Q&A: Jug Vajarodaya and Jorge Lara on mobility and growth opportunities in Southeast Asia and Latin America
Rumbo is WhereIsMyTransport’s public transport app, and the only app in Mexico City, Lima, and Bangkok that includes every public transport route. We spoke with Jug Vajarodaya and Jorge Lara — our Growth Leads for Southeast Asia and Latin America — about how Rumbo is creating opportunity by helping people get where they need to go.
What do you do at WhereIsMyTransport, and what’s your background?
Jug: I am Regional Growth Lead for Southeast Asia at WhereIsMyTransport, and I look after all our business in the region. Much of my focus is on Thailand, where we have our public transport app Rumbo. Rumbo is our consumer product and what we call a ‘travel companion’ — it’s an app that helps people get around by all modes of public transport.
Jorge: I am the Regional Growth Lead for Latin America and, like Jug, I’m in charge of making Rumbo famous — that’s my favourite description of our work — in Mexico City and Lima. I started working in Digital Marketing over ten years ago, and our work back then was very innovative. The digital landscape was completely different. In all my pitches, I was trying to convince our clients to get into social media. Compare that to today, where everybody is in social, everybody is making content. We were the pioneers in Latin America. I started as a digital strategist, and grew from junior to senior, to leading on content marketing, paid media, and social media.
Jug: My background is a funny story. I started as a Chemist, but wanted to be an entrepreneur, so I did a Master’s in Innovation, Management, and Entrepreneurship. During my second semester, I did a transport project that became a startup. I worked on that for a couple of years, and we merged into a firm in America. I came back to Bangkok to work in transport and tech again. WhereIsMyTransport was perfect — somewhere I can translate the culture and technology of the West into the emerging market where I grew up.
We call Rumbo our hyperlocal public transport app. What does that mean, and why is it important?
Jorge: Being hyperlocal means offering a product that reflects the reality of public transport. We know there are difficulties, or at least things that are complicated. Rumbo is a facilitator, it’s a way that people can tap into the system. That’s something that nobody else in our markets does well. We have more and better data than anybody else. Our focus on hyperlocal thinking means no one understands the system better. That means our data assets have become the reference for public transport. And now we’re helping commuters through Rumbo — a product that is genuinely useful.
Jug: Hyperlocal is about ensuring Rumbo is a product that is valuable for our consumer. What are people in Bangkok used to? What do they like? Not just technology, but what do they like in their daily lives? And how are they commuting? We have designed and built a product that not only complements their everyday lives, but improves their lives through a better public transport experience.
Design in the Western world and in Bangkok is very different. If you look at websites and apps in Bangkok, you’ll find it has a different feel to it. Lots of photos, lots of text — people are used to that. We aren’t going to use what you might think of as an empty app here. We’ve incorporated that into the Rumbo app for a better user experience, and in the ways we market the product, helping people understand the value of the app better.
Jorge: Being hyperlocal means that everybody in our Mexico City and Lima teams live here, and understand the nuances of travelling in these cities. We are Mexico City, we are Lima. We use the term chilangos — it’s people who are from the city, who live and breathe the city. We are all 100% chilango. Part of that is about making Rumbo contagious, putting the essence of what it means to be a chilango into our product, and everything we do in these markets.
What are you most proud of about Rumbo’s growth?
Jug: Rumbo is encouraging more people to take public transport, and reducing congestion in the city. That, for me, was the main reason I joined WhereIsMyTransport in the first place. One of the frustrations of people in Bangkok is the traffic. Everybody hates it. Rumbo is your way of saving time or avoiding congestion, but it’s also a way of helping other people do the same—by sharing information from your journeys. Before, I didn’t even know there was a schedule for songthaews — that’s an informal mode of public transport here. Using Rumbo has expanded my understanding. There used to be no way of knowing the schedule for informal public transport, but we changed that. I’m proud of that.
Jorge: We have received a lot of comments from people that we helped them. Rumbo has been there for them when they are lost, when they feel like they don’t know what to do. It’s those moments of angst where Rumbo has had the most impact. That’s one of the most important characteristics that I love about Rumbo. We are useful. One of my old bosses used to say to me: “if you are not useful in digital, you don’t have to be in digital.” I feel like, at work, you have to be part of a team that is solving something important. I’m proud that we are doing that.
What’s it like using public transport where you live?
Jug: That’s a very interesting question. In Bangkok, I would say: hectic! But it does depend on what type of public transport you use. The rail system here is very reliable. I mostly work from home, but for co-working or external meetings, rail is what I’d mostly take.
There’s an intersection near our coworking place that local people call the intersection from hell. There’s no way I’d drive or take a taxi there. But there are public transport stops nearby, so you can avoid that. If I didn’t have Rumbo, I would rely on the MRT, the BTS Skytrain, or some air-conditioned buses — because Thailand is super hot! But with Rumbo, you know what to take if you are in a less central neighbourhood, or on a smaller street. Rumbo gives you the choice. I’ve found that very useful.
Jorge: Mexico City’s public transport in a word? Complicated! You know, like that relationship with your partner where you don’t know what it is, but you know it’s complicated! We have a system with a lot of players — the official players and the unofficial players. We have more unofficial players, and sometimes they play by their own rules. Then you have the public transport user. They have a lot of options, but very little information about the system. You have the government and other stakeholders who cannot connect all the entities. All this on top of a big, chaotic city with accidents and other surprises. Public transport is supposed to be the veins around the city, but it’s affected by all those actors. That’s the scenario in Mexico City. Public transport is complicated, but it’s indispensable. It’s chaotic, but we have to use it.
How important are partnerships to the success of Rumbo?
Jorge: In Mexico City, we have a strong partnership with our dirigentes — the group of people who run informal and semi-formal public transport routes. And it’s the same in Lima. We partner with operators to improve our data, and improve the visibility of the system. This is beneficial to them because we share information about every public transport route through Rumbo, so people can plan the journey that is right for them. These relationships are key for us providing high-quality data.
Jug: We also have a lot of partnerships with transport operators in Bangkok. That is a critical part of how we ensure our data is comprehensive and up to date. Recently we’ve been engaging in new partnerships though, including with the City of Bangkok. Their crowdsourcing platform Traffy Fondue lets people report what’s happening in their area. It can be problems with road fixtures, broken bus signs, and other things. During times of flooding, Rumbo uses Traffy Fondue data to let our users know where the flooding is, and how to avoid those areas.
Rumbo users are always using public transport. If you want to help people use public transport more, there’s great value in a partnership with us. Our user base is also an audience of interest to many businesses. Rumbo users are a community of lower-income commuters, poorly served by mass-market solutions before now. But we were the ones to overcome that, creating a service that brings people together in one place.
Jorge: We’re interested in a range of partnerships with brands that can help Rumbo users. For instance, in Mexico City not many people have health insurance. So we partnered with a startup called Zenda.la to provide our users with a starting plan for health insurance, just for using Rumbo. That’s not advertising, it’s mutually beneficial—a perk for people using Rumbo. And those types of benefits are something we are looking to find more of. Partnerships that are genuinely valuable to the people who use Rumbo.
Interested in partnering with Rumbo? For Southeast Asia get in touch with Jug Vajarodaya at firstname.lastname@example.org and for Latin America get in touch with Jorge Lara at email@example.com