SXSW Startups: Commutifi Drives Traffic

The Forrest Four-Cast: February 5, 2018

As part of the 2018 SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event, 50 startups in 10 categories will compete on March 10 and 11. Winners in each category will be honored at the Accelerator Award Ceremony at 7 pm Sunday, March 11, at the Hilton Austin. The SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event takes place within the Startup & Tech Sectors track of programming.

A finalist in the Transportation Technology category, Commutifi is a wellness platform that optimizes mobility for commuters and any organization that needs to manage commuting (enterprises, cities, business districts, campuses, commercial real estate owners/managers, etc). Based in Boulder, Colo., Commutifi captures holistic commuting data, measures time, cost and carbon efficiencies, generates recommendations, and administers benefits and subsidies that lead to optimum commuting. See it in action on Saturday, March 10, at 9:30 am, at the Hilton Austin, Salon AB. If you miss Commutifi then, meet them at the SXSW Accelerator Demo Day on March 12.

Representing the startup in this interview is Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer Esteban Sanchez.

What problems are Commutifi trying to solve?
New technologies and services are dramatically challenging the traditional transportation systems and the concept of car ownership. As Mobility as a Service (MaaS) becomes the prevailing model, we envision more and more services entering the market creating a world of options for commuters but also very serious challenges for enterprises, cities, real estate developers, and so on. These entities will need help transitioning away from old models and leveraging new services and tech to remain competitive in the new mobility landscape. It starts with data. Lack of visibility leads to significant inefficiencies for enterprises, cities, etc. When you learn what your employees are spending each month on their commutes, or what their carbon output is, it’s very compelling. Then when you see some very easy solutions that our recommendation engine provides, you can instantly see how your commuting can become more efficient. It’s pretty powerful to see the data and also the alternative solutions that are increasingly available.

What is your competitive advantage?
We’ve been working with cities, business districts, real estate developers, co-working spaces and rideshare providers for several years, helping them solve their commuting problems and gathering the core requirements for our current solution. These relationships are hard to reproduce, which gives Commutifi a knowledge base and first mover advantage. We also have a well-rounded and experienced team of founders and advisors. This isn’t our first rodeo, we know how to scale and grow quickly and we think we’re poised to do so.

Can you share some early successes?
We’ve had many interesting projects, from optimizing mobility at Denver Union Station for their 14,000 daily commuters and 700 employees to bringing affordable mobility to Atlanta Airport employees. One particularly interesting project is with the City of Boulder, where we’ve been engaged for two years. Our first pilot aimed to study if the population would be willing to use alternate modes of transportation, in this case pooled rideshare, to get downtown. The city has aggressive goals for reducing single-occupied vehicles, congestion and parking demand. Our platform allowed the city to capture key data on visitors of downtown, as well as subsidize their rideshare fares. The pilot was wildly successful with 5% of the population participating over four months. A case study by Rocky Mountain Institute on this pilot is a great resource.The data we captured from this pilot also informed several other ways the city could incentivize downtown visitors and employees to make better commuting decisions and in 2018 Boulder will be rolling out our Commuter Wellness product.

What inspires your team to work harder?
We started Commutifi to create a positive impact in our cities. When we looked at the big picture, we realized something needed to change. Cost of commuting, traffic, productivity loss and carbon emission are at all-time highs, and the trend of urbanization will only exacerbate the problem. The situation is not sustainable. Solving these challenges is what keeps us going.

What does Commutifi hope to accomplish this year?
We are pretty excited for 2018. It will be a busy year. We’ll be growing the team (primarily development), and releasing major features of the platform including real-time tracking of commutes and machine learning for data analysis. We also have a lot of inbound sales opportunities coming through from cities, real estate owners and transportation planners, so we will need to build out our Biz Dev team so we can begin executing on these and growing our user base.

What inspired your team to apply for SXSW Accelerator?
SXSW Accelerator is about recognizing companies at the cutting edge of innovation that are making a positive impact in the world. We saw our company as a great fit and decided to use the opportunity to get the word out and announce our product offering.

What session is your team most excited about attending at SXSW 2018? We are quite excited about the Cities Summit, where cities, lawmakers and innovators can get together to envision the future of our cities. There are a lot of interesting sessions, particularly about how autonomous vehicles are changing mobility and how data-driven solutions are needed to drive change forward.

What kinds of people is your team looking to network with at the event?
SXSW is interesting because it brings together people from various backgrounds and industries. We are looking forward to exchange ideas with other innovators, learn about challenges of cities and lawmakers, discuss new integrations with transportation service providers, exchange with medias and investors and network with everyone else from diverse background that make SXSW what it is.

Commutifi is currently based in Boulder. What’s the most exciting thing about the Colorado startup scene?
It’s a vibrant community. Many large startups are emerging; there are a lot of resources available for entrepreneurs, Techstars, accelerators, co-working, events, investment, etc. More importantly, there is a collaborative culture where startups and entrepreneurs help each other succeed. We also have the advantage of our business and political communities working really well together. There’s a shared commitment here to make Colorado a truly great place to start a business.

Have team members previously been involved with other startups?
Yes, we’ve all been working on multiple startups. Rich Schmelzer, our CEO, is a serial startup entrepreneur and TechStars Alum and mentor who has taken companies from $0 to $100M ARR with two public company exits generating $750m+. And, as CTO, I have helped dozens of startups bring innovative technologies to market, and the rest of the team has equally been involved in great initiatives and companies. We have a very seasoned team of startup veterans and entrepreneurs, which is one of our greatest advantages.

What aspect of the startup experience do you enjoy most?
Innovation. When working in a startup, there are no guidelines to follow, no limits. Just a blank slate for you to learn about the current problems and create innovative solutions to address them. It moves fast and everyone has a voice to contribute and create an impact.

Look for interviews with other SXSW Accelerator finalists in this space between now and March. Startups already profiled as part of this series include 70MillionJobs, Bluefield, Cambridge Cancer Genomics, CieAR, DashTag, HealthTensor, Instreamatic, Pawame, PolyPort, Sceenic, and UPGRADED.

Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.