We talked to Paulo Ferreira dos Santos of Ubirider on how they take clients from point to point and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Paulo Ferreira dos Santos: Fortunately, my family and I have been doing well during the pandemic, with health and in good spirits. There have been changes and uncertainty, but we have accepted that we have no control regarding the situation and we have adapted to it, like a bad phase which we hope will pass soon.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Ubirider?
Paulo Ferreira dos Santos: Ubirider is not my first company nor my first tech startup. I love the process of building something new, with better products than existing ones to solve big problems. There is always a unique and incredible positive energy when a group of smart, creative and motivated people get together around the goal of innovating, pushing boundaries and making the impossible possible.
We started this company to fix the fragmentation of mobility services to help create a more seamless travel experience when using public transportation. This came from our own experience, as we travel a lot and it is still confusing and time-consuming to figure out how to get to a particular destination, the best combination of modes of transportation, and pay the associated fares.
How does Ubirider innovate?
Paulo Ferreira dos Santos: There are companies trying to help riders move, others helping mobility providers deliver their services digitally. But we found that the best way is to connect and balance the interests and the value distribution of both, regarding all touch-points. To do this, we built a digital platform, Pick, which includes two main components: Pick Insight, a web app that generates value for mobility providers by seamlessly moving people, information and payments through their operations; and Pick Hub, a mobile app that saves riders’ time and aggravation by giving them the power to plan and pay for their trips, with multiple modes of transportation, all in one place, everywhere.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Paulo Ferreira dos Santos: The pandemic has had an unprecedented negative impact on most transportation and mobility businesses, everywhere and almost simultaneously. The lockdowns provoked a major shift from working in offices to working from home. Transport companies are ‘bleeding’ with almost no ridership, so it is quite hard-selling new products to them when they are primarily focused on controlling damages. It is necessary to wait for the second phase so that they are more open to seeking new solutions that will not only help them save their business but also anticipate future opportunities and challenges.
When the first lockdown happened in the middle of March 2020, we had generated some good momentum, and we’re starting to negotiate the first contracts with transportation operators. All were suspended or postponed, as those companies faced the biggest challenge of their existence. We could have died then, but we were very fortunate that our investor has helped us during these hard times, as it believes that our potential is high and the value of our solutions will be even higher as the pandemic has accelerated the need to modernize transportation services through digitization; and, on the flip side, riders now require touch-less, digital tools that provide them information and ways to travel safer to avoid getting infected.
Initially, the pandemic was tough for us, but now we feel that there is a higher appetite for innovation in the transportation industry, which is good news for Ubirider.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Paulo Ferreira dos Santos: Of course we faced very challenging times, as we passed from a reasonable forecasted revenue for 2020 to consider that it would likely be close to zero. Consequently, it was necessary to reduce costs to minimize the losses, as our costs are mostly related to salaries. Given this, we could do one of two things: reduce the headcount or reduce the salaries. We have an incredible team, with amazing skills, and even better human beings and quite united with the common goals. So, the choice was easy: we all defined a flat salary, equal to all of us. We let go of our office space and moved everybody to remote work, saving the rent cost. In that way, we could maintain all colleagues.
I don’t know if there are lessons we can learn from an unpredictable event like this pandemic. Nobody is prepared for a thing like this, with this magnitude. However, I confirmed a rule of thumb: the best way of getting through difficult times is being surrounded by good and smart people. I am very fortunate, because my team, my board and my investor are all really great. The way we all have behaved and worked to keep going and pursue our dream is absolutely incredible. I will never forget the excellent feeling provoked by such positive energy. This is why I love to work in startups.
What specific tools, software and management skills are helping you navigate the crisis?
Paulo Ferreira dos Santos: Well, we are a very ‘digital’ team, very used to working with all kinds of tools that help us work remotely. The crisis has not brought us anything new in that field. Our productivity has remained steady, also because the level of self-responsibility of the team is quite high. It’s a bit tougher to deal with so many video conferences, but we’ve gotten used to it.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Paulo Ferreira dos Santos: Our competitors are a big part of the companies that work in the industry recently named MaaS – mobility as a service, which includes small startups like us and also some big companies that have already attracted big investments.
The best way to stay in the game is keeping the focus on building amazing products, better than the ones from the competitors. And I believe we are already doing just that.
We are also looking for more investment aiming to grow sales and ‘surf’ the big wave of change for more digital and sustainable mobility which is forming during this pandemic.
Your final thoughts?
Paulo Ferreira dos Santos: Big crises, like the one we are living, are often moments for good for innovators and entrepreneurs, particularly for the ones who think and behave differently. So, I am quite bullish on Ubirider’s near future, as we have not spent much time or energy thinking about the negative things that the pandemic has brought us, but we have always been positive pushing even harder in implementing our roadmap to be on the front line to take advantage of the change and openness for new approaches.
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