Busbud is speeding towards the future
Its 2015 nomination among Canada’s most innovative businesses stunned some in the tech world, because bus transportation doesn’t exactly scream technological innovation. However, Busbud has distinguished itself with its very complex aggregation of platforms for its 500 transporters, all to the benefit of its many users.
Walking through the doors at Busbud gives you the feeling of visiting friends in a huge loft with a great view of Mile End. With no receptionist in sight, Louis-Philippe Maurice (LP) signals for me to enter by waving from his office. It’s a warm and informal welcome, worthy of a young, dynamic tech company. Ping pong and picnic tables, leather benches, kitchen, big and small workspaces that encourage collaboration, and a very unpretentious atmosphere: that’s the headquarters for this world leader in intercity bus reservation apps.
It’s exactly the kind of place that the trio formed by LP (CEO), Mike Gradek, (CTO) and Frederic Thouin (Chief Analytics Officer) hoped to create when Busbud’s growth meant that the team needed to expand their office size. In fact, their celebrated website was born in LP’s apartment in 2011. “I didn’t have a life anymore. There were always people from the team at my place, from 8 to 8!” he recalls laughing.
The journey begins
LP, who holds an MBA from Harvard, has been in business within the tech industry since he was 16 years old. After several years of immersion in the world of large-scale technology at Yahoo and LinkedIn, LP took a trip. And it was during that trip to South America that the entrepreneur came up with the Busbud concept. He had noticed certain shortcomings in terms of reservation tools for bus tickets, an observation that seemed true in numerous places around the world.
Forks in the road
The cofounders have been friends since high school. As LP shares, “Busbud is really the story of the solid friendship between the three of us.” Frederic completed his PHD in computer engineering at McGill, specializing in artificial intelligence. Mike has a wealth of experience, including 10 years at Microsoft as a back-end engineer, where he worked with Bing and MSN Sports. The three friends complement each other, using their specific technological experience, acquired in various cities, towards the success of Busbud.
“We had also identified a major market. With about 100 players and 5 billion intercity bus tickets sold each year, that’s practically more than the total number of flights on platforms like Expedia or Travelocity,” recounts LP. “There wasn’t much competition and it was a great opportunity to encourage a more traditional industry – some bus companies have existed for a century – to innovate. We see huge innovation potential in this segment.”
It’s equally important for LP to offer winning working conditions to allow their employees to deliver the best accomplishments of their careers. This necessitates a strong company, lots of communication and certain fundamental values. “We want to be sure that Busbud is a source of pride for everyone who will work here,” emphasizes LP, “A place that also offers continuous opportunities for advancement and learning.”
Challenges and victories on the path to success
The launch of their website turned out to be more complex than they could have imagined. They needed to pool every schedule of every bus company, which was a huge logistical challenge!
The development of a team culture was also much more difficult than they estimated. Successfully transitioning from a team of three to a company of 35 talented people, from all technological and geographical backgrounds definitely brought its share of obstacles, but for the CEO, “it’s what we at Busbud are most proud of.”
Busbud received $10 million CAD in risk capital thanks to iNovia, Real Ventures, Omers Ventures, Revolution Ventures and several angel investors, like Joe Poulin, founder of Luxury Retreats. This allowed them to develop their team and its complementary skills in order to build a company and brand that go above and beyond the application.
Last year’s creation of the Busbud Business entity now allows businesses like SNCF (France’s national train company) to offer the Busbud technology to its users.
Busbud represents the largest network of transporters and the largest database of bus schedules in the world. Now offered in more than 60 countries and 10,000 cities, the site presents 750,000 itineraries to the 2 million people who use Busbud.com each month, and to the 22 million who visit the global network of Busbud partners. While the company saw growth of 600% in 2016, they are still seeing very strong growth and aim to double or triple each year. As a daily reminder and encouragement of this growth, a wall in their office is decorated with the flags of the various countries where the site is available. Asia remains to be conquered and the company foresees attacking this new market near the end of the year. “The Busbud application is already available in Chinese, but we still need to pool all the Asian bus routes,” specifies LP.
Growing the notoriety of the brand, multiplying marketing efforts and disseminating the accomplishments of the last five years are also part of their goals. Busbud wants to be the number one destination for users when they think of reserving a bus ticket. To this end, the company recently hired the former CEO of Expedia.ca, who has vast expertise in marketing, for the position of Chief Operating Officer.
Towards a richer technological environment
Busbud is involved in projects that encourage the spread and evolution of Quebec’s best tech players. Thanks to Startup Open House, of which LP is a cofounder, tens of thousands of people (students, young professionals, jobseekers, other IT players, etc.) of the Montreal community have visited around 500 companies. The annual one-day event offers the opportunity to meet and get acquainted with local tech companies. There are several editions in Canada, and one now in London, England.
Each summer, with the goal of connecting entrepreneurship ecosystems, the Tournée des entrepreneurs allows Montreal entrepreneurs to visit other entrepreneurs in various regions of Quebec. The event attracts around 100 companies, encouraging exchanges on local challenges, while creating networks, as well as employment opportunities.
But Busbud’s involvement with the tech community doesn’t stop there. In fact, the company is involved in various projects like Ladies Learning Code, in order to encourage a larger diversity within the tech world. “There aren’t many women in engineering,” remarks Busbud’s CEO, hence the choice of encouraging organizations that aim to change this situation. LP also feels that there is a shortage of technical talent in Quebec, including engineers and developers. Diversity, whether in gender or culture, seems essential to the success of Busbud and it shapes the team’s development.
Busbud : your quintessential travel buddy
When travellers head out with Busbud, they can save time and money buying their bus tickets for anywhere in the world, while benefiting from an interface that is both user-friendly and complete. “Just like with the current taxi applications, consumers are the winners, because they now have more options available to them that are increasingly interesting,” explains LP.
For the last several years, the industry has moved towards reinventing itself on a global level. For example, LP is pleased with the upcoming arrival of e-tickets, which will mean that one of his target client groups, students, will no longer have to print out their bus tickets.
With the immense potential of the web, from Montreal to Tokyo and all the other dream destinations in between, it seems like the adventures of LP, Mike and Frederic have only just begun…
Mélanie Pilon, Writer for the ICT Partners Vitrine TI Program
Photo : Louis-Philippe Maurice, CEO Busbud