Finding Founder Jonny Simkin talks traffic and how his company Swiftly is going to improve our commuting future
Do you personally know one person who can affect hundreds of thousands of lives every day directly? I do.
Jonny Simkin co-founder of Swiftly is building (growing) a transit data collecting and analytics brain child to improve transit systems, that urbanites like you and I NEED to keep the world turning. Our very own San Francisco economy relies on public transit or thousands wouldn’t have access to things like certain jobs, healthcare, activities, ect. Personally I don’t own a car and WANT these systems to go to the airport, photo clients, my fav taco stand or to explore outside my neighborhood. Jonny, like most founders I’ve interviewed, is an example of a true problem solver. But tackling a GROWING population situation and potentially changing the fate of an entire city and the millions of lives in them takes considerable guts and serious focus. Read how he does it below.
First Thank you for taking your shoes off on a BART platform.
YES! You are welcome. Was a fun and new experience for me!
Could you sum up Swiftly in a handful of sentences and how it solves a problem, not only in SF, but in other urban cities pretty please?
By 2030, over 5 billion people will live in urban areas. If you think traffic is bad today, it’s only getting worse. Public transit and increasing vehicle occupancy rates is critical to creating cities that move efficiently, yet public transit has often utilized technologies that haven’t kept up with the times. The industry has lacked technological innovation. Swiftly is applying sophisticated algorithms and big data to enable smarter public transit. Our core product looks at billions of data points within a city transit network to help transit agencies provide a more reliable and efficient service.
You mentioned a startling concept regarding traffic congestion via car. How positively would your technology effect economies by solving congestion?
Currently, about 2-4% of national GDP is lost in congestion as measured by lost time and productivity. This could be drastically reduced through more efficient transportation networks. Swiftly is working to solve this problem by empowering public transit to take more cars (and congestion) off the road.
Furthermore, if you look at public transit networks today, they often operate on schedule (typically a 5 minute leniency) about 50 - 70% of the time. This is important because the schedule dictates the budget - how many vehicles, drivers, operating hours, etc the agency will have. If the schedule is wrong, the budget is wrong, and many transit agencies spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year on operations. Swiftly helps transit agencies quickly monitor performance to find inefficiencies that could be costing the agency money while simultaneously impacting the rider experience.
Do you take public transit? :)
Absolutely. Every day!
Tell us more about the man behind the biz. This isn’t your first company. What did you originally start?
My first company was called SwoopThat. We built one of the largest databases tracking college textbook prices. We used this data to help students more efficiently buy college textbooks (think KAYAK for textbooks) and to help college bookstores more efficiently and competitively source and price their inventory. The primary goal of this company was to bring price transparency to the college textbook industry. This company was ultimately sold to Rafter, the parent company of BookRenter.com, the 2nd largest textbook rental company in the US at the time. In total, Rafter helped nearly 3 million students save over $700 million on college textbooks.
How did you lead into Swiftly? And how did you connect with the Samsung NEXT program?
I created Swiftly because I sold my car and started taking public transit everywhere. I wanted to help make the system more reliable and efficient through modern technology. From this initial vision, Swiftly was born!
Samsung NEXT actually reached out to us via LinkedIn. We took the meeting, decided we loved the NEXT team, and then moved forward with an investment from them.
During our photo shoot you mentioned a new office is on the horizon AND growth of employees! Do you feel comfortable with this rapid growth happening?
Rapid growth is always scary and exciting. But, I’m more excited than scared. We have a rare opportunity to positively impact millions of people per day by creating more efficient transit networks. We’ll do whatever it takes to get there!
What kind of office culture are you going to build for your employees? And when I say office culture, I mean the environment ground up. From the look and feel of the desks, chairs and work nooks to the events or after office gatherings.
Our culture primarily focuses around the notion of a team. We’re all in this together, we’re all fighting for the same thing. So, how can we get there together? Honesty, integrity, communication, open feedback, and diversity of some key elements to the culture we’re building. The design of the office itself will be based on fostering our desired culture, including a more open workspace to facilitate better communication and feedback within our team.
As for the look and feel of desks and chairs, we’ll have to wait and see!
Obviously it’s dog friendly so your new wonder pup Murphy can join in. Lets see a photo of this newest edition to your and your wife’s household!
And before we go shoes off but a great lead in, listening to how carful and articulate you are with growing a strong business, and during a burst of growth in the company size what is your take on balancing personal and professional life? Is that something separate to you? Or almost one in the same?
While I like to separate personal and professional life, it’s pretty tough to pull that off. In a sense, I have two families, one at home and one at work. They’re both important to me and I can’t neglect one or the other. I’m so fortunate to be excited every time I walk into the door of my office and even more excited every time I walk into my front door at home. And, that’s the way it should be!
Answer me quick:
Fav band growing up? Beatles
Super hero power: Ability to fly
Most exciting work moment of 2017: Signing our 40th partner city.
What is the last gift you gave someone? pizza stone
Most used app: inbox by gmail
Podcast or music in your earbuds: Spotify “Metropolis” playlist
What’s in your fridge right now? persimmons
Backpack, briefcase or tote? backpack
If you could pick 2 things to fix about this world what are they? Hunger and disease.
When are you most productive? early morning.
Do you have a vacation planned and where? Japan. I’m there now!
Guilty pleasure food: chicken wings
In two sentences explain each of your companies.
Drinkwel: Helps you have better mornings. You're going to have a drink or 3 or 4 and you need all the help you can get.
LyteShow: Hydration and electrolytes without the crap.
Fuego Box: Find the best small-batch hot sauces you've never heard of without the risk and hassle.
And you started your first company because you knew the grind wasn't going to work for you right? At what point did you finally leap?
I knew the grind wasn't going to work and I knew I wasn't my best self as an employee. I need the work in to equal the work out. Once I saw a glimmer of success, I took the leap.
After the first product launch did you know you'd start another company?
Nope! I'm a day by day guy.
Right now, I've got my hands full work-wise, but the wheels are always churning. I have a few ideas on the back burner.
What is your process for working each day? You have a routine?
I'm not a strict routine type, but I do get up early and when I'm working, I'm working hard.
At this point you're wearing many hats. Which is your favorite/least favorite role to play?
Accountant and logistics manager are my two least favorite roles. I'm capable of the small detail tasks, but I certainly don't love them.
How would you fill the undesirable role? or ARE you hiring?
Employees certainly help, not to mention I use a lot of freelance workers; usually virtual contractors from all over the world.
What's your advice for someone thinking of starting a product or retail based business?
Make sure you have a plan on HOW to sell it before going through the work of creating something. Once you have an idea you believe and you're confident you can sell it, JUST DO IT.
You're juggling 3 companies, a kid, a dog, a wife. HOW DO YOU DO IT ALL?
Stay organized and just take it one day at a time; one task at a time. Don't get overwhelmed by the outlook.
Seriously though, are there are things that calm or focus or relax you besides working out?
Surfing is my favorite work out. It clears the mind and gets you in tip top shape. It also is somewhat sustainable as you get older. I love vacationing as well, but certainly don't do as much as I'd like.
Literally shoes off now. Answer me quick!
Favorite vice - Rye whiskey
Most used app this week - Slack
Most horrific article you've read - Anything to do with destroying the environment
What's always with you - Hot sauce
Shower morning or night - Night
Wine or liquor - Liquor
Most embarrassing work moment - Typos on product labels (there's been more than one)
When are you the most productive during the day - Morning
If you had to ask Siri one question what would it be - Do we live in a simulation?
Would you live in outer space - No, but another planet, yes
What social stigma does society need to get over? - Germs
Whats your fav hot sauce (YUP you have to choose) - Zana - I made it!
How would you like to be remembered?
I believe in being remembered for what you actually were, did, accomplished. Truthfully remembered.
Fuego Box Hot Sauce Store
5445 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Honestly, there wasn’t one, final deciding factor. A month or two before we decided to make the call, Malin and I went to a panel discussion with the founders of Hot Studio, Method, and Mucho. One of the questions posed to the panel was exactly that: “what made you finally decide to go out on your own?” There were a number of logic-based answers given but, Maria Giudice, founder of Hot, simply said “when it is time, you will know.” Soon after that panel, Malin and I were chatting by the water cooler (as one does in a comfy office job) and just looked at each other and knew it was time to go.
2. It's been what, 6 months since you've opened doors with your co-founder, Malin? You’re based in San Francisco and Malin in Portland. How does that hinder or help your biz? Team work? New Business dev?
I really can’t believe it’s only been six months. It feels like it has been six years! Yes, I’m in SF and Malin works (most of the time) from of Portland. She and I met here in the Bay Area, which is where we worked on laying the foundation for Edition: building our initial client base, company structure, vision, etc. Malin grew up in Portland and both her and her finance’s family live there, it was kind of understood from the beginning that she’d be going back eventually, so we just built that into our plan. We see each other at least once a month, either she comes down here or I go up there, and we are in constant communication: text, iMessage, phone calls, FaceTime, all of the apps all the time, so our lack of close-physical proximity really hasn’t made any sort of a difference from what I can tell (except that she can’t judge me for coming into the office with wet hair HA).
"Teamwork has been easy for us: Malin and I have a very similar working style and aesthetic and there’s absolutely no ego between the two of us so file, project, and task sharing is truly never a problem. Our working relationship is built completely on trust and open dialog; we both want what’s best for the company, our clients, and the future of our mental health (and, of course, world peace) so when we do disagree on something we just talk through the pros and cons and come to a joint decision. If there’s anything I can say is that choosing the right business partner is like choosing a spouse. I honestly cannot imagine doing this with another person, whatever it is that makes this work, it’s pretty rare. (P.S. I’m not married)"
I actually love it. Malin and I rolled our eyes at WeWork before we started touring buildings. We thought it was just for scooter-riding, 24 year old dudes in engineering/tech sales/data analysis (if you’re reading this and meet any of those criteria, nothing personal) but it’s turned out to be an amazing, diverse community of people. I’ve met clients and made friends! The set up provides the flexibility and amenities that we need in order to be able to meet our and client’s needs. I know I’m starting to sound like a sponsored post but the staff is awesome, I seriously love them, and you can’t beat the view! The end.
5. What are your first clients outta the blocks?
They’re over the board! Our very first client was a company called FirstJob, now Mya Systems, an AI recruiting bot. We hadn’t even launched our website yet and we only had a handful of projects to show (we made the choice early on not to show any of the work from our previous jobs) but Eyal, the founder and a good friend, decided to trust us with their rebrand.
**Not to take any credit for this but they’re killing it. Mya just raised 18 million in series B funding and we’re so happy for them! Mya is like our little baby.
6. How are you getting your name out there?
Referrals, word of mouth, social marketing, networking, talking to people, friends, volunteering—you know the drill—the hustle is real.
7. Show off some of your fav designs so far.
8. What inspires this kind of work?
Anything and everything. I think the fact that we’re in the epicenter of innovation and surrounded by amazing, smart, talented people is a huge source of inspiration and an incredible driver. Everywhere you look there’s a 17 year old who just created a cryprocurreny using a Polly Pocket or a chef who’s serving poppyseed buckwheat-beef tongue pastrami pancakes (I word-for-word copied that from State Bird Provisions). Not only does it force you to up your game but you end up getting exposure to information and sources of inspiration that you wouldn’t have even known to look for.
Fav vice: Coffee.
Most used app this week: Insta... I mean the news… No, really, it’s Instagram.
Most horrific article you've read: Anything beginning with Donald Trump’s tweets.
What's always with you: Ideally my house key.
Shower morning or night: Morning.
Wine or Liquor: Yes.
Most embarrassing work moment: Too many to count.
When are you the most productive during the day: Early morning and after 3:30pm.
LAST, how would you like to be remembered?
Well, there’s hope and then there’s reality. I hope to be remembered as a caring friend and partner, a designer who listened to my clients and solved their problems with the perfect balance of form and function, Forbes Top 100, and a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, all while maintaining work-life balance, lifelong friendships, and a rocking’ bod. The reality is that my great grand kids will probably find my cached email archives and discover that I was ill prepared for temperatures below 60 or above 78 and had an affinity for baking shows. We’ll see.
[I have not proofread this answer and I have had 2 mimosas. I may have second thoughts about it in the light of day]
Summer Wilson - Creative Director and Photographer of Battle Cry