It’s actually a pretty great URL: Bus.com. It’s also a much better brand identity than Sharethebus, which is the old name of the company that just raised a $5 million Series A round from Jackson Square Ventures and BMW’s i Ventures investment arm. Bus.com is the destination you’d expect to head to for what the company does, which is organize charter bus trips for festivals, sporting events and shows by teaming up with bus companies with unused inventory.
The Bus.com model includes online rental, GPS tracking of buses so passengers know exactly when they’re arriving, and online ticketing. The founding team, which was a Y Combinator Winter 2016 class graduate, saw an opportunity to update the process of chartering buses for mass transit to one-off events and occasions, including festivals like the Way Home music festival north of Toronto, in Canada, and Sasquatch.
Perviously, charter bus services for this market, which accounts for around $4 billion in annual revenue according to Bus.com, has relied heavily on a network of small operators with around 10 or fewer buses each. These charter operators had no common standards or platform in terms of pricing, service or booking process, leading to a lot of confusion and complexity on the user end of the process, and also for festival operators.
Bus.com co-founder Wolf Kohlberg has “only ever worked in booking, planning and travel execution,” explains his partner and the startup’s CEO Kyle Boulay on a phone call. Kohlberg started and ran a successful bus booking company to provide transit to soccer games in his home country of Germany before moving around and landing in Quebec, where he was working for a travel agency and noticed that a lot of small bus companies had a lot of unused inventory, but were lacking basic organizational tools including things like websites. He teamed up with web developer and designer Boulay to create a tool to take advantage of this opportunity, which was growing thanks to dwindling individual ownership of cars, paired with a tendency for events to be located just outside cities and urban centers.
The team created a basic software platform that brought together a lot of the missing elements in one place, and have been iterating on it very since. Their focus is increasingly on making sure festival and event organizers can more easily offer charter travel as an integrated component of what they provide their customers.
“All that software is actually very much in need in the charter bus industry, and not just around renting per seat, but renting buses in general, and helping turn event producers into smart travel planners for their attendees and for their guests,” Boulay explained. “The rebrand from Sharethebus to Bus.com better positions us as a more holistic solution for the industry in general and the population at large.”
I asked Lastovskiy if he believes an investment from BMW, even if through their venture organization specifically, indicates any larger interest among automakers in the charter space as a mobility service opportunity. He said he couldn’t speculate as to the car industry’s interest in that area, but it’s an interesting partner nonetheless given recent explorations into unique transportation models by car companies in general.