Executive Q&A with Devin de Vries of Whereismytransport

Ride hailing apps are on the rise in emerging markets. CEO Devin de Vries of Whereismytransport explains how data is making commuting safe and accessible

WhereIsMyTransport is an industry-leading technology company and central source of mobility and location data for emerging markets. They produce and maintain a Transit Data, Point of Interest (POI) Data, and Real-Time Alerts offering, working in-field in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Europe, and South and Southeast Asia. Their data assets improve the public transport experience for their consumer product users, and help their clients develop new business in high-growth markets.

Many people in emerging markets depend on informal public transport to move across cities. Journey planning apps have become crucial to improving the mobility for users and cut their time spent commuting.

As the CEO and co-founder of WhereIsMyTransport, Devin de Vries is responsible for the company’s vision and strategy. As the person at the helm of the company, he is also responsible for driving its vision of bringing the benefits of high-quality data and technological innovation to people living and working in emerging markets.

South African-founded startup WhereIsMyTransport has already had strategic investments from the likes of Google, Nedbank and Toyota Tsusho Corporation.

Devin de Vries sheds light on life inside this exciting startup...

What is your point of difference as a business?

There are two major things that set WhereIsMyTransport apart from our competitors. The first is our focus on emerging markets. Our custom-built data management platform and extensive data production playbooks, which we’ve iterated over 50 cities, are tailored to the realities of these markets. We’ve chosen these markets because they are, increasingly, the world’s growth engines. By focusing on emerging markets, we’ve set ourselves up to grow alongside those markets. 

The second is the quality of our data. Unlike other organisations, we ensure our data is high quality, complete, and reliable. This starts with market research, then moves into data production and then, ongoing data maintenance. It's the ground truth and means that projects and initiatives that emerge as a result of it are much more likely to succeed.  

 

What technology are you most looking forward to using more of?

There are several technologies that we feel could make a major difference in the future of transport and mobility. The one I’m most excited about, however, is Web3. 

Sometimes called Web 3.0, Web3 revolves around the idea of a decentralised internet, which is sharply different to Web 2.0, where the vast majority of the web’s data and content is owned by a relatively small group of companies. While there are different visions for what Web3 might look like, almost every version is predicated on blockchain technologies such as cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). 

Developed properly, Web3 could improve data security, scalability, and privacy way beyond what’s currently possible on today’s Web 2.0 platforms. Moreover, its decentralised nature means that it’s possible to find entirely new ways of funding and building projects. It’s also possible to ensure that these project builds are entirely transparent and that anyone who believes in them can easily participate. Most importantly though it allows democratised ownership of historically centralised data, and ushers in the possibility of new monetisation models which incentivise the contributors. 

The advantages this presents when it comes to technological solutions should be obvious. In a world where content is decentralised, communities in emerging markets are empowered because their lived reality is reflected in the data and technology. It’s also worth pointing out in markets where the informal economy—while fragmented—is sizable, centralised models just don't work.
 

What has been your career highlight prior to your current role?

It can be said that WhereIsMyTransport has had two distinct Chapters. We started as a boot-strapped South African tech company, then a UK-funded scale-up. As a bootstrapped company, my highlight was building and leading a tech start-up from 2 to 18 people, without any funding. This is a particularly different challenge to growing a venture-backed business, and for me, a key personal career step.

 

What has been your highlight in your current role?

Being part of building and leading a globally remote team, united by turning a vision into reality. We’re taking on the impossible of making the invisible, visible—benefiting those who most need it. And now seeing that determination as a business grow into global impact - a data offering across 50 cities and counting, numerous client successes, and a consumer product helping communities of public transport users. 

 

What is your leadership style?

My leadership style has, by necessity, evolved with the company. Early on, I was very hands-on and involved in every project. I would self describe as someone who believes in the potential of people, so as the company’s grown, I’ve let go a little bit more and trusted the incredibly talented team we’ve built up over the years. One thing I’ve always tried to impart as a leader is infectious enthusiasm, especially when it comes to the Majority World’s potential to hold the world's next great creative solutions.

 

What exciting plans do you have coming up as an organisation?

As WhereIsMyTransport continues to grow and evolve, there are a couple of things that we’re really excited about. The first is that we now offer high-quality data for 50 emerging-market cities. We’ll be entering new markets in the future too, which underscores how solid our growth prospects are. 

The second is that we’re expanding the functionality and reach of our consumer product Rumbo, which launched in Mexico City, Lima, and Bangkok in 2021. We recently rolled out a suite of new features in the app and there’s more to come!  

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