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Investors in public transport data and technology startup WhereIsMyTransport say they are happy with the progress the company is making, despite a recent round of retrenchments and negative comments by former employees on Glassdoor.com suggesting that the company is in trouble.
The Cape Town and London-based company retrenched several staff members last year, while former employees suggested in reviews on Glassdoor.com in January as well as December last year that the company was “an empty shell” and “going nowhere” after five years.
‘Happy with progress’
Bombardier, which together with the Global Innovation Fund (GIF) and Goodwell Investments last year (see this story) invested £1.2-million ($1.5-million) in the company, is not perturbed.
Yet while Bombardier head of external communication Claas Belling would not comment on the financial situation of WhereIsMyTransport, he said the company is happy with the way the investment is going.
‘Investors are hands-on with WhereIsMyTransport and very happy with the progress that the company is making in realising its growth plans’
“Our business objective is, as part of our digitalisation strategy, to start exploring new partnerships in the technology and mobility sector, to foster innovation, innovation culture and explore new fields of business for Bombardier Transportation. This is running as planned,” said Belling.
Echoing this, Wim van der Beek of Goodwell Investments, said the organisation was happy with their investment.
“We are hands-on involved with the company and we are very happy with the progress that the company is making in realising its growth plans,” he said.
The company was started by Devin de Vries and Chris King in 2008 in Cape Town. But Van der Beek said they had “clocked just over three years in their new avatar” following the London relaunch of the offering in 2015.
Turning to the comments on Glassdoor.com, Van der Beek said: “I have seen the two negative comments on Glassdoor.com, these claims do not have any basis and are clearly from aggrieved employees. The other eight comments on Glassdoor.com paint a more realistic picture.”
In one review titled “an empty shell” and published on 1 January 2018, a former full-time employee alleges: “Sadly, the CEO is not able to separate his private and professional life and he can’t manage properly his business, that’s why there are bossy and arrogant behaviours from untouchable and spoiled (sic)”.
In another review a former employee writes on Glassdoor.com on 21 December 2017 that the company is “going nowhere slowly”.
“(The) company has existed for over five years and is still a startup and looking for funding. Employees are desperate for a leadership team that they can trust,” says the former employee.
‘No empty shell’
Following an invitation from WhereIsMyTransport, Ventureburn visited the company’s offices in Green Point, Cape Town. During the visit this writer observed about 20 to 30 people at work.
WhereIsMyTransport collects data on transport in cities across Africa and then seeks to sell this to city authorities. De Vries said the company’s transport data platform went live on 30 August 2016 and now includes data from 22 cities in over 10 countries.
But De Vries (pictured above), who is the company’s CEO, did not want to comment on whether the company was generating revenue or not, saying only that the company is in “an expansion stage” and that it is currently focused on moving into new markets.
In addition he refused to divulge how many of the 20 cities have licensed data from WhereIsMyTransport. He said he could not divulge any of these details because of a number of concerns — including privacy.
He said the company is still utlilising capital from its latest round of funding and added that the company had “significant activity” in East Africa as well as “some activity” in West Africa.
De Vries also commented on the app that the company had developed for the City of Cape Town, but that is no longer functioning.
“That is a previous iteration of the platform and the hope is that when the city renews their application they will also be able to make use of many of the new data sets and features that are available. Our focus is on providing the data and platform. Our focus is not on application development,” he said.
He said when the UK company was incorporated in July 2015 the company moved to offering a platform-based solution. Through the UK registration, De Vries and King hoped to attract international investment and to secure a wider network of partners.
At the time of the registration of the UK company, the firm had 18 people and was “revenue positive”, he said.
“We were doing many things (in the years before a UK company). There’s a difference when you are doing many things as a startup, and when you focus on doing one thing scalably and repeatedly,” he said.
‘Retrenchments as a result of growth phase’
The company carried out a round of retrenchments last year in which it let go of between five and 10 people — going on figures from De Vries himself. However, he did not want to say when the retrenchments were made or confirm the exact number of those retrenched.
He said the retrenchments were as a result of the company “going through a growth phase” and needing “to bring people of different expertise into the business that are more focused on delivery and go to market”.
While one former employee, who asked not to be named, told Ventureburn that he suspected the negative reviews were written by people with “bruised egos”, a former top employee who worked there until last year said that, during his tenure, the startup had no “viable product that was close to conclusion”.
“They’re constantly limping from the next to the next,” he said. “The CEO is very inexperienced, management is very thin and the CEO is mostly a salesman,” said the former top employee, who said he had opted to leave the firm because “there were better ways to allocate the money”.
De Vries however was at pains to show Ventureburn — on a tour of the company’s Cape Town offices in which he demonstrated the various functions of the platform with help from his staff — that the company does indeed have a viable product.
While he did not want to say how many managers there were at the company, he revealed that the company has about 40 people at present.
Despite the recent retrenchments he said the company is looking to hire more experienced people. Currently five or six new positions are on offer, he added.
Said De Vries: “I would say yes, the mood is upbeat. People are excited about the strategy for both the product and the markets that we are going into”.