Product Analysis on Citymapper

Giang Nguyen
Apr 11 · 10 min read

I’ve known Citymapper for quite some time but did not have the opportunity to use the app in depth until my trip to Boston and New York City in March 2019. FYI, I’m based in Los Angeles, which is not a big fan of public transportation, so I was not in need of the app.

My user experience with Citymapper was AMAZING! I was not afraid of getting lost in the spider-web subway network of NYC thanks to this app! It has incredibly revolutionized public transportation by making it extremely simpler and more accessible for all travelers, expats and locals!

As many of us may get excited to try out the app (like me!), I will have a laser-focused Product Analysis on Citymapper to help you make the most out of your first-time experience.

This post includes:

  1. This post includes:
  2. Product Overview

a) Product Overview

b) The Design

c) The Tech

d) The Social

2. Pain points and solutions

a) Medium Impact

b) High Impact

1) Product Overview

  • How Citymapper was built?

It all began when Yusuf, the founder of Citymapper, was struggling to commute by bus.

“I was trying to live a low-cost life. I was wandering around London and was trying to figure out how to take the bus…Back then, people would just get in the bus and ask the driver where does it go…IT SHOULDN’T BE LIKE THAT” — quoted Yusuf on TechCrunch release.

Simple as that, Citymapper was born with the mission to simplify public transportation in London for commuters.

The team had operated in London so well that would unearth user pain points and delight them before expanding to other markets! It’s a no-brainer that they took quite a while to establish a strong foundation before expanding into new regions, while other transit apps typically rush to expand fast but fail fast.

The startup has now expanded to 40+ cities in more than 10 countries around the world and it is on the way to more cities on its map!

  • Why Citymapper and not Google Maps, Apple Maps, or other transportation apps?

Many people would wonder — “Google/Apple Maps is already installed on my phone, why not just use them instead?

There are plenty of reasons why Citymapper is the winner of all:

🎨 The Design

  1. User-centric design
Just by observing the home screen, it’s very self-explanatory and the user can just use it right away without much confusion about its features.

This is the most brutal part in their user growth funnel — how they can acquire and retain users with zero budget on marketing! The good product advocates for itself!

This growth mindset is somehow similar to Elon Musk. Instead of spending a big budget on advertising to compete with other auto giants, Musk chose to target customers in a much more organic way — “The stores are our advertising. Paid advertising may be something we’ll do years down the road. But not now.”

Discovering a solution to a problem will not be enough to drive huge growth, making that solution accessible for the users will! And the way they managed to reach this result is one-of-a-kind! The secret to their growth hack is building an intuitive and useful app.

2. Free & Quick

There are no steps on home screen to prompt for user sign up or subscription, you can just open the app and find the route on the spot!

If I want to sign up, I could do it later in the “Setting” of the app but this is not compulsory either.

3. Ease of use

It has highly accurate real-time data of buses, trains and subways, and informs you which is the fastest route! It also automatically modified your trip if there are any service changes on transportation facility along the way.

End-to-end experience on a trip
Lively track your location during the trip and send you push notifications on when to get off or wait for the next train/bus.

Furthermore, their designs are minimalistic, but very informative at the same time.

For example, I need to catch the train L to NYC Chinatown:

👉 Google Maps does not appear apparently which L train I need to take

👉 Citymapper points out specifically at L train to Manhattan.

Google Map UI (left) versus Citymapper UI (right)

4. Apple watch

FYI, Citymapper was one of the first apps available for Apple Watch!

This was a strategic move as a majority of potential buyers of the device tend to be citizens of big and crowded cities. They all need to figure out the simplest and fastest way to navigate the city.

Using Apple Watch along with Citymapper allows them to quickly gauge the information and receive notifications according to their location. And it’s totally hand-free for the users!

Find out more about this feature via their blog post!

🔮 The Tech

  1. Open Data

We are living in the world of open-data booming and Citymapper is ahead of the game!

While building the app, the team behind Citymapper understood the challenges in missing data and data discrepancies. That’s why they developed many tools and API which allow other developers or city transport agencies to contribute to the open-data projects provided by Citymapper.

They also leverage open data to calculate the best itinerary, figure out traffic and builds up their own in-house data to fill the gaps — “A lot of what we’ve been doing is building to tools to create data,” Yusuf said on Techcrunch release.

You can read more on their blog post on open data here!

2. Implementing Natural Language Processing (NLP) to decrease trip delay in real time!

Have you ever run into a problem where you cannot make sense of what MTA’s Service Alert is saying?

Take this text for example:

“Due to FDNY activity at 23St there is no B, D, F, M train service between W4St-Washington Sq and 42St-Bryant Pk in both directions.”

Yep! It’s very confusing, especially when you are on a rush and need to figure out the new route asap.

This is where the magic of NLP implementation of Citymapper comes in and rescues the world from this frustration! The team calls this feature “Gobot”.

What “Gobot” does is that it will dig into the details of the text and transform it into something more easy to understand. So the previous text would turn into:

  • Stations between West 4th Street and 42nd Street Bryant Park are closed,
  • But the rest of the F line is running

Even better, Gobot has the ability to adjust your trip in real time due to service changes and makes sure to offer you the most optimal route!

Read more about this feature here!

3. Floating transport

We used to have fixed transport — such as trains and buses with pre-scheduled routes and times. But we are now at the age of floating transport, where we could freely customize the way we get from A to B and not rely on any schedule. A perfect example of this is how ride-sharing services are disrupting our daily commute.

Citymapper also wrote their own blog on “The age of floating transport”.

Once again, Citymapper is way ahead of the game. They were very well aware of this challenge and created new feature Routing for floating transport on their app to make commuting even more seamless! They estimate to partner and add a new ride-sharing service on their app every week!

The interesting part of this integration is that they were able to bridge the gap between fixed and floating transport! The way they implement the feature is simple: you can both take the ride-sharing service to catch your train on time or vice versa! This can eventually save the user time and money. (How cool is that!)

🎉 The Social

  1. Sustainable

One of the collateral incentives to use Citymapper is to contribute towards building a greener environment. Because of the way they make traveling by public transport much easier, you will end up choosing the subway instead of driving. Plus, users are encouraged to walk whenever possible or to take an electric vehicle.

One of my most favorite feature on the app is the Trips Stats. It accurately keeps track of your progress on building a more sustainable environment!

2. Medium

Building your brand through your story! Citymapper has targeted users with their stories in such an unconventional way!

While other apps market their products on social media like Facebook, Instagram or YouTube, or blogs on their own website, Citymapper chose to post all the ideas on Medium. (avoid the crowds!)

Medium is the online publishing platform that drives the most attention for the past few years. It is an ideal place to share your thoughts and ideas, then Medium will do their job of recommending your post to your potential readers!

Hence, posting content on Medium is another way to acquire more organic users! Plus, if you pay careful attention to their writing styles, it is so intriguing with smart jokes that you will keep reading even though you may not need that info!

Check out their Medium here !

3. High User Empathy

Citymapper never stops to serve the best to their users. They even integrate an in-app user survey to understand the need and pain points of the users for continuous improvement.

In addition, writing blogs on Medium is also a great way to engage with their users and receive feedback on new app features.

4. Transparent in their data sources

Citymapper also makes a further step to educate their users of where they get the routing data from and transform the whole process much more transparent and accessible. Here is one example that they provide their data sources right in the app!

5. Fun Features

🎬 CitymappAR (you can find it in the “Setting” of the app)

🎀 Stickers (you can find it in the “Setting” of the app)

Fun Stickers 😜

🚀 The Growth Mindset

Another key to their success is they are continuously making improvements to their product and expanding their market!

Keep calm and wait to be surprised by their next moves!

  • How they monetize

1) Citymapper pass (Launching soon in London!)

2) Smart bus + Black cab project

3) Rich data

  • The data is probably their most valuable asset! The fact that people are using the app very regularly can make it’s even more valuable in terms of improving the product and monetization.

2) Pain Points and Solutions:

🚌 Medium impact:

  • Productivity:

This is a small detail but it could lead to a bigger problem of user churning!

They had done a great job of accurately tracking real-time location when the users are on train or buses. However, when users get off and start walking, the app does not track really well. So what I have done in the past was switching to Google Map when I started walking. If they can fix this, both users and Citymapper would be a lot better off!

🚎 High impact:

  • Product Marketing:

Citymapper is a great app, but I won’t actually download and use it for my trip to Boston and NYC without the suggestion of my Airbnb host. It’s just the app that I had in mind while ago but I never have any plan to use it.

Therefore, I think the team can start improving their plan for paid ads user growth by calibrating more on Marketing Analytics!

  • Brand awareness:

Citymapper has done an incredible job in acquiring organic users and retaining them. However, the team can aim for an even more ambitious goals of making people think about Citymapper as the best transit and eco-friendly app on top of their head!

A great hidden gem in Citymapper is that it creates a sense of purpose for users to protect the environment, which is shown in their Trip Stats.

The team also needs to find a way to differentiate themselves with their competitors! Maybe they should start asking questions like why people need this app while it will occupy more memory space on their phone and they already have Google/Apple map as default? Keep in mind that users nowadays are getting lazier (for real!) so they only have great incentive to download the app when your product does not offer elsewhere.

  • Addressing emerging market problem:

Citymapper currently offers at big cities or places that already had a very well-structured public transportation. Hence, it will be super interesting if Citymapper could expand to cities that do not have well-established traffic infrastructure and public transportation in emerging markets! Take Saigon, my hometown, for example.

The bottom line is that Citymapper is always eyeing for improving public transit and making the experience of traveling from A to B more seamlessly. I’m an active user on Citymapper and will be super excited to see my analysis benefiting their product strategies in the future!

Help me improve this post by commenting your thoughts below 🙏

💁‍♀️ References:


App Samurai

Giang Nguyen

Written by

@UCLA | Data Enthusiast | Growth Mindset

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