Citymapper founder and CEO Azmat Yusuf took the stage today at TechCrunch Disrupt London to talk about the future of cities and Citymapper. Now that the startup works in dozens of cities, it plans to start monetizing in 2017.
While Citymapper is a mobile star in Europe and most people living in big cities are using it every day to use public transportation, it has been a long ride. Originally, the app was even called Busmapper around five years ago.
“I was trying to live a low cost life. I was wandering around London and was trying to figure out how to take the bus,” Yusuf said. “My personal issue is that I was trying to figure out how to get back home at 3 in the morning.”
But the bus system in London is quite complicated. You never know the locations of the bus stops, you have to know the bus numbers by heart, and good luck figuring out where you should change to take another bus. It shouldn’t be like that.
“It’s such a flat city, if you can figure out how to use the buses you can go anywhere. Back then, people would just get in the bus and ask the driver where does it go.” Yusuf said. “I thought it was just me and that everyone else around me knew how to use buses and I was the idiot.”
Since then, Busmapper became Citymapper, took advantage of open data to calculate the best itinerary, and built its own data sets in house to fill the gaps. It now works in 35 to 40 cities around the world. “A lot of what we’ve been doing is building to tools to create data,” Yusuf said.
And investors loved it. Citymapper raised tens of millions of dollars from well-known VC firms. “I never thought European investors would be into it. Some of the investors use public transport and they were actually using it,” Yusuf said.
“A lot of investors came to us. To be honest, I was resisting raising a lot. When you have something that is working and it doesn’t cost a lot to do some of the things we do, you don’t want to overcapitalize the company.”
According to Yusuf, the company hasn’t spent any money on marketing. And Citymapper goes a step further and doesn’t disclose user numbers, so we don’t know how many people are actually using the app. But it doesn’t mean that Citymapper can’t make money.
“From the business side, what’s interesting is the many ways we can monetize it,” Yusuf said. “You’re going to see us in 2017 actually make a business out of it. There are multiple ways we can do it.”
The founder didn’t want to provide any additional detail. The data is valuable and the fact that people are using the app quite regularly could make it valuable too.
But there’s one thing for sure, Citymapper doesn’t want to sell just yet. Citymapper is similar to Waze but for public transportation, which makes you wonder if the startup could sell to Google for $1 billion just like Waze. “That’s boring,” Yusuf said.