Whether you’re driving a chicken bus in Nicaragua or a Greyhound in the United States, intercity bus travel is rarely a glamorous affair. Despite its essential nature when moving people for vacation, family and business trips, this particular mode of transportation has often been reduced to its most essential components – lots of seats, wheels, a motor and a driver – in order to maximize profits for the least effort.
In Latin America, technological advances coupled with a growing middle class with more disposable income have opened the bus industry to disruption. Kolors, a Mexico City-based startup offering improved bus service and intelligent intercity mobility, may have a first-mover advantage over that disruption.
Anca Gardea, co-founder, chief technology officer and head of product at Kolors, previously founded Busolinea, one of the first bus aggregators in Mexico and Latin America. Like Kolors, Gardea founded Busolinea with her husband, Rodrigo Martínez – Gardea is the technology minded in the relationship, while Martínez handles the business aspects. A few months after the establishment of Busolinea, the company was bought as a subsidiary by one of the largest incumbent intercity bus operators in Mexico. Gardea and Martínez then headed the digital unit for that company, where the two gained extensive experience in various aspects of the modernization of the intercity bus industry.
Feeling hampered by the lethargic technology so often found in larger organizations, the two decided to flip and start Kolors in September 2019.
“At Kolors, we have developed everything needed to run operations from route planning, pricing optimization, tools such as revenue management, crewing and customer support, etc.” Gardea told TBEN.
Everything except actually owning and operating the buses themselves. Kolors follows a model the company has described as “if Uber and Southwest Airlines had a baby”. The startup essentially provides a layer of technology to small and medium-sized bus companies to help them run more smoothly. Kolors also equips each bus with an attendant, a Kolors employee who checks passengers in, accepts cash payments when needed, and sells snacks and drinks — all to provide that near-luxury level of service.
“I’ve been working in the tech industry for over 15 years, and it’s not enough to be the most intelligent person at the table if you’re not a team player and a good person.” Kolor’s co-founder Anca Gardea
This business model, which is still evolving, has caught the attention of major investors in the mobility space. Kolors recently closed a $20 million Series A led by UP.Partners with participation from Toyota Ventures, Maniv Mobility, K5 Global and Mazapil.
We sat down with Gardea to discuss how an empathetic leader inspired her team of engineers to work unpaid for six months while Kolors was starting up, why intercity bus travel in Latin America is ripe for disruption, and how the company plans. to expand in the coming year.
Editor’s Note: The following interview, part of an ongoing series featuring founders building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.