Executive Interview: Devin de Vries, CEO, WhereIsMyTransport

Business Chief talks to Devin de Vries, CEO, WhereIsMyTransport, about leading a globally remote team and the mobility megatrends he’s most excited about

Any business looking to tap into high-growth emerging markets will find their task made much easier, and more fruitful, by teaming up with industry-leading tech company WhereIsMyTransport.

Founded in 2015, WhereIsMyTransport produces mobility and location data for high-growth markets, improving the public transport experience for its new consumer product users, and helping clients like Google and the World Bank to develop new business.

Here, founder and CEO Devin de Vries tells Business Chief how he is successfully leading a globally remote team, how his leadership style has evolved, and what global mobility megatrends he is most excited about

Where did the idea for WhereIsMyTransport come from?

At WhereIsMyTransport, we are working to ensure that better data and technology benefits people living and working in emerging markets and creates opportunities from improved understanding. But the idea for WhereIsMyTransport came when I was a student. At the time, I was challenged to take on a real-world problem using technology. I felt then, as I do now, that the strongest potential for growth and impact was in public transportation. Urban mobility is to people what blood flow is to our bodies, it’s vital. We want people to be able to use information that they can rely on to access the things that enrich their lives. 

Can you tell us about your role and responsibilities?

As the CEO and co-founder of WhereIsMyTransport, I am responsible for the company’s vision and strategy. Under my leadership, WhereIsMyTransport has grown from a two-person team to a 130-person company with employees around the globe. As the person at the helm, I am 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.

What has been your highlight in your current role?

There have been a number of highlights over the years. Perhaps the biggest, however, comes from building and leading a globally remote team that is united by turning a vision into reality. We’re taking on what many people would perceive to be an impossible task of making the invisible, visible. Witnessing our 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 has been incredibly fulfilling. 

What is your leadership style?

As the company has evolved, so has my leadership style. In the early days, I was hands-on and very involved in every project. I believe I’m someone who believes in people’s potential, so as the company’s grown, I’ve learned to let go more and more and trust the incredibly talented team we’ve built up over the years. One thing that hasn’t changed about my leadership style is the infectious enthusiasm I’ve tried to impart. This is especially true when it comes to the Majority World’s potential to hold the world's next great creative solutions.

What makes a hyperlocal market understanding an enabler for global growth, and what have you implemented in the company to make this happen?

At WhereIsMyTransport, our expertise in producing accurate mobility and location data, on the ground in markets that remain unfamiliar to many, means our clients can establish new opportunities, and generate actionable insights, in high-growth regions.

To better understand the impact that a hyperlocal market understanding can have, it’s worth looking at the benefits it can have for individual businesses. Retailers, for example, can use reliable mobility and location data to ensure that their delivery drivers always use the most efficient routes, as well as planning store locations so that they’re always as close as possible to where their future customers go.

With that kind of information, they can focus on growth immediately and avoid expensive mistakes held back by lack of data. The same is true for companies of all sizes in all verticals as well as governments and municipal organisations. 

What is the role of location data for understanding emerging markets and how has your team ensured it is possible?

At WhereIsMyTransport, we’ve built our name on producing reliable public transport network data from every mode, however it operates. But more recently we’ve expanded our offering to include location data, so points of interest like retailers, food sellers, and the indoor mapping of pathways and levels at public transport exchanges that are so critical for connections and the first and last mile. Location data like this is critical for improving understanding.

Emerging markets are expected to experience greater economic growth than developed markets between now and 2030, but we also know that the informal economy is sizable in these markets. Some 90% of WhereIsMyTransport’s POIs aren’t available from other location data providers, meaning it’s possible for clients to leverage this unmatched insight into the truth of these high-growth markets.

How do we do it? Our approach combines cutting-edge tech with localised processes. We hire teams of local people to map and collate data like bus stops, shops, WiFi points, and so on. Our team is trained in their roles and the technologies we use before beginning work in the field. And we remain active after our initial data collection, updating data sets to ensure our offering reflects the ground truth.

In terms of the company, what are some of the global mobility and urban development megatrends and how might they happen in emerging markets?

As a company, the global mobility megatrends we’re most excited about are all underpinned by what we call ‘infostructure’. This can be understood as the layer of information that forms the foundation for a well-functioning, modern city.

Commuters and businesses in many European, North American, and some Asian cities take this for granted, benefiting from easy access to reliable data. The decentralised nature of public transport in emerging-market cities, however, means the infostructure opportunity has not been well harnessed to date. But the increasing ubiquity of smartphones in these markets means that it’s becoming possible to build this layer in a way that works for them. There is new potential to reach people in innovative ways and, more immediately, for our own data production methods which are partly undertaken using our purpose-built mobile phone application.

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