First, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Raphael Gindrat: We are safe and healthy, thankfully.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Bestmile
Raphael Gindrat: I was a civil engineering student at the Swiss technical university in Lausanne (EPFL) when it won one of Europe’s first autonomous vehicle projects. I was in the team planning the demonstration when we realized that the vehicles were programmed to run a predefined route, but could not work together when, for example, they came face to face on a narrow part of the street. We realized there was a missing piece in autonomous vehicles. People were focused on perfecting self-driving technology, but no one was thinking about how the vehicles would work together as fleets to deliver services. We developed the Bestmile Fleet Orchestration Platform to fill this need. The platform has evolved into the only one of its kind that provides automated dispatching, ride-matching, and routing with the predictable performance for both autonomous and human-driven fleets.
How does Bestmile innovate?
Raphael Gindrat: We are continually working to enable fleets to be more efficient at scale, developing advanced optimization technology that can receive hundreds or thousands of ride requests and always send the right vehicle to the right place at the right time. It is an extremely complex challenge because demand is always changing, and so are traffic and road conditions. The goal is to make trips as convenient as possible for travelers (or packages) and to maximize revenue per kilometer for service providers. In time, we think these types of services will be just as convenient as driving and making owning a private car unnecessary for many people.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Raphael Gindrat: The pandemic and the lockdowns caused by it have reduced demand for most transportation services, impacting our platform’s demand. At the same time, it has opened opportunities that play to the strengths of our fleet orchestration technology. Cities that have witnessed reduced traffic want to keep it that way. Public and private service providers will want to move more people and packages with fewer vehicles to maintain lower congestion and to right-size fleets as demand returns. It is also possible to use the same fleets to deliver different services at different times—for example, fixed-route bus-like services during commute hours and on-demand taxi-like services during off-peak hours; or to offer transportation for people during the day and packages overnight. Bestmile’s platform enables these types of configurations.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Raphael Gindrat: We have had to make some tough choices about what to prioritize when our customers are pausing or reducing their operations. Budget decisions around technology investments and hiring are always challenging and require balancing trade-offs between reacting to conditions now and preparing to take advantage of future opportunities.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Bestmile in the future?
Raphael Gindrat: I deal with stress and anxiety by focusing on what I can control. We can continue to serve our customers and solve their problems. We can continue to develop our groundbreaking technology. We can continue to be transparent with our employees about the ways we are adapting.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Raphael Gindrat: Our competitors are mostly private service providers with their own dispatching systems—an app to book a ride that can be accepted by a vehicle or driver. They may be OK for small fleets with simple services but don’t scale for large, multi-passenger fleets that can pool rides in real-time to maximize fleet performance. We stay in the game and win the game by continuing to innovate and by delivering a better solution.
Your final thoughts
Raphael Gindrat: It’s a great time to be in the mobility technology business.