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London’s Citymapper capitalises on “decade of data”

Founder Azmat Yusuf claims Citymapper is on half of iPhones in London

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One of the world’s leading data scientists Alex “Sandy” Pentland said this week that we are entering a “decade of data” that will present new opportunities for the next generation of developers and start-ups. 

Speaking at the O2 Arena in East London on Tuesday, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Human Dynamics Group and the Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program said that the abundance of data was going to drive the next generation of start-ups.

"The revolution that will come from data is going to dwarf the revolution that came from the internet and change every part of society," he said to an audience full of aspiring entrepreneurs. "Data will run the world and you guys have the opportunity to shape it."

One start-up in London capitalising on the abundance of data is transport app Citymapper. The iOS, Android and web application aims to make it as easy as possible for users to navigate around London, displaying useful information such as how much each transport method costs, the weather at a chosen destination and how many calories one would burn if they walked or cycled.

The Tech City firm behind the application – founded last year by former Google employee Azmat Yusuf – uses Transport for London’s (TfL) data to deliver its app, which is the third most popular free navigation app in the iTunes store after Google Maps and NavFree, despite only covering one city in the UK.

Yusuf said in a rare media interview with Techworld that the app, launched at the start of last summer, is “probably” installed on over half of the iPhones in London and said the Android version, which launched roughly a year later, is also gaining traction.

Citymapper can apply its unique algorithm to any city that has open source (free to everyone) transport data. The application is built on Python but the mobile apps require iOS and Android developer kits, while the web app uses JavaScript.

“We have our own algorithm so we can basically plug any data set into that and it will work,” said Yusuf, who added New York City to Citymapper at the end of August. 

New York City added to Citymapper

“New York is hard because it’s just a massive city,” said Yusuf. “Some cities are going to be easier than others. It also depends on the quality of what you want to do with your first version of the city. We tend to update all the time so you can launch a mediocre city pretty fast,” said entrepreneur Yusuf, who has an international education and is competent in a range of computer languages.   

Despite New York City covering such a large area, Yusuf said the city’s Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) has some good quality data. 

“The geographical areas of London and New York are pretty comparable,” he continued. “But the data in London is probably a bit harder to work with because it’s in a different format to every other city’s.” 

However, Yusuf went on to praise TfL for the amount of live data it offers compared to other cities. This enables Citymapper to introduce a range of live features, such as alerting users to issues on their favourite tube line or showing crosses next to tube stations that are experiencing problems.

“We like the idea of a personalised city whereby we don’t care about any disruption,” said Yusuf. “We care if it affects you. We’re interested in the experience with the individual and the city and how the smartphone empowers an individual to experience their city."

The app has elements of humour built into it that aim to make people’s commute a little less painful. For example, when a user asks how to get from A to B a jet pack option is also given, which is in fact based on real jet pack calculations, according to Yusuf. “We like having fun in the space,” he said. “Someone’s commute is always seen as the worst part of their day and a negative experience. We’re trying to change that.”

The entrepreneur said he wants to see the app expanded so that it covers every city in the world but revealed that in the short term he would continue to research what data cities have to offer and listen to Citymapper users to see where demand is coming from.

What the investor thinks

Investor at Index Ventures Robin Klein said: “Citymapper is a brilliantly conceived and executed navigation app. We particularly like the fact that unlike the vast majority of apps, Citymapper is an app that people use every day and have on their 'home' screen.

“The real time data across multiple transport methods and the simplicity of use is very powerful.

“We believe Azmat to be a very talented product person and entrepreneur. He has concentrated on deepening the experience rather than rushing to spread it wide across multiple cities, which he will do in time.

“Citymapper has not yet developed its business model but there are multiple potential revenue streams, which it would be inappropriate to discuss now.”

Citymapper is also backed by Connect Ventures.



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