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Newcastle might have been a different city when Liftango COO Trystan Eeles first landed here in 2007, but that didn’t stop him falling in love with it. The British born ex-pat initially came to the city as part of an Australia-wide backpacking trip. He and his partner ended up staying for several years before moving back to Europe to start a family – but the beach city was always calling them. When Trystan received a call from his old surfer buddy Kevin Orr in 2016, asking if he wanted to come home and help with a new business idea, the family upped sticks and travelled back down under.

Kevin’s idea – like many – was born out of frustration. He and his partner used to work nearby to each other so would drive to and from their offices together but would frequently get stuck in traffic – right next to colleagues they knew were headed to the exact same workplace. It seemed that getting more cars off the road could just be a matter of connecting people.

He took his idea to Slingshot, a national corporate accelerator, who coached him through the process of turning it into a reality. “Since then, we’ve been through three rounds of funding and we’re about to enter a fourth,” says Trystan.

With the first round, the team focused on getting their MVP off the ground. This year, they’re aiming to refine the scope of their product and help their international teams settle in and get their own projects off the ground. They now have offices in the US, the UK, and Canada, and their head office remains in Newcastle. “Our engineers actually started in Sydney, but Kev and I persuaded them to come up to Newy for a few weekends and they fell in love with it, so they’ve moved down here too.”

Liftango started life as a car-pooling app, working with facilities management teams to incentivise their car-park users to change their normal driving behaviours and share their commute. “We have to teach our clients that they have assets they are not utilising: not all car parking spaces are equal. The ones at the front and under cover are worth so much more than the ones at the back, so we work together to manage access to those high value spaces through the Liftango app.”

Though the organisation has now broadened their horizons to deliver on-demand bus services, as well as their car-pooling platform, the algorithms and UX expertise which were honed during these early stages of their development are what really gives them their competitive edge. While other on-demand services place their users in a digital queue, Liftango’s algorithms incorporate user’s pre-booked slots, which makes for a more predictable user experience.

Of course, the effectiveness of this style of public transport is dependent on behavioural change: by encouraging users to plan ahead for their transport needs. But behavioural change is just where Liftango’s team have developed their expertise. And while they’re not shy to admit they’re still learning, they’re definitely not the last people you’d ask about UX design. Indeed, they now have public transport clients across Australia, the US, Canada and the UK.

Liftango is also working with community transport groups to help them improve their services too. “They can use our tech to optimise their routes and streamline their booking system. A lot of them have been using the same technology for ten years: just manual matching, spreadsheets, and phone calls.” Though the start-up was founded from a desire to reduce carbon emissions and improve road and car park usability, they are also seeing social benefits to their platform use, too: and not just for community transport groups. “We got feedback from users who used to drive to work by themselves telling us that sharing their commute in a car or in a mini-bus has made them feel a lot more positive about what’s coming up in their day. They’ve been able to have a chat with someone instead of frowning at the steering wheel and getting more frustrated.”

The team work with a number of campus-based institutions, including NIB and the Woolworths Group, as well as Monash University, Deakin University and QUT. Their first client was the University of Newcastle and their relationship with the research institution has now come full circle. “They’ve been an amazing source of talent for us. A lot of our engineers have been wizards who have come out of their Computer Science degrees and wanted to stay in Newy. Previously they might have been drawn to Sydney because people think that’s where the start-ups are, but we managed to keep a bunch of them here and they are loving it. We’re offering these guys a great opportunity – it’s a global start up on a global scale but it’s accessible at a local level in an affordable city.”

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