Maxim Nohroudi of Ally
Imagine you’re in the centre of Berlin and you have to quickly get right across the city for your next appointment. Unfortunately you have no idea which S- or U-Bahn line will get you there or how long it would take by taxi. Maxim Nohroudi, CEO of Ally and Bitkom representative for Berlin, explains how you can eliminate stressful situations like this with a clever public transport app.
Mr Nohroudi, the BVG (Berlin public transport company) offers its own app for finding the next public transport connection on your smartphone, as does Deutsche Bahn. What are the advantages of your “Ally” app?
Ally is the app for people who want to see all transport options within a city at a glance. In addition to bus and rail, it also includes car-sharing services like Car2Go and DriveNow, bike-sharing services or taxis. That’s important to us because our users want to use all available transport options in a city according to their needs. The app also offers a range of useful functions that make daily life a little easier. “Follow-me” is one example. A lot of parents use this to see if their children have arrived at school on time. It also makes it easy to see whether friends will be on time for the cinema or dinner. Otherwise you often find yourself writing text messages like “Where are you now?” or “We’re already there.” etc...
A growing number of people are living in large cities all over the world. How can Ally help the inhabitants of a city to get to work or the gym without getting constantly stuck in traffic?
Traffic jams are primarily caused by large numbers of people driving into the city – the majority of which are usually sitting alone in their cars. The question is therefore: Is it possible for technology to introduce new forms of mobility into cities and reduce the creation of individual traffic and make it less attractive? That’s exactly what we’re working on. It won’t be long before the first self-driving busses appear in cities. With the help of numerous sensors including users’ smartphones, the busses will be steered through the city in an increasingly optimised way. That’s where we come in. People will be able to travel quickly and easily from A to B. This enables a city to significantly reduce traffic jams. Furthermore, a system like this would be more effective, cheaper and environmentally friendly. For a lot of people these new mobility options will be financially far more attractive than buying their own car.
Public transport is becoming more diverse. In addition to conventional forms of transport such as U- and S- Bahn, there are now various sharing services that rent bicycles, scooters and cars for shorter distances. Do these transport services compete against each other or are they complementary?
The U- and S-Bahn are essentially also a type of sharing service. People share a means of transport in order to get from A to B, be it by rail or road. This is essentially what’s at the heart of the current development. Having or owning a vehicle is no longer so important, especially in the city. You share transport in order to optimally travel to your destination. It’s therefore not about competition. On the contrary, only when all of these elements work together optimally can we significantly improve urban transport. This is precisely the development that is happening right now.
Public transport users’ data is highly sought after. Apart from Ally, there are also other service providers that tell people the quickest way to get from A to B. What makes this data so valuable?
Transport data itself, in other words the different transport services for getting people from A to B, is not really so interesting. It’s basically the same as a conventional transport plan – it tells us what services are offered by the public transport system. Far more important is the fact that smartphones provide us with millions of sensors which will help us understand the “demand”. When do people need which type of mobility? It is only with today’s understanding of the demand that we are able to improve the structure of public transport and develop entirely new services, for example like self-driving busses. The bus obviously needs to know where it has to go in order to meet the public demand.
Your company also operates in other countries such as Chile, Austria and Portugal. However, in no other country do you operate in as many cities as in Germany. In which city is Ally most frequently used?
Yes, Ally is currently available in 100 cities worldwide. Apart from German cities, it is also used a lot in African and South American cities, for example in Santiago de Chile.
Your service is free. How do you earn money? And how will you do this in future?
We cooperate with large transport companies and help them to structure local transport services more effectively and develop new products for urban mobility. That’s how we earn our money.
The topic of startups is really important to you and you’ve been appointed as the Bitkom representative for Berlin. What are your goals there? And how do Bitkom and startups fit together?
Berlin has been very successful in creating a unique ecosystem for Internet startups. There are lots of talented individuals, the cost of living is low and the money is there for setting up startups. In order for us to swiftly move ahead with the digitalisation of our industry in Germany, we need young startups to develop new ideas, promptly implement them and then test them on the market. This enables large companies to secure excellent innovations very quickly. While in Germany this is still a very new phenomenon, in other countries it is already being practiced very successfully. One of the reasons I’m involved with Bitkom is to make Berlin even more attractive for Internet startups. Incidentally, it is also a very important economic factor for our city and creates thousands of jobs. Another main reason for my involvement is to help Germany to move forward with regard to digitalisation and to ensure that we don’t just rest on our laurels.
Mr Nohroudi, to round off our interview, please complete the following sentence: Berlin is…
… the most exciting city in Europe for Internet startups. This is where new technologies, products and solutions are being built for the future. Isn’t that just fantastic?