public transport data for emerging markets but has a storied history that captures many of the nuances of a startup’s journey. Initially, WhereIsMyTransport was offering an application called Findmyway which allowed commuters to choose between all available routes and public transport options, simply by entering their destination. The app was based on live data from transport operators within the cities WIMT was functional and would offer users alternative routes and transport options arranged by cost or travel time.

“For us, it started off as a university project and what we wanted to achieve was allow people to move from A to B as easily and quickly as possible.”

Devin Devries (co-Founder) [UCT Upstarts talk]

In late 2015, the company opened its London office citing that this location would allow them to connect with a global client base more easily. Interestingly, many startups have left their home jurisdictions to register outside as there are more opportunities afforded them there. 

In our analysis of the VC firm Launch Africa, we noted that one of the factors considered by the firm is that a startup be incorporated in countries that Launch Africa describes as “investor-friendly jurisdictions.” The UK is one of the countries that Launch Africa highlighted as being investor friendly so it’s no surprise that a startup like WIMT would make that move as it signals to investors that they are operating in a safer environment and their co-founder alluded to this;

“Having an international base for operations makes it easier for us to reach other cities outside Africa and gives us the resources, credibility and access to venture capital needed to compete on a global scale.”

Devin de Vries [Disrupt Africa]

Mapping out the market size for WhereIsMyTransports offerings was a bit difficult due to not having enough information regarding the countries and cities within which the startup was operating in. In their pitch deck from 2020, WIMT was pitching a total addressable market (TAM) of 2 billion people in “emerging market cities”. Outside of the larger TAM figures we can get a sense of some of the market dynamics looking at a country like South Africa. A 2021 survey showed that as many as 10.7 million individuals were making use of taxis (commuter omnibuses and public transport) on a weekly basis, with around 35% of workers using public transport. There was a sizeable market and WIMT often briefed that they expected it to grow as more people got connected online.

Competitions & Accelerators

GrindstoneSkill transfer,networking, Funding (undisclosed)2015
South African Climate Solver Awards“Increased national and international profile”2015
Global Grand MobiPrizen/a2015
Global Urban Innovatornetworking2017

In 2016 the quest for product-market fit (PMF) continued and WhereIsMyTransport launched a new TransitAPI. This was described as an “open information platform that collates transit data for formal and informal services and combines it with analytics capability and communication tools.” By this time, WIMT had pivoted from serving the B2C (business-to-consumer) market to B2B (business-to-business) as use cases for potential buyers expanded;

  • support the development of journey-planning applications for websites and smartphones, fare estimators,
  • analytics for more informed infrastructure investment and city planning,
  • messaging capabilities to help optimise journeys affected by delays and cancellations.

Beyond the pivot, the startup had also expanded from just serving South African cities to also providing data on multiple cities within the continent Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania.

An important highlight here was that WIMT went through 3 pivots before finding product market fit:

  1. An app for consumers,
  2. Developing products for transport operators in order to provide operational insights,
  3. An open API that allowed companies and developers to build transport solutions using the data provided.
  4. Location data that captured points of interest like retailers, food sellers and indoor mapping of pathways and levels at public transport exchanges.

Naturally, all this begs the question of what these solutions look like in the real world. One example was Rumbo (a white-label mobility app) built for customers in Mexico City. The application allowed users to plan their daily commute along with providing real-time alerts on elements that could affect the status of routes – incidents like protests/accidents etc. The executives at WhereIsMyTransport claimed that the people using the app were getting, “24 minutes of commuting time back every week.”

An example of WIMT’s work in the B2B sector comes from Sarajevo, Bosnia. WhereIsMyTransport helped WSP (an engineering firm) with a due diligence report the city needed in support of an infrastructure investment loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). WIMT established that 75% of trips on the city’s minibuses weren’t completed due to a lack of available fleets. Citizens were waiting for as long as an hour and still not getting service. The startup used local data collectors to map existing public transport routes in the city. WhereIsMyTransport says the data provided the engineering firm with the insight it needed to help the city secure the loan and improve its public transit system.

WhereIsMyTransport also noted that their work had been used by retailers who use the location and mobility data to ensure that delivery drivers always use the most efficient routes or planning store locations to ensure they are as “close as possible to where their future customers go.”

Lastly, the startup was also selling location data that they marketed as being significantly more accurate than what people could get from other location data providers. In the southern African context, this is plausible as retailers/merchants aren’t consistently adding their stores to platforms like Google Maps.

The fact that WhereIsMyTransport was hiring teams of local data collectors to map and collate data like bus stops, shops, wifi points etc means their data would be more comprehensive and valuable than what’s on offer from most competitors.

Once you note that informal networks are the ones that most other players in this field are missing, you start to get an idea of just how unique the data WhereIsMyTransport would have been. It also goes a long in explaining why a company like Google was interested in and invested in WhereIsMyStartup’s Series A funding round in 2020.

Funds raised, accelerators and awards

AmountFunding typeInvestor(s)Date
$900,000AngelInfotech, Horizen Ventures, Goodwell Investments etc2015
$1,536,000SeedGoodwell Investments,Omidyar Network, Horizon Ventures etc2016
$712,000Global Innovation Fund2017
$810,000Goodwell Investments, Bombardier2017
$7,500,000Series AGoogle, Toyota Tsusho Corp, Liil Ventures, Nedbank etc2020
$14,500,000Series A extensionNaspers Foundry, Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund, SBI Investment, Wuri Ventures and Capria Ventures2021

*In the next article in this series – we’ll map out how the funds raised affected shareholding and the level of dilution for the founders after each deal…

Revenue & expansion into new markets…

As alluded to earlier, WIMTs registration in the UK meant the company had to provide certain information to be compliant which gives us a rare glimpse into the financials of a startup which wasn’t listed on any stock exchanges. This revenue position gives us insight into things like expansion and key markets.

After raising it’s clear that expansion into other markets ensued. Between 2018 and 2021 WhereIsMyTransport was receiving revenue from other markets and from 2019 onwards Africa stopped being the biggest revenue contributor for the startup. Taking a glimpse at the startup’s pitch deck, a number of key metrics are revealed in regard to this expansion. By 2020, WIMT had mapping data on 40 cities in 27 countries and two years later the startup was in 50 cities. The startup’s pitch deck also reveals that they had over a million users across their white label apps and B2B offerings.

From their financial statements, we managed to figure out just how lean WhereIsMyTransport was running regarding staff and wages. Between 2016 and 2019 they had 4-5 permanent employees on the books. These employees were labelled as working in the startup’s executive, technology and business development in the financial reporting. It is important to note though that in another interview the founder did express that the startup had 130 employees around the globe which suggests that maybe these may have been contract workers as they were never cited in the financial statements.

Prior to the pandemic, the revenue was trending on an upward trajectory and it seems as though the cost of delivering the service was a fraction of the revenue being generated. In a post-COVID world, this picture changed drastically and this is the section we will analyse in more detail in our last article in this series. Up next though we will look at how shareholding evolved once the startup started accessing external funding…

Farai Mudzingwa Avatar