Zūm CEO Ritu Narayan explains why fairness and accessibility works for mobility services – TechCrunch
Bring the children to school in a safe and reliable manner is a challenge as old as public education itself. But rarely have entrepreneurs tackled the problem of updating and optimizing one of the country’s largest transit systems, almost a century old. It’s still common to find people in student transportation hubs across the United States talking on walkie-talkies and arguing over clipboards as they sort passengers into gas-guzzling yellow buses.
Ritu Narayan was working as a product manager at eBay when her two children started attending school. It was sometimes so difficult to find safe and reliable options to bring them to campus that every time those options came down she was on the verge of quitting her job.
“We had the minimum viable product, which we developed, built the whole platform and we kept going to better places with our solutions. ”
Keeping in mind that her mother in India had set aside a career to raise Narayan and her three siblings, she founded Zūm in 2016 with brothers Abhishek and Vivek Garg to optimize routes, create transparency and render greener school routes; since then, Zūm has operated in several districts of California (including San Francisco), as well as in Seattle, Chicago and Dallas. In Oakland, Zūm optimized routes to reduce previous bus requirements by 29%, with the rest being served by midsize vehicles.
Zūm also plans to have a fleet of 10,000 electric school buses by 2025 and is partnering with AutoGrid to turn that fleet into a virtual power plant with the potential capacity to reroute 1 GW of power back to the grid.
To dig deeper into the startup’s plans and hear what Narayan has learned from her journey so far, we discussed the impacts of the pandemic on Zūm’s development, where she thinks the company will be in a year, and how. she convinced investors to support a business model that embraces accessibility and fairness.
(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
How has COVID-19 affected your business? What percentage of your business is back now?
It’s funny, because we used to say that student transportation is a recession-proof business, and no matter what, kids still go to school, but the pandemic was probably the first time in the last 100 years when children around the world did not go to school. It was an interesting time for us as overnight all the rides were closed and we had to focus on what was needed immediately to support our districts and our students.
We realized that the school is such an important physical infrastructure that is not only for education, but the students there receive meals as well as physical and emotional support. So we helped the school districts with the reverse logistics, taking school district meals or laptops and delivering them to homes because our software could handle that sort of thing. It was just an interim to make sure the communities settled down. From last year the rides started to return to around 30%, and this year from April they are back to 100%.