Each month, we speak to the innovative startups that reside within Runway East. This month we spoke to our Soho member, Thomas Ableman, founder of intercity coach platform Snap Travel. Having recently raised over £1m through crowdfunding, we spoke to him about his journey so far and his future vision for Snap. (Psst, they’re closing crowdfunding early due to overfunding but there’s still time to invest! Head here before 6pm on Wednesday 4th of December.)
Tell us about Snap. What is it and what makes it different to the coaches that we’re used to seeing?
We’re not a coach company, we’re a tech platform. People often think of us as a bit like Uber Pool for intercity journeys; but with 50 seats not 5. Unlike National Express or Megabus, we pick you up at convenient places that actually suit you. And because we’re a marketplace with every journey star-rated by customers, quality is superb and prices are low.
You’ve said that you’re the world’s only travel service that gets better, the more popular it becomes. Can we hear how?
The more people who use us, the more places we can go. We currently service 50,000 people who travel between London, Nottingham, Bristol and Cardiff. We typically serve around 6 pick up points dotted around each city. As we grow, we serve more and more local areas in each city. If you live in Hackney and want direct intercity trips from Hackney, we can make that happen if enough people from Hackney join in.
What inspired you to start Snap and what was the first step in turning it into reality?
I’ve always worked in intercity public transport; first for National Express and then Chiltern Railways. Both were great firms to work for but I always felt that the intercity travel experience should be so much better. Why do people have to spend an hour making a local journey before they even start their intercity journey? Why is it so expensive? Why is the customer service so poor? I’ve been an avid Airbnb user from day one and felt that the marketplace dynamics that had transformed short term rentals had exactly the same potential to transform intercity travel.
Have you seen a change in consumer travel behaviour since sustainability has become a bigger talking point or do you think it’s something we can expect in the future?
Behaviour hasn’t changed yet, but it’s going to! Let me show you two graphs. The first shows that carbon emissions in the UK have fallen dramatically since 1990: Britain is actually a world-leader. And yet transport has hardly contributed anything to this fall:
This means that transport is going to be a massive part of the journey to net zero. Here’s the second graph:
Coach is by far the lowest carbon emission form of transport. Someone making a coach journey is contributing just 15% of the carbon of someone driving their own car. Amazingly, a coach customer that switches to train is increasing their carbon emissions by 50%. While the carbon mix of all forms of transport will change with electrification, the timescales are too long to make the difference we need to make now. Even by 2025 just 12% of cars will be fully electric. So we need to focus on what we can do today.
What’s it been like working both B2B and B2C?
The challenge for us is the same as for any marketplace; constantly juggling the two sides. The way we found to deal with this is through www.republicofsnap.com. Our customers can vote for the services they want, share with their friends to make them happen and then we’ll bring in operators in response to demand.
How’s the crowdfunding going and what motivated you to go with this funding route?
We’ve been absolutely overwhelmed with just how much Snap customers love our product. Public transport is a space with a tradition of pretty poor service. Yet the average star rating on our own platform is 4.7, while on Google and Facebook it is 4.8. We realised that we wanted to give our community the chance to own a bit of Snap. I’ve loved meeting customers on trips who now own a tiny part of the business.
What would you advise anyone who’s considering crowdfunding?
Make sure you prepare well and create space in your diary – you will suddenly have hundreds of investors asking questions! We’re closing our crowdfund early on Wednesday 4th December due to overfunding (see link below).
How will you be using the money that you raise?
We are seriously ambitious in what we’re looking to build! There are 834 million long distance leisure travel journeys made in the UK every year. When we’ve scaled, most of these will be better by Snap. There are 30,000 coaches in the UK alone. We can fill every one of them. We want to build a local travel hub in every local community, enabling people to make great value, great quality journeys at the touch of a button. People will think back and be amazed that they used to spend an hour travelling to Euston station in order to spend £60 on a train ride when they now dial up a Snap to their local area…
Good luck Snap Travel! Crowdfunding closes at 6pm on Wednesday December 4th. Find more info here.
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