“MaaS is the future of transportation” – A conversation with SkedGo CEO, John Nuutinen

Photo courtesy of ITS International

As the newly-named CEO of SkedGo, we thought we’d catch up with John Nuutinen, who recently took over the role from Claus von Hessberg (now chairman). Here we chat to John about what differentiates the business, where mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) is heading and SkedGo’s future plans.

Q: You’ve been involved with SkedGo from inception. How did it all start?

A: Claus and I played over 35s football at the time; we were trying to solve a logistical problem of getting all the players to the right place on time, given around 36 single-driver vehicles were turning up at the field. It was Claus who identified the issue and took it upon himself to solve the problem.

What we realised was that simple mapping tools or trip planners were incapable of achieving what we wanted in a real-world environment. We knew we had to combine scheduling with multimodal capabilities and the technology to enable people to access it.

That’s where SkedGo started over a decade ago. We were fortunate to find Dr Tim Cooper and Adrian Schoenig who developed the concept into a prototype. We realised instantly that we had something of value for commuters so we went to market as a B2C business and launched a global trip planner, called TripGo.

Q: How do you differentiate from the rest of the MaaS market?

A: People claim to be MaaS businesses but the key component to mobility-as-a-service is the ability to create multimodal and mixed modal trip plans. This means aggregating all the transport service providers into one platform and delivering trip chains. These trip chains are different modes of transport stitched together in a cohesive way so it delivers an enriched commuter experience. That’s what our technology has achieved. Many businesses claim to deliver multimodal capabilities. What they’re really delivering are multiple modes but not combining those modes to deliver a MaaS experience.

We were quite ambitious when we first went to market and soon realised that for a small Sydney-based start-up we didn’t have the funding to launch a global brand. But we did have something unique in the algorithms and the technologies we’d developed— so we pivoted and became a B2B enabler. Our raison d’être was to provide other entities with the capabilities to deliver multimodal and mixed model trip planning, to effectively offer a MaaS platform to their users. That’s where we are today. Over the past three years, we’ve built up a client base ranging from government departments to transit agencies to corporates.

Q: You’re clearly passionate about the sector. What drives you?

A: I believe in mobility-as-a-service; I think it’s the future of transportation. Yes, there’s a lot to put in place to deliver a value proposition that’s compelling for people. MaaS has to deliver on its promise; that’s the difficult part. Our objective, in the beginning, was for preference-based trip planning capabilities. You can reduce your carbon emissions; you can reduce your costs or you can reduce your time to destination.

It’s all about trying to deliver on the preferences of the user. From my point of view, I’ve adopted a carbon stance. I drive as little as possible nowadays. I use multimodal trips as often as I can because it’s important for me to understand what the challenges are for commuters. Using the app I get a better idea of where it can go and how it can be used.

Q: How does MaaS translate to rural, less populated areas, where there isn’t the same infrastructure as cities?

A: I was in Glasgow, Scotland recently and they have a very vibrant MaaS movement. In fact, Transport for Scotland has put out tenders to try to introduce and consolidate rural MaaS. This is a great example of where mobility-as-a-service is required. People usually talk about built-up urban environments and access to transport modes. The exact opposite is true in rural locations. It’s interesting because there’s a real role that MaaS can play in these rural communities.

It’s about using the power of this technology, which is global, and localising it to make it relevant to users. A platform like SkedGo delivers that capability where a small town or city in Scotland can adopt the technology, create their MaaS platform but localise it by integrating local transport options. That’s the important part.

Q: Which sectors are showing the greatest interest in MaaS?

A: There are three primary market segments which are ripe for MaaS and they have a genuine interest to become involved in this movement. Firstly, transit agencies; they provide the core backbone of public transit infrastructure so they’re a necessity for MaaS. These industries are being disrupted so they’re looking for opportunities to interact with MaaS. We’re in discussions with several transit agencies; we’ve secured business with quite a few as well. I think that segment will continue to grow.

Secondly, the main push in regions like Europe is coming from cities or local councils. There’s a necessity for them to reduce congestion, reduce carbon emissions and deliver value to constituents. We’re seeing a lot of initiatives come from them.

And finally, corporate mobility, which is an interesting one. They invest a lot of money into facilities such as parking spots and provide staff with budgets, corporate accounts and credit cards for their business transportation needs. These companies want to be good corporate citizens, reduce their carbon, reduce their costs and reutilise their space. They see multimodal transport and MaaS as a potential vehicle to do that.

Q: What are the barriers and opportunities to MaaS?

A: We look at Helsinki as a great example of how a MaaS ecosystem should work. You’ve got a situation where the government has legislated open source data or the sharing of data. The more open the system is, the more enriched it is and the more access commuters have to greater options; that’s critical in MaaS.

I think the MaaS concept has definitely been validated. The next challenge is to consolidate MaaS. A lot of businesses are trying to understand how to monetise or get ROI on their investment and that hasn’t quite been sorted out yet. Probably the biggest risk to MaaS is that you’ve got to provide a compelling value proposition to change people’s behaviour but you’ve also got to deliver the service.

You may have the best of technology and access to all the right data, but if your trip chains don’t join together, if you have issues with your payments or any sort of core service delivery problems, that’s going to reflect on the perception people have of MaaS. It’s not just the technology or the concept; there are a few things that have to come together.

That’s what you’re seeing at the moment; you’re seeing a lot of MaaS trials around the world and proof of concepts. These are real-world examples of how it works. We’re all learning through this experience and so I don’t doubt that MaaS will consolidate itself. It will revolutionise how we commute but it’s not something we jump straight to; it’s a learning experience for all of us.

Q: Will the surge in new mobility options, including micro-mobility, play a part in enabling MaaS?

A: Yes, I think the sharing economy has opened up these options for us. People sharing cars, facilities, a range of stuff. It’s changed the way we think about everything. All the micro-mobility options, along with traditional transport modes, add variety for users so I think that moving forward it’s about putting the user in the centre of this ecosystem.

In the past, you’d go to a source and plan your itinerary, work out the manual connections. The idea of MaaS is to make it seamless. You pay once, you cohesively jump from one transport mode to another and you effectively travel door-to-door based on your preferences. That’s the big game changer, that it’s automated for you. But to have it automated it needs to work, that’s one of the risks.

In the real world, the bus is going to be late or the train is going to break down. MaaS will get more sophisticated. For example, our platform has disruption management notifications built into it. It will reroute people before they even know that their train had broken down on the second leg of their journey. We have crowd management that points people to half-empty carriages at peak hours based on the weight of the carriage so the more data and feedback we get and the more transport modes that are included, the better the commuter experience.

Q: How important is accessibility?

A: It’s critical and with the right data we make it easier for people with accessibility requirements. Our technology will identify whether lifts are broken or escalators aren’t working. It will prioritise routing around those preferences. As we move forward, it will start to include personalisation around the weather, physical attributes, accessibility issues, your situational environment, whether you’re in a new city and so on. With this data, it will become more sophisticated, enriched, personalised and therefore more inclusive and valid to the user.

Q: How else do you see the future of MaaS taking shape?

A: Our vision is to improve the commuting lives of over a billion people. The way we can do this is to automate access to our products, so people can self-qualify, self-service and self-purchase the capabilities and do that in a time frame that makes it compelling. For example, if you’re a local councillor in a town in central America and you want to introduce MaaS capabilities, you should be able to do that in a matter of days rather than months.

That means having access to modular, scalable technologies that can be adapted to the local environment. You take this technology, pull the data in and then integrate your local transport options. You’ve immediately got access to these capabilities because, as MaaS has already demonstrated, it delivers value such as carbon reductions, cost reductions and makes commuting easier.

Q: Can you tell us more about SkedGo’s vision for the future?

A: We’re at a unique point in our company’s life cycle. We secured Series A funding about 18 months ago. We’re moving into Series B funding now. Our technology is robust, sophisticated and unique. What I hope to do now is to make it scalable and easily accessible; that’s what the B-round funding is about.

Access to the audience is the next challenge but if we can identify the right partners with distribution channels, we can offer commuters these capabilities. I think as MaaS grows one of the other challenges we’ll have is to maintain our differentiation to continue to invest in R&D, to challenge the norm and to deliver something different. And that’s exactly what we aim to do.

Q: What’s been the most defining moments for you at SkedGo?

A: Seeing the concept turn into reality in the early days; to move from start-up to scale-up is a huge milestone. That’s 10 years of hard work and validation of what we’re doing. I think probably the big milestones are in front of us. We’re in a very vibrant market that’s in a growth phase; there are going to be many exciting opportunities to collaborate with other businesses. I honestly feel like we’re fortunate to be in a position where we can change the world so to speak. We can change how people commute and we can actually deliver some real-life benefits not just for individuals but for cities and businesses too.

About John Nuutinen

John has been with SkedGo since it started a decade ago, having worked closely with chairman Claus von Hessberg to conceptualise the business. Over the years, John has also been a senior executive in a range of businesses across the globe from start-ups to large multinational organisations. With his wealth of experience working in different sectors – including technology, media and publishing – he will now lead SkedGo as it transitions from start-up to scale-up phase.

You can connect with John on LinkedIn