Big Yellow Bus Meets Big Tech
These Founders Are Rerouting the School Bus Industry
Our new blog series, “Preparing for Lift-Off: 11 Founders Launching Bold New Startups,” features exclusive interviews with the founders from the latest cohort of our UFirst Summer Accelerator program. We’re sharing their stories and the daring ideas that are moving their companies forward. We’re excited to be working with them this summer, and hope you enjoy hearing about their journeys thus far and where they’re headed.
Driven by a passion to innovate and collaborate, Keith and Chris have used market research to power their decisions every step of the way. Having experienced the agonies of an inefficient school bus first-hand (as many of us once have), they’re excited to improve the experience not only for those on the bus but also for everyone on the road.
This is part 2 of 11 of our “Preparing for Lift-Off: 11 Founders Launching Bold New Startups” series created in partnership with growth marketing agency Ideometry. Tune in each week for another installment!
Tell us a bit about BusRight.
Keith: BusRight brings state-of-the-art technology to commercial transportation with the first avenue being school bus operations. We see an opportunity given the inefficiency of static routing tables and a lack of transparency from weather conditions, fluctuating arrival and departure times, scheduling conflicts and so much more. Our mission is to increase efficiency, transparency, and overall safety for transportation operations.
Keith: A few years ago when I was a senior in high school, I was in my car stuck right behind a school bus. The bus made four consecutive stops in which not one student got off. I automatically thought to myself:
‘These drivers are going through the same exact route every day without thinking about who’s actually on the bus — who’s actually utilizing those bus services.’
These routes were created with the assumption that total enrollment equals the number of students utilizing those services. What we’re doing is dynamically routing and pre-routing based off ridership statistics on a given day to increase efficiency, whether it’s time, fuel, money or energy.
At what point did you recognize that you had something you could build a business around, as opposed to just an interesting idea?
Keith: Right after I was stuck behind that school bus, I mocked up a wireframe of what I thought might be a viable solution. I showed it to my principal and assistant principal, who connected me with the head of their bus fleet operations. I also connected with Phil Dunn, then the CIO of Greenwich Public Schools who had worked with the NYC Department of Education. Phil said, “I deal with these problems every single day. I’d love a solution that could help both myself and others who are experiencing the same thing.” He totally understood my vision.
But the most important thing was understanding who is a part of the operation on the ground level. I ended up speaking with every single bus driver at my school in Chappaqua, New York. That’s when I truly realized the magnitude of this issue, specifically as it relates to the lack of communication between drivers and fleet managers. I also concluded this problem was affecting everyone involved, from administrators all the way to the drivers themselves.
Chris: For me, it was a moment late one night when we were building 1.0 of our iOS app. I was trying to come up with a way to distribute route information to bus drivers, and it hit me that having “admin” accounts with the ability to assign routes and manage their drivers would be the best method. Suddenly, an app that was mainly focused on tracking ridership became a broader-scope fleet management platform. At the time it felt like an interesting path to explore, but looking back it was definitely when BusRight’s potential grew exponentially.
What does the world look like when BusRight succeeds?
Chris: For students and parents it means no more waiting out in the cold, wondering where the bus is! And from a fleet manager’s perspective, unprecedented fleet control and insight into efficiencies and inefficiencies that were once thought to be impossible to measure.
Keith: Right now, your average Uber driver has way more information than the typical bus driver. It’s increasingly important for bus drivers to know that information, especially because they’re usually carrying more passengers than an Uber driver is. At the end of the day, the goal is to decrease costs as it relates to those inefficiencies not just for buses on the road, but also for everyone in the traffic flow. The question our team is constantly asking ourselves is, ‘how can we increase efficiency and positively affect the broader community?’
What drew you to UFirst? What are you hoping to get out of it?
Keith: During my time leading the Entrepreneurs Club at Northeastern University this past year, I kept coming across Underscore VC — whether it was hearing about their cutting-edge technology investments or their Core events. The community they foster around supporting early-stage entrepreneurs and helping them throughout the venture lifecycle was something that really attracted me. It’s so hard to find that kind of founder-friendly focus that Underscore epitomizes to its core.
Where are you hoping to be after going through the UFirst Program?
Keith: Even though we live and breathe the BusRight solution and spend our nights and weekends working on the company, nobody on our team has been able to work full time. The opportunity to do that with Underscore’s mentorship and to work with other founders who are going through the same challenges is invaluable to us. We have specific deadlines and deliverables to hit, from the number of buses using the program to fleet managers involved and much more. We’re so excited to be able to do this full time and really take it to the next level.
Being an entrepreneur, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Keith: You can read books and watch documentaries about what it is like to build a company, but there are so many things going on at any given moment that you can’t prepare for. You could be having the worst day in the world — a team member might leave, a contract might get dropped — these things happen. But for me, the energy of what I’m doing has always sustained me. If you can find something this exciting and fulfilling, that will really help you in the long term.
Starting a business is no easy task. What is the driving force that gets you out of bed every day and motivates you to build your business?
Chris: I think a better question is what’s the driving force that keeps me out of bed when I’ve been working on BusRight in the late hours of the night! I’ve always been personally motivated by the goal of doing this full time, and the only way that can happen is if we put in the work now. But it certainly doesn’t hurt that the work is very stimulating from a technical perspective.
Keith: If you were to meet the rest of the BusRight team, that would help answer your question. They’re way smarter than me, and I hope all future hires fit that mold as well. When you work with really smart and exciting people towards a common goal that makes it fruitful regardless of what ends up happening. It has been an incredible learning opportunity.
What is your advice to first-time/aspiring founders?
Keith: You have to be in it for the long haul. The people you surround yourself within the first 6–12 months are critical. There are so many challenges along the way that you just have to be ready to put in the time.
Chris: It’s all about the people you work with, especially in the early stages. These are the people that you will be giving up your nights and weekends to work with. The only way to do that sustainably is if you genuinely respect their work and enjoy their company.
We checked-in with BusRight at the end of the UFirst Accelerator to learn how it was going taking BusRight to the roads! Here’s what they had to say:
Keith: Having the opportunity to work full-time on BusRight through Underscore VC’s summer accelerator, UFirst, has permitted the team to collaborate with leading districts and summer camps across the country, including the Marucs Lewis Day Camp. Through this engagement, the BusRight team was challenged, supported, and inspired.
“The technology you are working on will be of a great benefit to the industry. Those who need help cutting costs and optimizing their busing schedules could be aided with a move to streamline the way things are done.
Those who need to schedule a spare driver to cover a route are faced with great challenges. When the driver is unfamiliar with the route and the route has not been properly updated by the routine driver it becomes challenging. In times like this, your application would be of a huge benefit to that spare driver on the assignment. A driver who is able to do the job under less stress is by far a safer driver.” — Cynthia Kitts
In addition, we are also seeing fleet operators leverage the BusRight technology to:
1) stand up transportation systems in areas where school buses aren’t provided
2) distribute field trip routes to drivers in real-time and
3) harness location information and increased transparency for special needs transportation services.
What’s on the horizon for BusRight?
Keith: On August 16th, our time at Underscore VC will come to an end as we showcase our learnings at Demo Day. We are beyond thankful for the office hours, workshops, space, and community Underscore has provided to BusRight. Throughout this adventurous summer, we learned to place heavy emphasis on the following categories moving forward:
- Hiring: As our passion for advancements in fleet management technology grows, so does our team. We are using Airtable to keep a tab on potential hires and those with expertise in transportation technology and student information systems.
- Product: Determined to build the best possible product with a grassroots approach, we have an ongoing spreadsheet of all of the problems we hear when speaking with fleet operators next to corresponding features that could potentially solve these problems. We keep a tally of the most common issues, and use this list to drive our product strategy.
- Vision: Our goal is to build out an end-to-end transportation technology platform that matches utilization with existing vehicle assets. Today, we are building an easy-to-use, cost effective, school bus transportation technology. Tomorrow, we are serving the needs of ground transportation fleets more broadly, to promote efficiency, safety, and transparency worldwide.
This is part 2 of 11 in our “Preparing for Lift-Off: 11 Founders Launching Bold New Startups” series created in partnership with growth marketing agency Ideometry. Tune in each Wednesday for another installment. Check out Part 1 with John Keck and Ankith Harathi of Marlo:
Ideometry is a Boston-based full-service marketing agency serving a global client base. With a full suite of creative, development, and strategic services, Ideometry helps startups and Fortune 500 companies alike get the business results they’re looking for. If you’re doing something interesting, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at ideometry.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org