Whether you’re riding a chicken bus in Nicaragua or a Greyhound in the United States, intercity bus travel is rarely a glamorous affair. Despite its essential nature in moving people for vacation, visiting family and business, this particular mode of transportation has often been reduced to its most essential components — plenty of seats, wheels, an engine and a driver — in order to make the most amount of profit for the least amount of effort.
In Latin America, advancements in technology coupled with a growing middle class with more disposable income have opened up the bus industry for disruption. Kolors, a Mexico City-based startup that is providing an elevated bus service and intelligent intercity mobility, might just have a first-mover advantage on 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. As with Kolors, Gardea founded Busolinea with her husband, Rodrigo Martínez — Gardea is the technology-minded one in the relationship, while Martínez handles the business aspects. A few months into founding Busolinea, the company was purchased as a subsidiary by one of the largest intercity bus incumbents in Mexico. Gardea and Martínez went on to lead the digital unit for that company, where the two gained plenty of experience in various aspects of modernizing the intercity bus industry.
Feeling stymied by the lethargic tech so often found in larger organizations, the two decided to pivot in September 2019 and start Kolors.
“At Kolors, we’ve developed everything that’s necessary for running operations from the route planning, pricing optimization, tools like revenue management, crew and customer support, etc.,” Gardea told TechCrunch.
Everything except actually owning and operating the buses themselves. Kolors is following a model that the company has described as “if Uber and Southwest Airlines had a baby.” The startup essentially provides a technology layer to small and medium-sized bus operators to help them operate more smoothly. Kolors also provides each bus with an attendant, a Kolors employee who checks in passengers, accepts payments of cash when needed, and sells snacks and drinks — all to provide that near-luxury level of service.
“I’ve been working for over 15 years in the tech industry, 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.” Kolors co-founder Anca Gardea
This business model, while still evolving, has attracted the attention of big investors in the mobility space. Kolors recently closed out a $20 million Series A that was led by UP.Partners with participation from Toyota Ventures, Maniv Mobility, K5 Global and Mazapil.
We sat down with Gardea to discuss how being an empathetic leader inspired her team of engineers to work for six months without pay 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 with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.