Q&A: Chayanon Visutthithada, Gianmarco Heredia, and Fernanda Gonzalez on building an engaging public transport app in the Majority World
Rumbo — WhereIsMyTransport’s public transport app — is improving mobility across the Majority World, starting with Mexico City, Lima, and Bangkok. We spoke with Chayanon Visutthithada, Marketing Manager, Gianmarco Heredia, CX Analyst, and Fernanda Gonzalez, Marketing Manager, about Rumbo’s latest update — bringing daily updates, voice note reporting, and a partner brands platform to millions of users.
What do you do at WhereIsMyTransport, and what’s your background?
Chayanon: I’m the Marketing Manager for Rumbo in Bangkok and I work to grow Rumbo — raising awareness, supporting user acquisition, and making sure people understand our value. I’ve worked in entrepreneurship-slash-marketing for many years, including in the startup space, so I understand the challenges of growing a brand, getting people to talk about you, and getting people to use your product.
Gianmarco: I am our Customer Experience Analyst, and I’ve been part of the Rumbo team in Lima since launch. Before WhereIsMyTransport, I worked in guest support in hotels, dealing with customers in real life! I first joined the Rumbo team in customer support, then CX. I help customers who are users of our app, meaning I know their feedback but I don’t know them in person. Sometimes, this can be a little bit more challenging!
Fernanda: I’m the Mexico City Marketing Manager for Rumbo, and my focus is securing users for Rumbo. I make sure people get Rumbo’s value proposition, so they download the app and use it to plan their trips on public transport. Before WhereIsMyTransport, I worked for a mobile app focused on parking meter technology, supporting their out of home, paid media, and social media.
What is it like to commute by public transport where you live?
Fernanda: In Mexico City, pretty chaotic! 82% of trips are made by public transport, which is huge. There are people who have to use three different types of transport just to get to their destination. And any time there’s a disruption or breakdown, it can add an hour to a journey. That’s a real issue because, on average, there are around 60 disruptions every day. Crossing the city from east to west or north to south takes about five hours by public transport. That’s basically like travelling to another city. But public transport is still easier for people. It’s cheaper than a car, it’s less stress to navigate the traffic, and it helps combat air pollution, which is really bad in Mexico City.
Gianmarco: In Lima, using public transport is like commuting with uncertainty. The vast majority of public transport trips use informal public transport — far more than in Mexico City and Bangkok. And even with our formal buses and trains, you can be at your stop waiting and they won’t show up. There’s a lot of incidents, and fares change constantly. Before Rumbo, there was a real lack of information for Limeños. Even official services only post information just a day before it happens. Sometimes, you’ll find out about changes when you’re waiting for the bus. Commuting with that uncertainty can be tough.
Chayanon: When I was younger, I used a lot of public transport in Bangkok. It gets hot and polluted in Bangkok — we really don’t like to walk! I’d sort of wing it to find my way around, but the system wasn’t as intricate then, just one line on the Skytrain as well as the MRT. The buses were crazy dirty, no air conditioning — I didn’t want to get on them! But I went to school overseas and saw how convenient public transport was, how clean it was, and how super-on-time it was. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found I don’t use public transport quite as much. I work remotely, so I don’t need to commute. But since working with Rumbo, I’ve been using our product in the wild, and I have been surprised by how much our buses have changed. There have been a lot of improvements.
Rumbo is a hyperlocal app that’s available in Mexico City, Lima, and Bangkok. How does the balance between Rumbo’s hyperlocal approach and global coverage affect your work?
Chayanon: Every good app needs to be localised! In Bangkok, Rumbo has all public transport lines, including the smaller vehicles that most people use. We needed that data to create more value for people. Yes, data from the entire network is part of our hyperlocal strategy, but it also reflects our global strategy, because WhereIsMyTransport has a mission to digitalise all formal and informal public transport data.
Gianmarco: In Lima, we put Peruvian slang into our messages. It is important for us to show people that it’s Peruvians — and commuters too — who are building this product. In my role, it is very important to listen and to learn from our users. Of course, we can’t always do everything our users would like us to do, but we share the key trends and insights to ensure that we’re building what people in all our markets need.
Fernanda: For us in the Rumbo Marketing team, hyperlocalisation is key. A well-communicated message to the people who should hear it is the recipe for marketing success. We are very focused on that. In Mexico City, we also have a particular style of speaking to our Rumbis, and we’ve done that since launch. We talk to them like they’re chilangos — a term for people who live in Mexico City. That helps us connect with people, and that’s evident in everything from the avatars we use in the app to the marketing material we produce. That matters because we treat our users as a community. Generating community is important, and it’s a two-way thing. It’s not just people talking to the app and telling us there’s a disruption, it’s also Rumbo talking to them as a community of commuters.
Gianmarco: What we’re doing with Rumbo can be tough! Lima was the last city to get fare data in Rumbo, and this was down to Lima’s changeable fares. Even though Lima is a smaller city than Mexico City, it was difficult. I remember working with the Peruvian team to produce fare range data. When that went live, our users started telling us how much it helped them. Considering how much work we put into that, that was really nice to hear.
Chayanon: With our updates to Rumbo, the problems I used to face with public transport have been addressed. Back then, I didn’t know my route, and I didn’t know if a bus was coming. If traffic was crazy, my choices used to be to hop on a motorbike or a songthaew, ask people in the area for my alternatives, or check online for news. But with Rumbo, people can just check their phone to see the reasons their journeys have been affected, and get all their alternatives in the app. Public transport in Thailand is still not that reliable, and with Rumbo we’re helping people understand it.
Rumbo has the best public transport data in its markets. How do you ensure our target audiences understand what Rumbo has to offer?
Chayanon: Recently we did a cool video where we highlighted Rumbo’s real-time alerts and journey planning features. We did a lot of campaigns around this and they were high conversion. We showed people that Rumbo is a public transport app where you can check the status of your commute in real-time and, when transport isn’t working as expected, make an alternative plan to get from point A to point B. We highlighted Rumbo’s shareability features, where people can send real-time disruption information to their friends. Focusing on these features really helped us with our local advertising, because people understood Rumbo’s unique value.
Gianmarco: I really admire the way our Marketing teams work. They use a lot of memes and reels to engage our users and make sure they understand Rumbo’s value proposition. In my field, onboarding is really important. I worked with a colleague on an initiative related to the first week’s onboarding. When a user downloads Rumbo, we’d demonstrate how they can use the features, showing them how to check the status of public transport, how to save their most commonly used routes, and how to set up customised notifications. The messaging and marketing is important, but so is the experience you have when you first download the app.
Fernanda: Good onboarding is great for us in marketing as well. When people download Rumbo, they can tell us why they downloaded it when they open the app. That helps us understand the motive, or the message that resonated with the new user. One of things we’ve learnt is that the main value for our users is Rumbo’s real-time alerts. People can also share their Rumbo journeys through WhatsApp, and with the new version of Rumbo, we’ve updated the app to generate more detailed messages when people share their statuses. People can text their friends and tell them about their journey in Rumbo. That goes hand in hand with the importance we place on community.
What projects from your work with Rumbo are you most proud of?
Gianmarco: I was part of Rumbo’s launch team in Lima, which was very exciting. I built out our real-time alerts department, including tone of voice and data acquisition. I’ve also been inspired by lots of the hyperlocal Out of Home projects my colleagues in marketing do. We’ve worked with local artists and comedians to build campaigns with a Lima voice. We did one where we gifted locally designed public transport card holders to people. I remember a friend of mine showed me that she’d received one. It was the first time it hit home that the app was really out there — people were using Rumbo for their commutes! We also did an initiative where we rewarded new users with breakfast. This was a great match for our market, because Limeños really like to get rewards!
Chayanon: We have been doing a similar breakfast campaign in Bangkok. Moo ping is a super hyperlocal breakfast in Thailand. People in Victory Monument — a public transport hub — can scan a QR code at our partner restaurant to download Rumbo, and get moo ping with sticky rice for free. That was a success and we’re now looking to scale it to new locations with other super-Thai foods. We also got high engagement with a red bus vs blue bus campaign. Red buses are old-school buses — dirty, been around for decades, no air conditioning. But people are accustomed to them and see them as traditional public transport. We featured them in a campaign and there was a lot of controversy with some people saying they needed to be taken out of use, so we asked people to vote: are you Team Red Bus or Team Blue Bus? That campaign generated a lot of downloads.
Fernanda: We have a program that’s called Rumbuddies where people sign up and create content for Rumbo’s social media. People tag us and demonstrate how they use the app. We also went to a candelaria — which is a bus and microbus station in Mexico City — for a marketing campaign. We spoke with people waiting for the bus to encourage them to download Rumbo in exchange for a free ride. First, we talked to the dirigente — that’s the person who coordinates the vehicles and routes at the candelaria — and told them we wanted to fill the bus with new Rumbo users. This was a success because it gave us a chance to get close to our target users and understand what they needed. We also learned that dirigentes are willing to work with us if we invest in having a good relationship with them.
Fernanda: Our marketing projects mean we reach more people, and that helps more people. Rumbo is changing people’s lives by changing their experiences in public transport. I’ve seen that for myself. Most people do not have control of their time. Rumbo gives people information they can rely on. That helps them make better decisions.
Gianmarco: I’m very excited about Rumbo’s new features, especially for Lima. The feedback we get from our users always reminds me how much knowledge they have — everything from disruptions to best routes. Features that make it easier for our users to share their knowledge with us, and with other users, are really exciting for me. I hope our Rumbis also find it exciting!
Chayanon: Ever since I joined WhereIsMyTransport, Rumbo has been improving. Today, I can honestly say that Rumbo is a really legit app. I’m excited about that! With Rumbo, we’re solving the public transport puzzle. Alerts, journey planning, time selection for journeys. Rumbo has all the features that help you if you rely on public transport every day.