How Asia Mobiliti is harnessing data and technology to help address inefficient mobility in Malaysia and in Southeast Asia
Some weeks ago, we explored the vision of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) from the eyes of Asia Mobiliti’s chief executive officer and co-founder Ramachandran Muniandy. Here we continue finding out what transportation and mobility trends are affecting Asia, how he plans to address them and what the future holds for Asia Mobiliti.
Q: What are some of the transit and mobility challenges affecting developing Asian countries? And how does Asia Mobiliti help solve them?
A: It’s important to firstly differentiate between mobility in the developed and developing worlds. In a developed world, there is a push to eliminate the use of private vehicles as much as possible because public transportation systems are efficient and many commuters utilise them. In this case, the ride hailing service competes directly with public transportation. However in the developing world, the aim is to reduce the use of private vehicles rather than eliminating them as public transportation and other services such as ride hailing should not compete but should rather complement each other.
The challenge in the developing world is that first-mile/last-mile access to public transportation is poor. There aren’t enough park-and-ride facilities and there isn’t a holistic masterplan to building enough first-mile/last-mile access to public transportation hubs so that people can get to these hubs and be encouraged to use public transport to complete their journeys. This is the reason why people prefer to drive instead of using public transportation in developing nations. To address this, we need to solve this first-mile/last-mile access challenge by harnessing data and applying technology to the problem. And this is what Asia Mobiliti is trying to achieve.
There is an opportunity in the rise of superapps – the one app that can “do it all”. Consumers are getting used to this idea and will eventually expect this of the transport sector. But without full digitalisation of public transportation systems, the implementation of MaaS just isn’t possible because the entire transport ecosystem – from journey planning, trip booking, fare payment and passenger boarding – is heavily fragmented today. Our aim at Asia Mobiliti is to empower transport service providers by supporting them with the data and technology so that they can better serve their customers.
Q: So do the products and services you design and deliver follow these trends? If so, how do you go about planning your roadmap?
A: Yes, we do follow these trends closely. As mentioned in our last article, we aim to contextualise mobility for the developing world and so our roadmap needs to stay one step ahead of the curve. Our roadmap – which has significant intellectual property value – is both an art and a science; science means using all the available tools and technology to build the right solutions, while the art is in deciphering the needs of people as most do not really know what they want. We have to keep our eyes open, and ears attentive to everything as research and development takes time.
Q: You spoke of MaaS and how it needs to be based on private-public partnerships. What do these partnerships entail? What kind of alliances are in the pipeline and why?
A: We recognise we can’t solve these complex challenges alone so we strive to co-create solutions with selected partners and stakeholders. Together with them, we craft new business models that aim to improve any transport service providers’ bottomline, thereby giving them the commercial incentive to solve these challenges. We do this by developing proof-of-concepts, pilot trials and other collaborations with these stakeholders. In essence, we form alliances with those who believe in our multi-modal approach to solve transit challenges by leveraging our technology platform.
Q: Could you give us some details as to who your partners are today and who you plan to work with in the near future?
A: Our partnerships encompass technology vendors, academia, key transport providers, flagship public transport operators, traditional infrastructure enterprises, and smart city agencies to name a few. Google is a big tech partner as we build on the Google Cloud Platform and are a Google Transit partner. AirAsia is an airline partner and investor while Monash University Malaysia is a long-term research and development (R&D) partner. Others include Smart Selangor Delivery Unit (SSDU), which is a client partner for an upcoming electric vehicle (EV) initiative, Tryke is our first micromobility partner, and KTMB as an R&D testbed partner for our Internet-of-Things (IoT) product for railway condition monitoring.
In the coming months, we are building the next-generation journey planner for Prasarana, an agency transforming Malaysia’s transportation services. We are also looking at working closely with various state governments and transport service providers across Malaysia and Southeast Asia.
Q: What is your end goal with these partnerships? How does that fit your vision for mobility-as-a-service in Malaysia and in Asia?
A: Our grand vision is to enable MaaS at an international level – that means door-to-door mobility service across nations in Asean countries. This will entail having a selection of transport service providers to enable multimodal mobility across the whole region. To do this effectively, we need to build a common multi-tenant platform for all, so that our technology investments are optimised. We also need to partner with entities that have respective city, state, national and regional reach to achieve this.
Q: You have a relatively young team. Is it hard to find talent and what do you look for in good candidates? How do you get the best out of your talents?
A: Finding the right person for the job is always a challenge. But it should rightfully be the case; otherwise either the company has no standards or the macroeconomy is in dire straits. My philosophy is to look for people who do not fit the shoe. The shoe must always be larger than the foot so that the foot will grow to fill the shoe. We expect hires to want to learn on the job and apply all that they know. The desire to be part of a solution is what we look for in new joiners. Our tech lead was trained as an aerospace engineer, but picked up software development in his role with us. Our project director was an architect. Our HR director who has been with us from the start was a ‘returning to work’ mom who has a degree in organisational psychology. All of them have grown with the company. This is how we get the best out of people. Once the shoe fits, I’ll give them a new, larger shoe so they can grow further.
Q: It’s increasingly competitive to get and retain talent. How are you doing on this front and how do you stay ahead? What is your management style and how do you set the tone for your company?
A: At Asia Mobiliti, we set goals and win as a team and we get rewarded as a team. I believe in this saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” And I believe this is why our staff turnover rate is extremely low. As for my management style, I aim to empower people but at the same time foster accountability, for flexibility without discipline is harmful. I believe that everyone has to lead in their own way, some lead others, while others lead themselves. I also continuously ensure that I cultivate opportunities to develop skills and talents that I notice in each member of the team. I do not limit them by their job scopes but rather push them in the direction where they will naturally excel, allowing them to explore different career paths within Asia Mobiliti.
Q: How are you funded thus far in the three years you have been in operations?
A: We have secured strategic early stage investors in the form of AirAsia Digital and DVE Sapta, which is a Malaysian private venture capital. We are completing our pre-series A round of funding this quarter with the participation of an international VC and strategic local investors. Our fundraising is primarily for growth and expansion of our research and development, as we are a revenue generating business having achieved profitability.
Q: What can we expect from you in the coming 18-24 months in terms of products and services?
A: We intend to make a first foray into markets beyond Malaysia in that timeframe and for MaaS to become a reality in Malaysia and whichever new markets that we enter. These include live Demand-Responsive Transit services, account-based ticketing services and live multimodal MaaS services.
This is part 2 of a 2-part interview series.