FOR Sota Kimura, founder of SmartRyde, it’s been quite a ride since he founded the global airport transfer marketplace in March 2017 to September 2021 when it raised approximately US$1.6 million in Series A funding round.
As a student, he often found himself “in trouble with ground transportation from airport to hotel”. Being exposed to other student entrepreneurs in a co-working space for a year in Kyoto, he decided to solve the problem with his friends.
“We try to solve ground transportation’s experience for international travellers by providing airport transfers’ API to Online Travel Agencies (OTAs),” he told WiT.
By creating a marketplace to connect local transportation
operators and OTAs, its mission is to “contribute to the sustainable
development of local communities through transportation”.
As of August, it has collaborated
with more than 650 transportation operators and more than 25 OTAs, including
top global players such as Booking.com, Expedia, Trip.com, Traveloka
(Indonesia), and Despegar (Argentina).
Prior to Covid hitting his business was focused on Asia Pacific, and he quickly diversified to the Caribbean, Dominican Republic and Mexico, where it has seen good traction since last December. “We have increased the number of business development teams with the aim of strengthening cooperation with local partners,” he said, adding, “I think there were very few companies in travel that increased their team during this period.”
The investment round is led by Angel
Bridge and included SG Incubate, Yamaguchi Capital, SMBC Venture Capital,
Hiroshima Venture Capital, Iyogin Capital, Inventum Ventures, individual
investor and serial entrepreneur Shouji Kodama, Nobuaki Takahashi (NOB LLC),
and Optima Ventures.
Kimura is optimistic about the future. “I think that there will be a recovery in the demand
for international travel from countries to areas where entry restrictions have
been eased, such as what some areas in Latin America and the Caribbean have already
experienced so far.”
In addition, the pandemic has also
accelerated digitisation of local transportation companies such as taxis, car hire, limousines and buses. “Travellers will not only be
able to travel more online, but will also be able to sell previously fragmented
ground transportation in conjunction with air transportation and hotels, making
personal travel even more flexible than packages. I think it will be realised in
the near future.”
The biggest challenge facing the company is the recovery situation in
Asia Pacific. Being based in Japan, it had hoped for a quicker recovery in the
region but Kimura is hopeful that once borders open, the region will once again
offer potential for further growth.
The biggest opportunity is the quickened utilisation of technology and data, especially on the supplier side. “This part can be made more efficient by introducing technology. Furthermore, by acquiring and utilising local traffic data, it will be possible to develop personalised products like city transfers, charters and tour taxi services.”
• Featured image credit: SmartRyde