Emily Bobis, Co-founder of Compass IoT tells us how the Australian analytics company uses traffic data to improve road safety and infrastructure.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Emily Bobis: We are doing really quite well; we consider ourselves very lucky to be in Sydney, Australia, where life has almost returned to pre-pandemic normalcy aside from a few remaining restrictions or isolated recurrences.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Compass IoT.
Emily Bobis: It was never the plan to work in startups, let alone found one. My plan was to follow a traditional career pathway out of university and apply for graduate roles. For one of my first ‘real’ jobs at university, I had an internship for a Sydney bike-sharing startup called Airbike Australia, working in their marketing team as a content creator in 2016. Through Airbike, I was exposed to the role of data analytics and the benefits it could provide to understanding mobility, transportation, and smart cities.
After leaving Airbike, I had a few dissatisfying career experiences; I was a little disenchanted with the job market and wanted to find a role where I could really make a tangible difference. I took a risk and co-founded Compass while studying for a postgraduate degree at the University of Sydney. Government organizations were starting to explore different applications of mobility data to city planning, so there was a lot of potentials to make a positive impact on the daily lives of regular people. Compass IoT started out by utilizing connected vehicle data to predict speed and volumes on road networks. Since then, we have developed a product called Safepoint that tackles road safety by identifying high-risk areas where future fatal or serious crashes are likely to happen.
How does Compass IoT innovate?
Emily Bobis: Compass IoT is constantly looking at gaps in transport and road safety planning where we could apply data from connected cars to improve things. We ensure we have a regular, open communication channel between the experts in our industry to guarantee we are creating something of value that addresses a genuine need. Customer-centric innovation is crucial in a fast-moving industry like transport, where new government guidelines and research is updated all the time.
Core to this culture of innovation is trying – where possible – to maintain a sense of humility; Being humble and honest within our team and customers means we are more receptive to new ideas, are comfortable with pivoting, and less prone to sunk-cost traps. It means that everyone at Compass has a role to play in contributing to the future direction of our products. We actively seek out new ideas, foster involvement, and of course, we take a few calculated risks.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Emily Bobis: Although it was a tough time to be in a small business, we found ourselves in a more stable position than a lot of other larger organizations because we were small and agile enough to pivot and monitor costs without having to cut staff. The pandemic forced us to innovate our marketing collateral to provide valuable, time-sensitive content. We were lucky enough that COVID-19 had a huge impact on mobility; we were able to create some incredibly interesting empirical insights and monitor how people across Sydney were changing their travel behaviors.
The biggest lesson learned was regarding mindset – viewing these unexpected shocks to the system as opportunities to innovate where possible rather than roadblocks. It forces you to remain resilient and flexible even when things seem very uncertain. This was particularly the case, given the team was suddenly forced to work remotely. It put more emphasis on communication, which is something we struggled to balance in the first few months. That being said, if Compass was still in its very early infancy when the pandemic hit, and there was no government assistance, it’s hard to tell if we would have been quite so lucky.
How did your customer relationship management evolve?
Emily Bobis: Our relationship management became a lot more personal, time-intensive, and hands-on. Because there was a lot of uncertainty in all business and industry levels, we wanted to reinforce our commitment to our customers and maintain the personal relationships we had built with them, not just the business or transactional side. Traffic is a very niche industry where everyone knows everyone. We wanted to demonstrate that we genuinely cared and respected the agreements we had made prior to the pandemic and our intentions to keep them.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Emily Bobis: We were fortunate enough to receive the Australian Government JobKeeper payments, so we maintained a fairly stable position throughout the worst parts of the pandemic. We also received an NSW Government MVP grant.
Your final thoughts?
Emily Bobis: Personally, I think consistency and honesty are underrated business skills – turning up and being present is 90% of the battle. I also believe that empathy is incredibly important. At the heart of it, business is about building relationships with people internally in your team and externally with other organizations.
Living through such an unprecedented and stressful set of circumstances really highlighted the absolute need to be understanding and receptive to the needs of others; you never know what someone else may be going through personally.