Tandem is on a mission to end transport poverty in small cities and towns — places where the competition is lowest yet the need is greatest.
We sat down with Zinc Mission 2 Founder Alex Shapland-Howes to find out how he and his co-founders, Tat-Seng Chiam and Huw McLeod, are planning to achieve this ambitious goal.
How did Tandem come about?
I don’t think any of us came into Zinc thinking that we would work on transport, but as part of the programme we spent a lot of time in local communities and met an extraordinary number of people who literally couldn’t secure jobs because they had no way of getting there. As people who’ve lived in big cities like London for most of our lives, that kind of blew our minds.
So we started to dig deeper into the issue and found a whole set of literature around this concept of transport poverty and how a lack of accessible, reliable and affordable public transport can prevent you leading your full life — getting to work, accessing health care, seeing friends and family, or going to the big supermarket on the edge of town where food is cheaper.
At the same time as seeing this problem, we were whizzing around London in fancy new shared taxis paying £3 a go which is less than the price of a bus in lots of parts of the UK and other countries. We thought — how do we take these technologies that have basically already been developed and make them work for people in these smaller places?
We thought — how do we take these technologies that have basically already been developed and make them work for people in these smaller places?
How do people use and benefit from Tandem?
Effectively what we’re trying to do is get the price of a shared taxi down to the price of a bus. We ran a pilot in a town called Skelmersdale. People could use our web app and book a journey with the time they wanted to get to work and where they needed picking up from. Then we’d find people travelling the same way at the same time and each of them would pay the same price as a local bus.
Between the three people in the taxi, they more than covered the cost, meaning the driver got paid, and each of them got a better quality service because it picked them up from where they lived, and allowed them to get places that the local buses didn’t service. Over time there will be a margin for Tandem on top, so it’s win-win-win.
To make the economics work in these smaller places, we’re also partnering with third parties (the places that people are travelling to). We know that many employers already subsidise or contribute to the cost of people travelling to work and we want to make sure that’s the norm in these kinds of places. Similarly if there’s an out of town supermarket or cinema, they will contribute to the cost of transport because the increased foot traffic would drive their revenues. It’s not just about them being nice — it makes business sense for them to do so.
What has been the biggest challenge for Tandem so far?
So many challenges! One is that whilst we’ve started to immerse ourselves in these small cities, towns and communities that we’re looking to work in and with, many of the people we need to back us, including partners, investors and at a policy level, are based in big cities.
Getting them to fully understand the scale of the challenge facing people in these places, but also the size of the opportunity to fix it, are two of the hardest things. So we’ve been working to communicate the statistics and the personal stories to help them understand how serious the issue is.
Transport poverty is one of the most under-appreciated social justice issues in this country and beyond, but it’s also a huge commercial opportunity. Transport in the UK is the single biggest category of household spend, bigger than rent on average and it is second across the rest of Europe and the US.
Transport in the UK is the single biggest category of household spend, bigger than rent on average and it is second across the rest of Europe and the US.
What have you found most rewarding so far?
The reaction we had in Skelmersdale was amazing. People were so open to us coming and trying to support their community in this way. People were coming up to us, asking us about what we were doing, excited to tell us why they would use Tandem and how it would change people’s lives locally. That openness was really energising.
What are your thoughts on the Zinc company builder programme experience? How has it differed to building Tandem on your own?
I wouldn’t have found my two co-founders, Tat-Seng and Huw, without Zinc, so that’s a big win, and none of us would be working on transport if we weren’t part of Zinc either. The immersion process at the beginning of the programme was so valuable. The thing that initially sparked our interest was meeting a group of dads in a town just outside of Rochdale and they were telling us that they couldn’t get jobs because the jobs were in the next town over and they literally had no way of getting there.
The thing that initially sparked our interest was meeting a group of dads in a town just outside of Rochdale and they were telling us that they couldn’t get jobs because the jobs were in the next town over and they literally had no way of getting there.
The support from the Zinc team and the Zinc network has also opened doors to the right policy conversations and helped give us credibility when knocking on doors trying to build some traction.
What is it like working together as a team of three co-founders?
I think that we all have different strengths and working styles and we’ve been very open with each other from the beginning about what works for us and what doesn’t work for us…I think that’s been the key.
We’ve got a diversity of skills and backgrounds, though we’re acutely aware of the fact that we are three male founders, and indeed that the three of us live in London and are building a business focused on places that are specifically not London. So we’re looking to continue to diversify the team as we grow.
Do you have any advice for future entrepreneurs?
I don’t think we’re in a position to offer advice to all future entrepreneurs (certainly not yet!), but I think openness to who you might end up working with is important. If you take the time to get to know people you can see how your strengths can complement each other.
What’s next for Tandem?
We’re just starting to raise our first funding round to support our first full town-wide launch. We’ve built out our business plan, Huw is kicking off the tech build — now we need to raise that money. We’ve had initial soft commitments from some great angel investors already, but let us know if anyone’s interested in chatting!
Follow Tandem and their journey to end transport poverty @ride_tandem or feel free to get in touch via email@example.com