(Editor’s note: This post on Pick is part of our Tech Tuesday series. Dispatches covers Europe’s tech scene, which relies on highly skilled internationals.)
Pick is one of the mobility solutions created by Ubirider. The Porto-based startup offers a one-step solution that provides information from different sources to give riders the best options for going from Point A to Point B. Options include public transportation or through combining transportation and bikes or even calling a taxi.
The aim is to make urban mobility easier, time- saving, and smarter for both riders and providers. Paulo Ferreira dos Santos, CEO of Ubirider, shares the story of his startup, how they survived the pandemic,and their plans for the future.
Sarah Nagaty: What did the idea of Pick come up?
Paulo Ferreira dos Santos: Ten years ago, I had another startup. My marketing manager was a Dutch guy who did not like cars at all. He always preferred public transport. However, he changed his mind when he married a German woman. At that time we used to go visit customers all around Europe using public transportation. It was really annoying because moving from one city to another involved spending so much time in ticket offices and dealing with a lot of information at the same time. This was when I thought that there should be a better process.
In 2018, I realized that it was the right time to make my company happen because from the year 2008 on, the technological state of art was good enough to create this application for riders.
A bus, a train, a parking lot – these are three ticketing systems and three payment systems. How could we make this easier for the rider?
We also wanted to combine communication. Imagine that there is a problem with the railway system, if I know that the train is delayed for one hour while I am at home, then I can save my time and go to the station one hour later.
We provide three things:
• the interoperability of information to allow planning,
• the interoperability of payments to facilitate the sales,
• and the interoperability of communication so the rider can have the information in real
It is about integrating the systems from the operators to help the riders. The best way of doing this is not just working for riders but also working with providers facilitating for them the process of becoming more digital and updated.
We work for both riders and providers.
Sarah: What about your funding story? Usually this is the most challenging part for any startup especially that Pick emerged with the start of the pandemic which was a critical time for all businesses.
Paulo: We were quite lucky. It was hard in the beginning reaching out to typical venture capitalists, particularly in Portugal; however, we managed to attract one corporate investor called Barraqueiro, the biggest private operator in Portugal of transportation.
It is a family business that is more than 100 years old. They had never invested in startups when we approached them. They were excited about the idea as they understood that the future will be digital, but did not know where to start. They realized that the best way to begin is to invest in a dynamic startup.
When the pandemic started, and with the first lockdown, the director of Barraqueiro told me that it will be tough but we believe that what you are doing will be even more crucial with the end of the pandemic and we would like to maintain our support for your company.
Timing is very crucial for a startup. You need to come up with the right product at the right time. If you are late, you lose your chance. We survived the pandemic because our investor was great and believed in what we do. We are also now closing another investment round.
Sarah: The startup ecosystem is thriving in Portugal at the moment. We don’t only see a few Portuguese startups emerging at the moment, but also many international startups are relocating to Portugal or starting from scratch in Portugal. How do you see this ecosystem at the moment? Is it beneficial for your company? Or do you find it challenging?
Paulo: There are different points there. It is very important for us to attract talents and people with skills. Portugal at the moment is great for that. The other interesting thing is that we now have more Portuguese people going to study abroad and also more foreign students coming to study in Portugal thanks to Erasmus programs.
Portugal has good weather, good food and good wine. Moreover, people here like foreigners so expats are well-received.This is a place that has everything for a creative environment. However, I think we are behind with investment.
Most companies which come here already come with investments from their countries. We have good investments, but the amount is relatively small and much more needs to be done with that. For example, the product we offer, mobility solutions, is not something many Portuguese investors have experience with. Investors tend to invest in fields they know well. Therefore, we faced some challenges initially because investors weren’t very familiar with mobility projects.
However, I believe that Portugal is an incredible place to start and grow your company.
Sarah: And what are Pick’s goals for the future?
Paulo: Our next step is closing this investment round and hiring more people because we have many projects at the moment. We intend to duplicate. The challenge is internationalization. We are now exploring internationalization options. We have also established key partnerships and we aim to grow steadily abroad in terms of operators and in terms of riders.
Read more here in Dispatches’ archives about Portugal’s startup scene.
Sarah Nagaty has a PhD in cultural studies, She’s lived in Portugal for six years.
As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kind of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.