In one corner, major corporation Ubisoft, which wants to solve its employees’ mobility and transportation issues; in the other, a Montréal start-up, Netlift, which specializes in multimodal ridesharing. The two players seem like a natural fit. They came together during the first edition of InnoBahn Ubisoft in June. Marc-Antoine Ducas, CEO of Netlift, tells us about the experience.
Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM) – Montréal is one of three cities with the worst traffic in Canada.1 Is this an issue as much for major corporations as residents?
Marc-Antoine Ducas (M.A. Ducas) – Definitely. Companies like Ubisoft are major employment centres in Montréal and generate travel. Several thousand people go to work every day, and there are a hundred similar employers on the island. Often, they are poorly served by public transit. This is a challenge for companies, particularly when it comes to recruitment. Candidates may be reluctant to apply if they know they have to cross a bridge every morning to get to work and every evening to get home. This is a problem shared by a lot of businesses.
CCMM – Do you think companies like Ubisoft can be drivers of change in employee mobility?
M.A. Ducas – Yes, and Ubisoft understands this, which was evident in its efforts with the Ville de Montréal and the STM to improve the fluidity of transportation for its employees. Nothing changed, so the company turned to start-ups, entering their challenge in the InnoBahn Ubisoft.
CCMM – Which leads me to ask about the solution you pitched to Ubisoft. The service Netlift proposed responds directly to the challenge submitted.
M.A. Ducas – Yes. Netlift is a mobile app and an intermodal ridesharing platform. The goal is to combine car travel, in the form of ridesharing, with public transit. Netlift puts travellers in touch with drivers who want to fill the empty spots in their vehicle, tying into public transit schedules to help connect up trips.
CCMM – Where did the idea for Netlift come from?
M.A. Ducas – Rush hour is not a question of capacity, but of logistics. Every morning in Greater Montréal, close to 1.5 million trips are made by people alone in their cars, leaving four million empty seats. The question is: how do we fill those vehicles?
We came up with a multimodal ridesharing system, where public transit is connected to the car portion of the trip. Why? Because ridesharing alone doesn’t work. The chance that two neighbours work at the same place – never mind on the same schedule – is infinitesimal.
And when you reduce solo car use, you reduce traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.
“Rush hour is not a question of capacity, but of logistics.” – Marc-Antoine Ducas
CCMM – Uber, Netlift… two platforms that put users in touch with drivers. What is the difference between them?
M.A. Ducas – Uber is not ridesharing. Ridesharing as defined by the Ministère des Transports involves two things. First, drivers have to prove that carrying passengers is secondary to their reason for travel and not the main purpose. They would have used their car anyway to make the trip. Second, the amount exchanged must be used to cover expenses. There is no profit here. It is simply compensation, unlike Uber, whose drivers make trips for payment.
CCMM – Let’s come back to InnoBahn. Ubisoft chose your solution. How did you work together?
M.A. Ducas – Ubisoft’s commitment to this pilot project was essential. Taking on this sort of project is a risk for any company, but Ubisoft, by virtue of its product, has risk in its DNA. So it has no problem testing out new projects. Plus it had an obvious need.
For a start-up to go from proposing to realizing a solution requires the support of a large company. This is what happened with Ubisoft. Its team was very responsive. We worked with a group of employees to test the application. We studied their problems with them, paired them and made improvements based on their input, producing the final version of our product. Ubisoft’s strength was motivating people to use the app.
CCMM – What are the next steps?
M.A. Ducas – For the next four months, 250 Ubisoft employees will use the app. The goal is to get through the winter, which is a strategic time for multimodal transportation, and to take stock then.
In terms of improvements, we are also pushing for reimbursement for parking, which can amount to hundreds of dollars a month for drivers. The drivers’ route is central to our thinking; they leave home and go to a parking lot, for instance, at the train station. Netlift thinks this expense should be split, and passengers should reimburse their portion to the driver. It provides an additional motivation for drivers.
CCMM – What do you take away from InnoBahn Ubisoft?
M.A. Ducas – InnoBahn Ubisoft has a winning formula that allows the start-ups selected to move from a product proposal to development. It’s a lab in which large companies and start-ups work together to find solutions to clearly identified problems. For the start-ups whose pilot project is selected, it’s an incredible learning opportunity. We are thrown into action.
After InnoBahn, I received a call from Hydro-Québec. We are heading into a second phase, where our economic model has been finalized, and a new cohort of companies is ready to try our product.
“InnoBahn Ubisoft has a winning formula that allows the start-ups selected to move from a product proposal to development.”– Marc-Antoine Ducas
CCMM – Do you have any advice for start-ups that want to take part in the next edition of InnoBahn Ubisoft?
M.A. Ducas – Be very clear about the solution you are proposing and how it will solve a major company’s problem. Don’t push your product: above all, you need the right solution for the client’s needs.
Generally, in the world of entrepreneurship, you have to be able to identify the problem and present yourself as the only viable solution.
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To submit your innovation challenge or to support the event, contact Loubna Chamcham.
La Presse, “Netlift: application mobile pour le covoiturage,” October 20, 2016.
Le Journal de Montréal, “Des applications pour contrer l’auto solo,” October 11, 2016.
Ubisoft, “Simplify your commute this winter with Netlift,” October 6, 2016.