Last week while I scouting Futurescope for cool startups I stumbled upon a startup with an initiative to change to way sidewalks are constructed for smarter accessibility. Here’s the interview with Route4u.
What is Route4u all about?
The Route4U app is a crowdsourced accessibility map, a mapping tool, a route planner and a navigation tool for wheelchair (and pram) users. We show on the map how comfortable to use (if at all possible) the pavements, crossings and local services in a city. However, by now Route4U is not only an app but starting to become a movement as volunteers join in building the map.
How many years has it been going?
A bit more than two. The Idea was born in 2014 and the first lines of code in early 2015.
What was the inspiration behind startup?
We had small kids and it was difficult to move around in the city with our prams. There are a lot of cobble-stone paving where Peter, my co-founder lives.
What exciting tech do you get to play with?
The challenge is to make the survey of the pavements and crossings the fastest and cheapest available on the market. We need to know the quality of the surface, the width the longitudinal and crosswise steepness and the curb heights to assess accessibility. Currently we are tracking the users’ phone sensors as they roll along a footpath and using a kind of AI we can translate the logged data to the above information. But we are also looking at applying drone, laser or other technology.
— Route4U (@route4u_org) May 13, 2017
From our last chat you seem to have an awesome business model! What’s your value proposition?
Yeah. It may be a common sense that besides infrastructure development, there are other means too to improve the overall accessibility of a city. Like simply providing sufficient information on the current status and on working alternatives; or shaping the attitude of the majority to encourage self-driven improvements. On the other hand, we believe that accessibility could be faster improved if it is based on interests and not (only) on laws and regulations. So, we have to make it a good business for a wide range of possible participants such as cites, corporate brands, local service providers, universities, airports, and other real estate portfolio holders, etc.
Good PR may be mentioned as a common benefit, but there others too. Considering our crowdsourced model, it is important that there are already some surveyed areas when we launch in a city. City Councils order the survey of the touristic center and by that they not only provide instant help for the locals, but will also enhance tourism, they can get AI enhanced decision making support regarding their footpath network developments and they also shape the attitude of the majority as we campaign together. As for corporates, the HR director of Heineken for example believes that joining to our volunteer program as a “brand” will increase the quality of their staff by improving the emphatic skills and overall EQ of their sales people. Able-bodied individuals as volunteers can also contribute, collect points in the app and benefit from different offerings of corporates according to their contribution.
You usually get the users and the customers, who would they both be for your business?
There are two major types of users, one who uses the app for the information it provides and the other who uses the app to improve/build the map as a volunteer – and there’s of course an overlap.
The customers, as mentioned earlier are city councils, property portfolio holders, and corporate brands.
Any exciting announcements for 2017?
We are launching the Heineken project. They vouched to have 24 000 places rated (on the app) in Hungary by their sales reps. The total number of places with accessibility info now may be around 7-8 thousand, so you can imagine how great improvement it will bring. We are also launching within weeks with a Hungarian bank, they offer VIP service for the good doers. Later on this year, of course we are planning to expand this line to the foreign cities too where we work or we are in negotiations.
— Factory Campus (@FactoryCampus) March 28, 2017
Tell me more about the founders, how did you get to start working on this concept?
We both have entrepreneurial backgrounds and a history of more than 15-20 years. My partner worked a lot on social projects he was also active in environment protection, and has some coding skills too– he has built the first and (at that time) most popular bicycle route planner of Budapest. Myself, most recently I owned and managed a trade marketing agency doing campaigns for multinational brands mainly in the FMCG sector. The economic crisis helped me to get rid of most of my previous businesses and also gave me the opportunity to start something very new, what is not only good for me and my clients but could also make millions of lives better.
What can you tell us about your team?
Soon after presenting the idea on some forums, Zoltán Vincze joined our team. He is a movie director, and as a cause of a motorbike accident 15 years ago he is also wheelchair bound. We are not only team mates but also good friends we spend quite a lot of time together and we have a good understanding on his everyday challenges. Tibor has also joined early, he is our map-guy, the GIS expert. Zsolt who made our first software prototype now mainly helps for us as advisor. The software development is outsourced to teams employed by one of our investors (Virgo).
You are based in Hungary. How is that working for you?
When you are small, the Hungarian startup ecosystem is quite good. There are a lot of incubation and mentor programs and you can find pre seed and seed investors too. But the market is small and has some special characteristics. In most cases you cannot even validate a product here what you aim to sell in Europe. So as we are trying to increase our sales, we more and more feel the need of moving our activity to a bigger and English speaking country.
We met at Futurescope. What value did you get out of it?
As an exhibitor unfortunately I could not participate in the sessions, but the people I met at our booth were really open minded and genuinely interested in what we do. I had promising talks with city leaders and corporate decision makers too. We will see how discussions go on, but it is not at all impossible that we will start something in Ireland soon…
Any other information you’d like to add for the readers?
Please join our campaign for better safer sidewalks on https://route4u.org 🙂