An interview with our founders, Chris Upjohn (CEO) and Jason Kraft (CTO)
Where did the idea for MagicBus come from?
The greatest ideas start from the simplest source of inspiration– the idea to create MagicBus came from a common problem that everyone experienced in the Bay Area – long commutes. Chris, CEO and co-founder of MagicBus, was one of the many people who witnessed and felt this problem firsthand. Millions of people across the Bay Area commuted to work every day and either used public transportation or drove to work in their own personal cars. As a result, people spend many hours of their life on the road stuck in traffic or relying on public transportation systems where they had to make multiple transfers. At the time, Chris worked in finance and had brief experience running a shared transportation company in his college days. He decided to start MagicBus to solve the problem of commuting in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.
How did you meet Jason?
Jason met Chris for the first time through a mutual friend, Ray. They met at a parking lot near Joshua Tree while they were on a camping trip. Fast forward a few weeks later, Jason was invited to Chris’ apartment for a dinner party and they geeked out on how to build technology to solve the commuting problem. It seemed very simple at first but as they started to dig in further, they realized that it was quite complicated and Jason wanted to help Chris build the technology that powered the company.
What does MagicBus do?
MagicBus gets people to share rides through vanpooling – a concept where the riders rent and drive the vans themselves with the help of MagicBus’s matching services.
Fun fact – In the early days of MagicBus, we purchased vans and drove them ourselves for a while. We would pick up customers, drop them off at work, find a coffee shop around the area and work on building the company. At the end of the day, we pick up customers for their commute back home! If it’s taught us one lesson, it’s that you can’t build a company in a vacuum. You really need to see it and experience the problem for yourself before you figure out what the right way to solve it is.
In any case, we discovered that the unit economics was not sustainable in this model and we pivoted to building a business model that was peer-to-peer.
Tell us more about the company’s growth trajectory and why top VCs like Eric Ries and Y-Combinator invested in MagicBus?
MagicBus is solving a problem within the vanpooling space, where very few companies have made technology investments in. The opportunity to enable a better and easier user experience with software and grow vanpooling to a higher market share of commute trips has been attractive to investors.
Pre-Series A, the team used very rudimentary technology and the purpose of the latest round of funding was to build a great product. This has been going really well so far and our lean approach to scaling the company has helped us remain resilient through everything that happened in 2020.
What are the current product offerings and what does the roadmap look like?
So far, the team has figured out and built our core platform – a web application that handles the entire logistics of vanpooling. The application communicates with riders and drivers to understand their schedules and build a real-time database. Traditionally, vanpooling was an asynchronous process that happened offline but with the app, we can understand rider’s travel plans on the go. In addition to the logistics, we’re currently building a dashboard to track rider metrics. In the roadmap ahead, the team is building an end-to-end bespoke vanpool solution.
How has COVID impacted the industry and how is MagicBus dealing with this?
As we all know, COVID has impacted the transportation industry in several ways. Vanpooling ridership has significantly decreased, but a lot of essential workers are still in need of a safe and cost-effective way to commute.
This year, our goal is to build the technology that will enable the future of vanpooling and work with B2B organizations to rebuild vanpool ridership.
The future of transportation is super exciting — we are thrilled to be part of the ride!