Justin Coetzee is the founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the GoMetro (Pty) Ltd, a young South African company aimed at improving the way in which South Africans move, through better public transport experience by better information, better service and contribute to building a “born-free” business in South Africa through startups and mobile business.
Justin Coetzee has been putting together a Transport Technology lab for the last 5 years. He explains his vision: “Networks Improve the Way We Move. Transport Networks, Telecommunications Networks, Payment Networks, Social Networks, and soon Vehicle Networks are all converging into redefining Transportation.”
“Hundreds of cities worldwide are planning to become smart cities. But smart cities are smart because they create smart citizens – they make citizens more informed and able to achieve a better quality of life. Part of being a smart citizen is having the information you need at a glance to make better choices – so you can avoid waiting and save time. Another part of being a smart citizen is knowing what choices are available, so you can avoid falling into traps like cognitive biases. Tools like GoMetro give people the “nudge” they need to think outside their default boxes, and act more sustainably,” said Justin.
Justin is passionate about smart transport, as this is vital to the economy and the way we live. Transport also responsible for 25% of global CO2 emissions. By focusing on how to get people in cities the information they need to choose a more sustainable mode of transport, we can improve the quality of city life and the environment.
Justin is quite an advocate for alternative transport options, “We have to convince people to consider Public Transport as a practical alternative in the first place. I started GoMetro to solve this exact information problem for first-time transport system users. We use mobile apps and public screens to inform people at a glance about all their transportation choices, just when they’re making travel decisions: in lobbies, offices, on the street. A South African user needs to be shown what options are around him – he might see a bus every day but know nothing about it!,” he said.
The true impact of GoMetro can be much greater than the value of time savings. By making urban transportation work better, our company believes we can create new transit users and help convert people who drive by default into transit users, reducing pollution, CO2, and traffic, and improving quality of life in cities, all of which in turn brings additional economic benefits.
Intel are helping GoMetro make this a reality with serious support:
Justin is a qualified civil engineer, who started with GoMetro in his mid-20’s and remains brains behind the company. GoMetro started out of his previous career – building roads and highways in South Africa. However, he realized that this is part of the problem and not necessarily the solution that he was taught at University. In most SA cities and a growing number of cities worldwide, the drive-alone car is the default transport option — and the problem.
Roads are crowded with cars, 90% of which are drive-alones, and cities are crowded as cars sit vacant in parking spaces for 95% of the day. Last century’s response to this problem was to increase supply by building more roads. Building roads is incredibly expensive and unsustainable, and at this point, nearly every South African city is turning away from road-building. The new, more efficient, response is to reduce demand for driving by shifting demand to other transportation choices.
GoMetro is a high-growth business aiming at improving urban commuting using digital tools for Planners, Operators, Managers and Commuters – so that we can move more people in less space more quickly and comfortably. We have built a set of applications for the public transport sector in emerging markets – we call this the “GoMetro Flexible Mobility Platform”. GoMetro has developed a progression of products and tools that generate revenues individually, but when composed together have the prospect of building a virtual transport network – connecting the networks of demand (passengers) with a network of supply (private operators and local government transport) using an app to request and pay for transport in real-time.
What does GoMetro do? This video explains it:
Objectives of GoMetro
When asked about what drives the young entrepreneur, Justin asserts that there is a need for better public transport, by improving the public transport experience with better information, better service, closer-to-home.
Through GoMetro’s apps and services, commuters can make roads safer and curb unsafe driving and travel processes. GoMetro’s objective is to Improve the Way we Move with Smart Mobility and Connected Cars, this will also benefit the ecosystem with Greener Transport that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing car usage. Justin also wants to build a “Born-Free” Business in South Africa through creating a startup that inspires and helps other young entrepreneurs have the courage to pursue their dreams – and often mentors and coaches startups through the mLab Southern Africa.
GoMetro has its headquarters in Cape Town, Western Cape, and has a team in Gauteng. GoMetro has received support from the Innovation Hub in Gauteng, the Technology Innovation Agency, the Bandwidth Barn, the mLab Southern Africa and Silicon Cape Initiative, as a supporter of tech businesses in Western Cape. GoMetro was also a recipient of the Premier’s Entrepreneurship Award for an Emerging Enterprise in 2013.
Justin wants to Improve the Way you Move
GoMetro provides a mobility technology platform solution with associated services to governments, cities, institutions, companies and startups looking to add or enable transport applications to their existing operations and business – to meet their users and customers expectations of new mobility. The fact that that the developing world is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate has placed enormous strain on aged and limited public transport systems in South Africa.
Justin mentions that commuter rail or bus services – when they do operate – are crowded, prone to being late, highly disrupted by poor maintenance and underfunded. Smart City Technology seems an irrelevant luxury to the management teams of these systems, as they are facing core operational issues – such as lack of adequate funding, lack of skills, labour disputes and conflict with the informal transport sector.
“Commuters in South Africa have not always waited the years it takes for public transport operations to be planned, designed, procured, constructed and finally operated. Entrepreneurial individuals have filled the gap left by a lack of formal transport provision with para-transit operations. Minibus-taxis, matatus, trotros, jitneys, angkots – these informal transport systems go by many names in different parts of the world. They are a critical part of the transport mix, and need to be considered in the design of Smart Transport Solutions – which is a real challenge,” said Justin.
What GoMetro has accomplished in the last 3 years
GoMetro was the first public transport application in South Africa to provide real-time information to it’s users, and to start using commuters to provide more information about disruptions. It was recognized as a key technological innovation when Cape Town was named the World Design Capital in 2014.
“I really hope that the mobile industry moves away from information distribution to more of an information platform where the users are part of the conversations. Putting the curation in users’ hands means that if people do care about your offering, they will take the opportunity to improve it.”
GoMetro started as a project in March 2011, it was then launched in September 2012. The inception of GoMetro led to CNN naming Justin as one of “The 10 African tech startups you need to know” in 2013, see more here: 10 exciting African startups
GoMetro has been awarded by the Gauteng Department of Economic Development as the winner of Gauteng Innovation Competition in March 2012. It also received support from the Western Cape Government through the Design Innovation Seed Fund. Justin has presented papers to the Intelligent Transport Society of South Africa, as well as the South African Transport Conference – the most recent example being mapping Kampala taxis using GoMetro technology to produce network maps of informal transport systems.
In November 2014, GoMetro won the MEF Best Innovation in a Growth Market at the Global Mobile Forum in San Francisco. This is the first time that a South African technology company won this international award in Mobile Technology, and proved that world-class technology can be built in South Africa, – beating over 50 other mobile innovations from around the world. During that year, GoMetro was also awarded an Industry Best Practice award by Frost & Sullivan.
Justin Coetzee was a finalist at the prestigious event, Get In The Ring (GITR) Global Entrepreneurship start-up competition in Rotterdam – coming second out of over 1,000 companies, and being chosen as the best African Startup for 2014.
Justin described the event as a “really amazing event, high energy, high impact and the stakes as an entrepreneur pitching have never been higher.” It opened GoMetro to the European and Asian markets, and has helped GoMetro expand internationally using the network created at the Get in the Ring event.
Justin is most proud of their efforts in Bellville, his hometown. GoMetro mapped minibus taxis and produced the first FULLY integrated Public Transport map in Africa – that includes rail, BRT, bus and minibus taxi. Coetzee is a Board Member of the Greater Tygerberg Partnership – an organization that is aiming to revitalize Bellville and the Voortrekker Road Corridor. GoMetro is focussing a lot of attention on this critical area to improve the rail links on this corridor, as well as involve the minibus taxi industry on a smarter mobility platform. GoMetro has are garnered some regions outside of South Africa with integrated transit mapping, such as Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Nigeria and Turkey.
Watch Justin Coetzee on TEDx Talk in Bellville:
The importance of partnerships in GoMetro’s growth
GoMetro has always been born out of partnerships. Four years ago, it partnered with PRASA’s Metrorail in Cape Town, becoming the first mobile information system to bridge the gap between commuters and Metrorail. Over 1 million Metrorail commuters have interacted with GoMetro over the last 4 years – in 7 cities around South Africa. The management of Metrorail Western Cape and Gauteng have been very important early-adopters of our platform, and the lesson Justin has learnt is to find early adopters quickly.
Justin is also seen that partnerships don’t always work out. For example a partnership with a government institution was not set up to be sustainable from the beginning and so the outcomes of a partnership did not endure. This was a very important learning experience for GoMetro that partnerships have to be set up with the long-term view and that both parties can succeed.
GoMetro is an alumni of the mLab – a mobile applications laboratory supported by Innovation Hub in Pretoria. In 2011, mLab acknowledged GoMetro as the winner for the Gauteng Innovation Competition, after a success launch of its mobile information service. Justin also received direct support from the Bandwidth Barn, a start-up incubation hub in Cape Town, and particularly the VeloCiti Accelerator provided valuable coaching and training to Justin in starting to build a team and real momentum.
In the early stages of the company, GoMetro received support and help from Edgetec with hosting, The SpaceStation with advertising, Nokia with funding and Microsoft with support to start generating revenues on the mobi-site. These early “believers” in GoMetro helped take the vision to reality, and helped prove that there is a scalable and serious business model behind transport data and information provision.
Justin has personally really benefited from the partnership that has been established with his investors, 4Decades Capital and AngelHub Ventures. At the time, it was a record amount of funding for an early-stage mobile company, and it brought very experienced business experts onto the Board of Directors – including Derek Prout-Jones as Chairman of the Board. Derek had been Chief Financial Officer, and then Chief Investment Officer of Rand Merchant Bank. Justin has benefited from the mentoring and coaching from these seasoned investment professionals, and attributes the sustainability of the venture to the belief of these key partners in his pursuit for smarter transport.
When it has come time to scale the business and generate real revenues for growth, Vicinity Media has been a very close working partner of GoMetro in taking location-based advertising to the market. This was a major contributor to the growth and success of the apps the company initially put into market. GoMetro also experienced active support and guidance from PatternMatched Technologies, and the CEO Markus Schorn has also mentored and helped Justin to grow in the technology space.
GoMetro is heading into the next chapter of its journey – with serious partnerships forming with a number of companies that will aim to help GoMetro expand into new markets and reach new audiences. These include MTN, Cisco, Intel and Efkon. GoMetro is now starting to work with and enable multinational corporations who are looking to Improve the Way we Move.
What is next for GoMetro:
Justin mentions that the GoMetro app is aimed at “transforming how people experience transport, a change into the transport industry”. The mission of the company is to take out the negative energy from the transport industry and deliver what users are seeking, which is reliable, consistent, affordable and user-friendly services to commuters, by simply using their devices at hand.
GoMetro is most famous for a real “hack” that the team built in a morning – an Email-your-boss button that emails your boss if your train is late to let him know you are running late. Commuters don’t need an email address either to send one as the button works via USSD and the GoMetro mobi-site. Dial *120*4668# for USSD or select Email My Boss on the mobi site. “GoMetro was started in 2012 to solve a major pain-point for commuters who get to work by train. Every time there is a delay or disruption to trains in the Western Cape, workers who are late need to stand in long queues in order to receive letters to give their employers in order not to receive written warnings,” GoMetro CEO Justin Coetzee. This little innovation has been featured on Carte Blanche, eTV news and even made it onto the international innovation website Springwise and French National TV.
GoMetro is currently operating with 15 employees and has had 20 interns come through it’s ranks from the Pretoria’s Innovation Hub, who were selected to gain exposure into the workplace. GoMetro has created 50 job opportunities in South Africa – showing that young companies can help solve the unemployment challenge. Justin is very proud of the opportunities that his company has created for many young people as their first job.
Justin is determined to see a better and more efficient transport system in operation. He is very excited every day to lead a great team in the deployment of a Flexible Mobility Platform. With GoMetro, the power of transport moves from drivers and transport agencies to commuters, through live updates, engagement and freedom to choose reliable, cost effective modes of transport that supports commuters needs.
The team at GoMetro know that Justin is relentless in the pursuit of better and more efficient systems, and are inspired to be leading the charge in New Mobility in South Africa and the rest of the continent.
Keep your eye on this young team of changemakers – using technology to Improve the Way we Move!