My mother was a huge proponent of the school bus service. When I was in primary one, my father argued that we didn’t have to spend the extra money on such commutes, since I could simply “walk to school” alone. The school was only three crossings away, he said. My mother disagreed. She raised the point that I would get drenched when it poured. She won.
During those days, my mother would wait for me to get back from school via the private bus service. It was only when I was in primary three that I stopped taking the school bus. It was getting too expensive.
It never once hit me that my mother would have no idea if the bus was stuck in a jam, or had gotten into an accident. Imagine waiting for 20 minutes, and wondering if something had happened to your child. Back then, there would have been no way to track the bus, or inform the driver that I was sick and will not be attending school on the very day itself.
I only realised how important this issue is for parents when I talked to Geoff Boneham, Noel Chetty and Allyson Boneham, the three Co-founders of Singapore-based real-time tracking solution for school buses, MyBusMate.
The product available on App Store and Google Play, which went live today, allows all parties — transport companies, parents and schools — to communicate through a customised app that works on smart devices, with the school’s dashboard being a web-based interface. In addition, parents can receive push notifications when their bus is in the vicinity, and look at a shared calendar which displays, for example, half-days and non-school days.
The idea came as an epiphany, according to Geoff, who had to wait for his son, Mitchell, to come home from school one afternoon. “I was a bit cranky. I said, “There has got to be a better way!” Communication is always hard. They’re all on the road. I said that there should be an app for this,” recounted the CEO.
While Geoff had previously come up with some brilliant ideas which never quite saw the light of day, this one was significantly different. His wife, Allyson, kept pushing him to build a team, which included bringing Noel, the CTO, on board.
“In the past,” he said, “where we see other startups fail is when they try to do everything by themselves.” It is important to define roles and responsibilities, leverage expertise of each team member, and understand individual strengths and weaknesses.
Local, international, and cross-border
At the moment, the company has tested its system with international schools in Singapore and Malaysia.
“We’ve completed live trials with a number of schools in Singapore,” said Geoff, “predominantly international schools, but we see an interest from local schools as well.” In total, they are on-boarding 12 schools, with a number of others that are about to commence a trial. “By the end of May, we expect to keep watch over 1,000 children on buses equipped with MyBusMate in Singapore and Malaysia,” he said.
He explained, “Singapore is where we live, and we love being in Singapore, so our first focus is to get this out to as many schools and school children as we can.” Furthermore, interest has been coming from markets such as Australia and India, where MyBusMate isn’t active in.
As for the money
“We understood very quickly that bus companies aren’t in the business of developing technologies. … We weren’t sure about the pricing model. It’s not always the case that the people benefitting most are (the ones who would pay),” said Geoff.
According to an official statement, MyBusMate is free for parents, and has a flexible pricing model for schools, which varies according to the number of students and variables.
At the moment, the business has been self-funded, but Geoff said that they have taken on an investor who saw the need for parents to keep track of their children’s commutes. He added that the company welcomes discussions with potential investors.