Q&A: Caitlin Spring and Tamsyn Lunt on research, data analysis, and building a global, hyperlocal public transport app
Rumbo — WhereIsMyTransport’s public transport app — is the only place emerging-market commuters can get reliable and real-time data from every mode of public transport, as well as sharing their own disruption information with other Rumbo users. We spoke with Caitlin Spring, Lead Product Manager, and Tamsyn Lunt, Customer Experience Manager, about how research and data analysis informs Rumbo’s features, roadmap, and growth.
What do you do at WhereIsMyTransport, and what’s your background?
Caitlin: I’m the Lead Product Manager for Rumbo’s Experience Squad. I spend a lot of time working with Engineers, Product Designers, and Data Analysts to make sure that when people come to Rumbo, they’re getting a useful and enriching experience — that also supports the business.
I spend a lot of time collaborating with other squads to ensure we’re all building towards the same unified experience, sharing learnings, and tracking our progress. WhereIsMyTransport has got all the right people in the (proverbial) room. We’ve fostered a really tight collaborative process where we swarm around a problem to ideate and come up with solutions that we’re excited to test and iterate on.
Before moving into Product, my background was in Marketing. I worked on a FinTech app that helped small businesses get paid. I also did lots of studying! An undergraduate degree in Philosophy and English, an honours in Gender Studies, another honours in Creative Writing, and then finally a Masters in China Studies in Beijing.
Tamsyn: I am Customer Experience Manager for Rumbo. People are often like: what’s the difference between your roles? I lead a team of experts focused on user-centricity. Caitlin talked about the experience of using Rumbo. That is part of what we focus on, but my team focuses on the whole customer experience as well, from the first time someone hears about Rumbo — which means working with Marketing on positioning — to the moment they land in the app — and working with Caitlin’s team on that. It’s about ensuring what’s happening inside and outside the app is aligned, helping commuters in emerging markets get the most value they can from Rumbo — at every step.
Like Caitlin I’ve worked in marketing, and I’ve also been a Product Designer, a Product Researcher, and I have done Customer Communication. That’s probably reflective of what I do now: a product generalist with the customer always at the forefront.
How does research influence your work, and our public transport app Rumbo?
Caitlin: Research is useful when looking forward, but also when looking back. We don’t only use research to guide what we should build and why, it’s also about understanding what performed, what didn’t, and how we missed the mark — or nailed it! — for our users. We need to hold both pieces of ‘time travel’ to help define what we should spend our time on next.
Research is about listening and observing, and that can take lots of different forms, from user interviews to social media comments and app ratings. You can also listen by looking at quantitative data and seeing how our products are performing. Are people engaging with new features? Do they come back to them again?
Tamsyn: Strong agree! We don’t wake up every day and start pushing out features for no reason. What we do is informed by the insights we gain from our research toolkit.
I’ve never seen a commitment to data and research like we have at WhereIsMyTransport. We put that at the centre of every decision. As well as conducting significant market and user research, we also emphasise the importance of local expertise. We don’t just build products for emerging markets, we have teams in Mexico City, in Lima, in Bangkok who understand the context — people who live the thing they’re building. If you speak to an engineer or if you speak to somebody in our marketing team, there is a strong sense that we are building for real people who have a real problem that we’re able to help them solve — and it’s research that helps us establish that.
So who are those people? Caitlin and I have done a lot of work to define and refine our target audience. You can’t be everything for everyone. You have to be a specific thing for a specific group of people in order to solve something. We use research to figure out who those people are, what they need our help with, and how we are uniquely positioned to do that.
What is the role of quantitative and qualitative data when making product decisions?
Tamsyn: When should we use quant and when should we use qual? That has got to be one of my favourite research questions. It’s really important to figure out how we balance quant and qual and use them to complement each other. Quant can tell you what people are doing, but it can’t unlock the motivators, drivers, or blockers that inspire your next priorities like qual can. Having the two work together helps you develop hypotheses and stress test them — both ways.
Quantitative research and insights, which is traditionally things like data analytics, tells you what is actually happening in terms of real user behaviour. Where are people clicking and when are people clicking? The value of quantitative research is that, often, what people tell you they do is not the same as what they do. It’s a reality check.
Qualitative research, on the other hand, helps understand why something is happening, or why it’s important. We discovered through conversations with people that they’d often use more than one app before they leave the house because information was so scattered. We also learnt that people like to plan their commutes the day before because they want to be prepared. Understanding barriers and motivations informs the product decisions we make with Rumbo.
Caitlin: As a PM, I often obsess over the dashboards we’ve set up to monitor Rumbo’s success. For something like an onboarding funnel, we might see drop-off points — that’s when a user leaves the set-up process. I would look at that and be like, huh? People are getting to step three and then they’re going away? We know it’s happening, but we don’t know why, so it’s hard to know how to fix it.
I’d share that with Tamsyn and her team. They’d use qualitative research to understand and uncover what’s going on — what’s happening in a user’s mind when they reach that step. That feedback then goes back to the Product Team, where we can redesign the flow to take that feedback into account, and monitor it over time to see if the changes we made based on those qualitative insights change the quantitative funnel.
Tamsyn: We’ve also developed a database where user comments are collected and codified. That natural feedback is inherently qualitative, but we codify it with the metrics we are interested in from a product perspective to spot trends. That could mean trends in our markets or regions, or it could be across other factors like purpose of a commute, or the modes of public transport people use most often. Within qualitative research, the approach we take here is really interesting. It’s quite a unique and scalable way to hear from people and see whether it is a loud minority or a genuine trend.
Rumbo is a hyperlocal public transport app, but it operates globally. How do you balance that and act on insights from different markets?
Tamsyn: Rumbo is a unique, hyperlocal product. It has to succeed at street level everywhere that people depend on it. But it also has to be global. The only way we can scale is by building something that is just as relevant, just as valuable in multiple emerging-market cities.
When we established Rumbo, we worked hard to understand how people use public transport. Things like ridealongs — where we join commuters to identify the main forms of transport and their problems — and diary studies — documenting when people get up, look at their phone, and anything that contextualises their commutes.
One thing we learnt is that community plays a bigger role in how people travel in emerging markets. Information is spread out, decentralised, often unreliable. Rumbo’s target audience are in WhatsApp groups sharing updates with each other, or Facebook groups crowdsourcing information about a particular mode of transport.
Caitlin: That shows there is a need for what we’re doing. We’ve tapped into this with Rumbo to ensure commuters in emerging markets have a central place to prepare for their journeys, and to share information with others.
One of the hardest but most exciting challenges we face is this balance between hyperlocal and global. Looking at market similarities and differences is key, and that can mean lots of things. It could be the makeup of the public transport network: is it primarily formal public transport that has some data available? Or is it primarily informal public transport? Those kinds of transport similarities and differences are not necessarily regional, which is quite interesting. This means you can have emerging-market cities that are on the one hand incredibly different, but on the other share functionally similar public transport networks.
This understanding helps us prioritise what we need to develop and what we need to build. It’s a balance of finding the most acute user problems in each market, and the issues we are best positioned to solve. Developing profiles of the challenges we can tackle makes our global strategy a lot more interesting, because then we know what kinds of markets we’re suited to, where we can successfully grow becomes much easier to understand.
Tamsyn: Getting the hyperlocal right is really important. Quantitative research and data analysis helps us focus on the right things, but so does talking to people who use Rumbo. We’ve perfected our mix of in-person and virtual qual research. Virtual is easier for people to commit to, but we also do in-person events. Recently we hosted groups of Rumbo users in Mexico City, Lima, and Bangkok — with delicious local treats of course! We showed them our roadmap and asked them what they thought. Did they have other ideas? Had we missed anything? We’re not building for ourselves.
What is public transport like where you live?
Tamsyn: I live in Cape Town. WhereIsMyTransport started here, and it’s the original inspiration city for Rumbo. Public transport is a literal lifeline for people in Cape Town, but the apps aren’t great, and the journeys themselves can be confusing and take a long time. To me, that just doesn’t feel fair. In developed cities, it’s mostly easy and intuitive to get around — far more easy than it is in my own city. I used to live in South Korea, and that was super eye-opening for me. The tech and data available to me for anything to do with public transport made my life so much easier.
Caitlin: I used public transport a lot when I lived in Beijing, where they have amazing apps. Even though I couldn’t speak Mandarin, it was easy to get around. When I lived in Joburg, I used to catch a minibus taxi to get to Braamfontein, which would mean walking about a kilometre to the main road to hail a taxi. People in Joburg use hand signs to show where they are going. If the taxi is going that way it will stop for you, and if it’s not, it’ll just drive past. It’s so important to understand those cool local quirks of how people use public transport. I currently live in Cape Town, where there’s quite a vibrant mix of formal and informal public transport, with different modes offering different benefits and experiences. What’s clear from my public transport experiences overseas is that Cape Town’s challenge is partly about a data gap. That’s the same challenge we’re overcoming with Rumbo.