Tiffany Chu, SVP of Via and co-founder and former CEO of Remix, had been working in user experience design at ZipCar when, in 2014, she decided to take a year off for a fellowship at Code for America. With her background in architecture and urban planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chu had always been fascinated by the way transportation acts the lifeblood for built environments as a whole.
It was at this gathering of tech-minded individuals looking for ways to bring government into the digital age that Chu met her future Remix co-founders. Chu and her team built a simple grassroots transit planning prototype that helped suggest better routes to San Franciscans. An urban planning blog featured the project and it went as viral as a mapping and routing tool for public transit could.
Soon, Chu and her team were fielding requests from transit agencies that had ideas on how to make the tool even better, and unexpectedly, Remix was formed. The following year, Remix joined Y Combinator, raised a $2 million seed round and brought the Oregon Department of Transportation on board as its first customer. In the years that followed, Remix kept gaining momentum, and a total of $27 million in funding, until it garnered the attention of Via, an on-demand shuttle service and TransitTech provider.
Via acquired Remix in March for $100 million, which enabled the company to provide Remix’s suite of planning tools to city and transit agency partners and expand its role in the mobility ecosystem.
Today, the reach of the original Remix platform is extended even further as part of Via’s over 500 partnerships across five continents.
We sat down with Chu to discuss the proliferation of govtech, why cities need to be proactive about new forms of mobility, and how the private and public sectors can come together to create a comprehensive mobility system.
The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.
TechCrunch: Remix started at a hackathon at Code for America, and then you went on to Y Combinator. How important were these institutions?
Tiffany Chu: Code for America was super important for us, because it brought together a bunch of like-minded, civic-oriented people who basically raised their hands and said they’d take a pay cut from their typical midcareer tech jobs to pursue public service for a year.
When we decided to do Y Combinator, that was really important to us, because none of us, with the exception of Dan Getelman, my CTO, had co-founded a company before. So we didn’t know the first thing about running a business, much less running an enterprise, government-focused, B2G business. YC really gave us the business fluency and literacy we needed and connected us to other founders in highly regulated industries like healthcare and edtech that had to go face similar hurdles. I think we may have been the first ever govtech or civic tech company that YC invested in.
Govtech and civic tech are not something you see a lot of in Silicon Valley. What do you wish the startup world knew about this kind of tech and the applications it can be used for?
What’s special about this space is that it’s the intersection of a customer base that will always be around. Governments rarely go out of business, so there’s a very direct, targeted customer base that makes it clear who your product needs to serve.