Hit The Road is a Dublin-based startup that aims to help travellers plan their journey around Dublin city by giving exact directions via train, bus, light rail, and by foot. The site combines the timetables of Dublin Bus, DART and LUAS services to provide a one-stop journey-planner for the city’s main public transport services.
“It very quickly and easily allows someone to figure out what mode of transport or what route they can use to get to their destination”, offers Eoin Bailey.
“It’s door to door so it’s from your current location to wherever you want to go; it shows you everything. If you are a transport company, the pitch is that we will increase your sales, and make it easier for customers to buy tickets from you because they’ll be able to find your routes and they’ll be able to figure out where to go. From the user perspective, to validate that, we have to make the planner very, very simple and easy to use.”
The Hit the Road team, all PhD students at University College Dublin, have been partaking in the National Digital Research Centre’s twelve-week LaunchPad programme, which aims to provide startups with the skills and connections to bring a product from idea to the marketplace.
Having started Hit the Road at the Dublin Startup Weekend last year in only a couple of days, the challenge was “to actually form a business out of it,” according to Fintan Fairmichael.
“At the startup weekend, obviously the purpose is to build some kind of prototype and to build some kind of very loose business case around it. We managed to build a prototype and we put it live a couple of days later. There was a little bit of interest, and our interest had been piqued at that point, so we continued to develop it over the next six or so months and as it was generating more users and a bit more positive feedback we decided that it was something that we were interested in trying to bring to the next level.”
“We thought that the LaunchPad programme would be the right way to force us to really nail down our business plan and our value proposition to actually try and get that concreteness of what the business really is”, explains Fintan.
“We had a viable product before we started LaunchPad, but it was really locking down the value proposition, ‘why would a customer want to pay money for our product?’ That was something that was a very difficult question to answer, because obviously as the creators we think it’s the greatest thing.”
Assuming the role of the customer, we ask what potential problem does Hit The Road solve? Eoin feels that it is in removing the requirement to have any prior knowledge of your route in order to successfully navigate it.
“Current planners don’t allow exploration of the network; you have to know the name of the stop. In many cases, I don’t want to name names, there’s the classic example of, ‘the stop is opposite the newsagent on the main street,’ and that’s not descriptive enough for someone who doesn’t know the area at all. We’d like someone to type the address of the hotel or the person they’re visiting, and our planner will just get you there. And that’s unique.”
All three acknowledge that the LaunchPad programme has helped them achieve this clarity and insight into what their product offers.
Ross Shannon points out that, “We were technology-focused during the first six months of development and what coming to NDRC and LaunchPad gave us is a refocus on identifying and engaging with customers and partners that we hadn’t really investigate before.”
He also acknowledges the importance of the connections made through the programme, “The social network available to us here is immense. There’s a wide scope of people that we can get easy access to, that we’d be chasing our tails for weeks otherwise whereas here we can ask ‘do you know somebody?’”
“The potential for boot-strapping partnerships and relationships; I’d probably put that as the number one benefit of the programme”, agrees Eoin. “How long it would take on our own, it’s impossible to guess, but I would say it would be an order of magnitude longer just to do what we’ve done here, just jumping the process, I suppose. ‘Do you know someone in company X? No, but I know someone who knows someone,’ That’s a huge benefit.”
“We’re technologists, so building something in a few days was challenging, but not that difficult altogether. However, turning it in to a business is not a two-day job. You need the twelve weeks, you need to really sit down and think about it”.
Having figured out what their product is, the plan is now to integrate more services into Hit The Road, while all three complete their PhD’s. “This is a time-out as such,” notes Fintan, “Obviously, maybe a longer time-out if things go well, we’ll see”.
Eoin Bailey is completing a PhD in Mathematical Analysis of Software Systems at UCD.
Fintan Fairmichael is completing a PhD in Formal Methods in Software Modelling at UCD.
Ross Shannon is completing a PhD in Information Visualisation and Software Usability at UCD.