A former software engineer at Google, Morgan Conbere had the chops to solve everyday problems using software development. He also knew there was one space that was ripe for improvement: public transit. In 2017, Conbere and a group of co-founders–Zachary Browne, Samuel Daly, and Ekaterina Kuznetsova–came together to create Token Transit, a platform that allows users to purchase bus fares through a mobile app on their phones. Conbere sat down with the Financial Health Network to share his company’s story.
Where did the original idea for your business come from?
Over the years, my co-founders and I worked in the tech industry at Google, Apple, and other large tech giants and we all depended on public transit in our day-to-day lives. We started Token Transit because we saw a need to improve how consumers use public transit. Uber and Lyft have been using technology to create an amazing user experience, but they left most people–including us–behind when it came to riding public transit. We wanted to provide a modern, simple interface to pay for and ride the bus. We were able to take our experience over the years building large-scale reliable software and focus it on solving transit payment.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in starting the company?
When we started Token Transit, we were committed public transit consumers ourselves and we knew how to build the software. But we had never worked directly with a transit agency before. We had to go through an intense crash course of learning how to work with–and talk to–transit agencies. We learned that inside even the smallest agencies we spoke with, there is a huge amount of knowledge and wisdom about how to run public transit. We had conversations with hundreds of transit agencies across the country before we launched our app. These conversations definitely helped make our final product better.
What new innovation in fintech are you most excited about?
We are watching how technologies like Apple Pay and Android Pay are being adopted. Mobile payment technology is very important to our company and we are always looking forward and working on the mobile payment experience consumers will want to use both now and in the future.
What’s one thing you wish you’d known back when you started your company?
I never considered starting a company before jumping into Token Transit. One thing I learned after making the leap was how much help existed out there–both inside my personal network of friends and outside in the larger community. Starting a company has been extremely difficult, but we’ve found people willing to give us advice every step of the way.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever gotten?
Michael Seibel at Y Combinator had to tell us to talk to our customers at least a dozen times before it really sunk in and became an integral component of how we built our product. It’s very simple advice, but it’s so important: Talk to your customer.