The CEMS Global Alliance is a purpose led organization, powered by our beliefs that great leadership starts with self-leadership and societal progress requires continual exploration. In this series of interviews, we take a look at CEMS students and alumni that are contributing to make this world a more open, sustainable and inclusive world.
Humans of CEMS: Share your idea openly, find good people to work on it, but execution is what matters in the end.
Today, in our Humans of CEMS series, we would like to introduce you to Ruben Schultz, co-founder of Swoop (swoopapp.com).
Swoop is a tech solution for group mobility owners in the US, which has recently raised $3.2 million in seed funding. In the interview, Ruben shares his experience in the startup development process, as well as some inspiring insights.
Ruben is a 2016 CEMS alumnus, his home university was RSM (Rotterdam School of Management), and he spent his exchange semester at ESADE.
1. Could you tell us more about your startup and how did the idea behind Swoop appear?
At Swoop (swoopapp.com), what we are solving is group transportation, in other words group travelling by any type of vehicle larger than an SUV. Right now we are mainly focused on the US. There are many small mom and pop shops, small SMEs that own from 3 to 5 vehicles and run their business on pen and paper. What we do at Swoop is we build technology for these small operators to run their business effectively. With our software they can achieve things like managing their rides, putting in their orders, running payroll, tracking their vehicles, all the types of things you would like to do as a business owner, that owns a couple of vehicles. In this particular industry, it has never been done before. Another service that we provide to these vehicle operators is that we bring them more customers, if there is a ride coming up in NY tomorrow at 10am, companies that use Swoop can accept that ride directly through the platform.
The story is that the family of one of the cofounders owns a few vehicles in LA, thanks to it we received a really nice insight into the industry and realized that it is very outdated. First, we started modeling Uber for party buses, but doing that we soon realized that no one was ordering vehicles for big groups on demand. It is something that you plan for months or weeks ahead of time. Another thing that we noticed is that operators use pen and paper, and a calendar on their wall to run their business instead of software. And then we started building this software based on their needs.
The funny story is that for the first two years we were working out of a garage, not just figuratively speaking, we were actually working in a garage of one of our operators. They had a little back area, where they fixed their vehicles and we just put our desks in there and continued to work from there. That was definitely an interesting time before we had any resources. Now obviously we are able to grow, grow the team, but there were definitely very humble beginnings.
2. What were the key steps you and your team made to transform your startup idea into a real startup, which has received more than $3m in its seed round?
There are so many different moving pieces, but I think what worked for us is the understanding as to where the pain points across the customer journey are. If you try to book a bus right now, it is going to be really difficult, and the experience of booking will be very far from ideal. Then we peeled one layer back and realized that the reason why the experience is bad is because bus operators don’t have any technology, so it is difficult for them to accept the order. And then we started solving this problem. There are numerous needs the bus operators have: they need driver tracking, payroll, a communication platform, automated text messages, so these needs formed the product we ended up building. We are still young and growing, but I think that probably the main thing that helped us get to this size and also get the funding is that we actually listened to our customers.
3. How did the CEMS environment and community help you while setting up your company?
CEMS is a special and diverse environment. There are tangibles and intangibles. The tangible things consist of: getting my first jobs at Google and then at Facebook through the CEMS Career Forum. Also, a lot of the people that I met during CEMS are still my friends today. If we look from a higher level, I think the main thing that I learned at CEMS is this idea of excelling in what you do, and creating an impact. In the university it sounds so generic, but when you start working at larger companies and realize you have a cool job, you still have this feeling “I can do more”. When starting your own company you create jobs, change an industry. We help all of these businesses across the US, especially during COVID, through our partnerships with companies that are moving goods, packages, groceries, rather than people, we help them stay alive. Doing these things gives you far more satisfaction. I think this spark definitely got nurtured during CEMS. Another thing that I learned during CEMS is that I didn’t want to follow the traditional business path, this time was really eye opening for me. I very much appreciate having studied through CEMS.
4. Do you have any recommendations for CEMSies who are thinking about setting up their own company?
There are a couple of things that worked for me. The first thing is the understanding that there is no traditional path, there is no playbook for starting your own company. Maybe you want to work first for 5 years and then start your company or maybe you want to start your company right now during CEMS. There is no path that increases the likelihood of you starting a company, all ways can work. It all depends on what you do with it.
The second thing that is important to remember is that your idea doesn’t matter, no one cares about a good idea. It’s 90% execution. So you have to execute well on what you are thinking, it’s not like if you have a good idea that’s going to be your golden ticket. Especially in school, people always think “Facebook was such a good idea”, it wasn’t a good idea, because MySpace was already out there as another social network, but Facebook just executed it better. I know that often students have ideas and they don’t tell anyone, because they think everyone is going to copy it. But no one cares about your idea, share it openly, find good people to work on it, but execution is what matters in the end.