Last month, as transportation startup Via raised $110 million at a $3.5 billion valuation, CEO Daniel Ramot said it planned to make acquisitions to grow its stack of transportation technology. Now part of that strategy is falling into place: today the company is announcing the acquisition of Citymapper, the London start-up producing a popular city mapping app. Originally, Citymapper made a name for itself as an alternative to apps like Google Maps for consumers planning trips in metropolitan areas using public transportation. Citymapper has about 50 million users worldwide.
Financial terms are not disclosed. Via has confirmed it’s a mix of cash and stock, while sources close to the deal tell AapkaDost that Citymapper investors usually not make their money back in the transaction and that it is basically a washout. (One publication has reported $100 million; we were told it was “well below” this amount.)
It’s been rumored for years that Citymapper was trying to find a buyer, with names like Google and Apple — who once labeled the app as a must-have to use on its own hardware — once floating as possible buyers. After that it was very quiet, until last month, when suddenly the news about the acquisition announced today by Via surfaced.
The startup’s backers have included Balderton, Index Ventures, Benchmark, DST and a number of high-profile individuals, who together put about $52 million into the startup, in addition to a more recent UK crowdfunding raise of about $8 million (£6 million in local currencies). ).
Citymapper currently covers 108 cities, mainly in the UK and Europe, but also in North America, Asia and elsewhere. The plan is to integrate Citymapper’s product (and data) into the Via platform, but also to keep it running as a stand-alone service for the time being. Citymapper employees, minus CEO/founder Azmat Yusuf, join Via. Yusuf becomes a transition advisor.
The sale of Citymapper underscores the challenges in today’s market for startups running out of money, but also the challenges for Citymapper in particular, as well as the challenges specific to the transportation industry in general.
Citymapper caused quite a stir when it first launched its urban travel planning app, which today includes not only public transport routes, but also walking, cycling, scooters and taxis to help users get from A to B . That might sound like table stakes for a mapping app now, but it was fairytale revolutionary when Citymapper first built this and introduced it to the world in 2011. (Google, Apple, Uber, and others were way behind where they are today as map apps.)
That led to the startup gaining a loyal following and attracting the attention of some major investors. The 2016 Series B round valuation of $40 million (a millennium in technology!) was over $365 million, an even bigger-sounding sum at the time.
But maybe Citymapper never really managed to capitalize on that momentum and early promise.
Founder Azmat Yusuf (pictured below, when we had him at Disrupt in London) had a strong focus on maintaining a consistent, “excellent” user experience, as he told us at the time of Series B. That was something he strictly promised stick to the concept of growth at all costs.
“What we like to do is really focus on quality and so we look at a city and say ‘can we do a great job?'” he said at the time, “If we manage to figure out how to do a great job, then we expand faster. And when we struggle to expand, we slow down and make sure we do it right. So the number of cities is not the goal. The goal is really: how do we do it right?”
That stubbornness may have sounded refreshing to some at the time — it was playing out simultaneously while companies like Uber were in high gear, growth-over-all mode — but ultimately it also meant a very slow pace of change.
Eventually, companies like Google Citymapper caught up and caught up on their key USPs.
Over the years, the company has tried everything to generate more income. It started, but eventually stopped with its own hybrid transport service. After years of a very ad and marketing free experience, it introduced ads not too long ago. It also offers a paid “Club” tier these days to remove those ads, as well as Pass with the Club features plus a travel card.
But it’s unclear what kind of acceptance these various products have had. And it also seemed to have struggled to retain talent in the midst of it all, with very mixed reviews on sites like Glassdoor, as well as some notable executive exits. The decline in people moving around cities and using public transport during Covid-19 couldn’t have helped either.
According to the most recent accounts filed with Companies House, Citymapper posted a larger operating loss in the year ending December 2021 of £8.1m compared to £7.3m the previous year on stagnant revenues. Meanwhile, that number of 50 million users has not been updated since 2021.
But Citymapper is not the only one who has had to shift his future.
Via itself started as a transportation app (shuttles and small buses), but in more recent years, after purchasing Remix in 2021, it moved away from the high costs of running services and focused only on the technology that others to use.
It is based in New York and the agencies it partners with include Jersey City, NJ; Arlington, VA; and Sarasota County, FL; as well as campus services for Harvard, Northwestern, and BASF. The idea is that Citymapper data can help fuel that.
“Citymapper has a large user base all over the world, so at that point you can access the data so you can understand where people travel, how they use the system, how they to attempt to use the system, which works, all in real time,” Ramot told AapkaDost. “And in hindsight, if they’ve taken a trip, how did that trip actually go? Was it on time? How many connections have been made?” Ramot added that the Citymapper product could in turn also get a boost from Via, which could potentially help cities better communicate with public transit travelers through Citymapper by sending updates, disruptions or changes to the system.
“Having Citymapper’s data on where people are trying to go will help us position all the vehicles better in real time so they are more likely to meet that demand,” he added.
Additional reporting Romain Dillet