How I hacked this: TransitScreen

Posted by Matt Caywood, CEO on 6/19/18 11:18 AM

In 2006, I was in San Francisco working on a graduate degree in neuroscience. San Francisco is a city that has always boasted a variety of public transportation options - multiple subways, streetcars, buses, and of course cable cars. Even 12 years ago, before Uber, Lyft, bikesharing, and e-scooters, there were a lot of choices, and I had 3 or 4 different ways to get to work.

Each option was only a short walk away, but making the right choice would put me at campus on-time -- and the wrong choice would make me 20 minutes late. Real-time transit information was just starting to be available, so I hacked together a simple web dashboard, pulling in the real-time data feeds for my preferred routes so I knew which was coming next.

You can probably guess where this is going, so I'll skip ahead a little bit. For years, it was just a hobby, even when I was part of a team at Mobility Lab in Arlington that built the first true TransitScreen. Then I took on commercializing it, and my cofounder and I started to see some success selling to governments and cities.

I needed a place to meet up with our new team of software developers, and 1776 seemed to fit the bill. In DC in 2014, absolutely everyone was talking about this tech incubator space; other places were either closing up shop or moving in there. There was an palpable excitement in the air, with mentors and networking events everywhere you looked. 

TransitScreen CEO Matt Caywood with Barack Obama

Although I had a shared desk membership, I was still working full-time elsewhere. In my mind, even though we had started working with real estate companies as prominent as JBG, TransitScreen was still what it had been in San Francisco eight years ago: a personal side project. Then, in April 2014, I sat down with Evan Burfield for the first time, and he challenged me with:

"This is a big idea, and you guys are getting traction now. Are you taking this as seriously as you should be?"

Evan helped me shift my perspective, and TransitScreen today is a high-growth, high-impact startup.

Through 1776, we were also introduced to many people who were instrumental to our progress. For example, we met the mayor of Pittsburgh, a relationship which eventually led to our PittSmartLiving project with the University of Pittsburgh and our expansion into the city.

We've since moved out of 1776 and into our own space, and we've also redefined the way we think about our customer. As it turned out, we weren’t selling to cities after all - but they had an important role to play by influencing the customer.

If you want to hear more about our journey, how we "hacked" the industry, and how it all came together, check out Evan Burfield's Regulatory Hacking: A Playbook for Startups, available today.

Topics: Company News, Smart Cities