I saw two familiar faces that had recently been hired on at Sharethebus as I walked up to their office building on Parc avenue Tuesday. After a successful, nearly-bootstrapped first few years in which Sharethebus earned more than a million in sales per year, 2016 was all about growth.
As it turned out, there’s a lot more growth in store after Wednesday afternoon’s news.
Today the company is announcing $6.5 million (US $5 million) in series A money from Jackson Square Ventures, BMW i Ventures, Real Ventures, Y Combinator and more. It marks the first time BMW i Ventures and Jackson Square will write a cheque to a Canadian team.
“We want to be the biggest in the world at what we do and bringing outside financing allows us to move at a higher velocity towards that goal,” CEO Kyle Boulay told MTLinTECH. “Part of it is definitely looking to work with the right partners. Josh from Jackson Square is a marketplace guy and he’s scaled multiple marketplaces to over $100 million in sales, so he understands how to build companies. And obviously having the transportation insight from a company like BMW and their venture arm is incredibly useful.”
Sharethebus is also changing its name to Bus.com in a substantial rebrand. The name makes sense, it’s simple and effective. We won’t try to dissect what it probably cost them to acquire such a URL.
Founded in 2015 by Boulay and cofounder Wolf Kohlberg, Bus.com says it removes the complexity of renting a bus, coordinating group transportation anywhere in the US and Canada. The startup says it’s “revitalizing the outdated charter bus space.” They offer instant online bus rental, GPS bus tracking, passenger management tools, online ticketing, and more. They’re at about 30 employees and plan to grow to 40 by year’s end.
Bus.com usually works with companies (like one of its clients, Beau’s Brewery) as well as bus companies (like Roxborough Bus Lines) to organize team outings. They typically go from bigger cities to smaller retreat locations.
The former Sharethebus was originally conceived as a way to organize shared buses to large festivals, where few would argue a large opportunity exists. Just consider the amount of people coming from all around North America every summer, frantically trying to get into town for the Osheaga festival.
“We see it as unlocking destinations,” said Boulay. “We make destinations that were hard or impossible to get to, efficient, like popup festivals or events where you have to transfer in a variety of transportation methods. We make it point-to-point. And the technology we’ve built makes it a lot easier to manage and provide a better, more efficient experience.”
A company client like Beau’s can pay for a bus outright if they know they need the space, or they can offer it as a service to their guests paying on a per-seat basis. That way the company isn’t on the hook for the entire cost of a bus.
“It really depends on the event, so we’re kind of like B2B2C,” added Boulay. “We pride ourselves on offering the most flexible solution for a company looking to go somewhere.”
Bus.com has moved over 160,000 guests over 4,000 bus trips. They’ve done this in three countries, 37 different states and seven provinces. They’ve worked with top event producers from Live Nation, AEG, Huka Entertainment, as well as student organizers from Harvard, Yale, MIT and more.
The change to Bus.com was more about correcting preconceived notions about what they offer, said Boulay. Sharethebus came with connotations around the per-seat sales model, which the company initially coined as its main offering. It still does offer this.
“But over the last two years we’ve built a ton of infrastructure for the bus industry that doesn’t exist right now around event management with the bus companies themselves. We brought these previously offline transactions online. I think what were building is much bigger than just the per-seat sale model. So we wanted to better name that ambition and opportunity we’re going after,” said Boulay.
Bus travel worldwide is a fascinating space, just given the vast variety in service quality around the world. In North America refined travel is more associated with air. Its passenger bus landscape, frankly, can suck at times.
But in other parts of the world where bus travel is seen in a more valued lens, the service can be incomparable. Even in certain Latin American countries, quality, scheduling and overall experience can put Greyhound (particularly in certain US routes) to shame.
Both Boulay and Kohlberg agreed that, particularly in the US, there’s so much more one could offer passengers. Bus.com obviously isn’t competing with passenger bus lines like Greyhound, but they’re working to innovate a space that could really use it.
“I think Greyhound is good at what they do. They’ve been doing it for a long time and there’s a role for a company like that in what they offer,” said Boulay. “But I just think consumer demand has changed rapidly with the Internet over the past 10 to 15 years. Ultimately we believe the experience can be better for people and less frustrating. It’s essentially problem solving.”
There’s also the fun, adventurous and social aspect about riding a bus that Kohlberg valued, particularly as he spent time in Germany organizing fun bus trips to football matches prior to moving to Canada.
“Riding with people somewhere is an adventure itself. For me it was knowing that you could come together with similar people like you,” he said. “At the same time the industry and suppliers are difficult to deal with. It’s something that can be daunting for people. So there was a beautiful opportunity to create this experience but there remained a difficulty in attaining it. We wanted to come in between.”
In Kohlberg’s home country of Germany, he said, there also exists opportunity for what Bus.com is doing in North America.
“Surprisingly, the bus industry has a lot of similarities in being inefficient and unaligned.”
Boulay sees 2017 as a big year for the company, noting that Bus.com plans to move “a lot more people this year than we did last year.”