How do product managers shape the future of industries? Today, we’re sharing an insightful interview with Lyubomir Georgiev, Modeshift’s Product Manager – let’s dive in!
M: Tell us about yourself. What is your professional background and expertise?
L: My name is Lyubomir Georgieff. I’ve been working in tech companies for the past 10 years – product companies of different sizes, from 10-15 to 200-600 employees.
Most of the time I had an engineering role, doing a little bit of full stack but mostly front-end development. Being a front-end developer gave me the satisfaction of seeing the clients interact and work with the final product, as well as the impression it left on them. All of this while knowing what it cost to build the product and the processes behind it. That was the moment I realized that a product-related role fits me best and those moments from the engineering role were my favorite.
My expertise is built mostly on end-user-facing software in a B2C environment. However, I also had 3 years of experience with B2B products before joining Modeshift. At some point, I wanted a shift to a product-related work that has a direct impact on the daily lives of society – something familiar to every person and not specific to any group. This is how I met Modeshift.
You’ve had experience in developing mobility products for the European market. What are the main differences in developing mobility services for the US market?
In the small to medium-size cities on the European market, a lot of agencies still count on a heavily filled schedule with vehicles running every single minute, while in the US a lot of cities of this size diversify their fleet into adequate fixed-route and demand-responsive transit. This way, I believe, the cost is optimized, and public transit becomes more sustainable. Another difference is in the way enforcement is performed, as well as how boarding happens and so on. But this varies depending on which country on the European market we’re looking at. One thing is certain – sharing know-how from one market to another solves problems for both sides.
How do you see the future of mobility in small and mid-sized cities in the US?
It really depends on the type of city. To me personally one of the most important things is defining the profile of the riders in the city. Is transit used by daily commuters 95% of the time or perhaps by tourists who are always looking to find the next spot and ways to get there? The important thing is the infrastructure and the mobility ecosystem. If transit is used mainly by commuters, then good pricing, easy-to-check updates on the daily commute and ETAs of the transport are a must. All these features should be packed in an easy-to-use, one-click-away mobile or web app.
MaaS services such as Park & Ride or combined transportation can be part of the solution as well. At the end of the day, the goal is to provide a transparent view of the commute of the riders, inform them in case of changes and keep the process flawless in terms of accessibility to information.
If transit is mainly used by tourists, other things come to the table. You have a flow of people who want to explore, and a route planning functionality is a must for such cities. This includes showing the fastest way to get to a point, and providing information on all the available transport services including public transit, first and last-mile scooters and bikes, railway, DRT, etc. Showing people how to use them is also an important functionality that will improve the process of gaining trust in the app. The vendor has to make sure that the rider won’t spend half of the holiday in the app but only the minimum amount of time to get the task done and explore the city.
Another important factor is how riders get charged. This is something that bothers me as a rider every time I visit a new place. Deciding which fare is right for the rider is something that the fare collection system should decide on its own to optimize time. This could be done in two ways – EMV for transit or smart wallets. The idea is simple – riders need to travel without thinking if they get the best deal because at the end of the day the system will make sure they are charged the least possible amount. The more mobility services the rider links to the wallet the better.
Last year you represented Modeshift in one of the biggest mobility events in the US – APTA EXPO in Orlando. What new trends left an impression on you? What is new in the smart mobility market and for which products do you think there will be a growing demand in the next few years?
APTA EXPO was great! It was exactly what I expected – potential clients and potential partnerships, a good vibe, and friendly people. I saw some trends in DRT cost optimizations as well as in fixed-route, automated analysis of ridership, and passenger flow. I think all of these are triggered by the pandemic and will have a future in the transit business, especially with what is currently happening as a result of the “great resignation” and employee shortages.
An idea we were able to validate with a couple of visitors coming to our stand was the need for smart wallets and the improvement of riders’ experience by sparing them the need to think about what fares they should purchase.
Another thing that has potential is the need to simplify the interface of the MDTs for the drivers. We heard a lot of complaints from agencies on that issue. Hopefully, our UX was well accepted.
Finally – the need for a better way to communicate with the riders and receive their feedback. A lot of agencies shared that this is something that they have on their to-do list for next year. They shared that having social media accounts doesn’t guarantee prompt communication with the end user and they’re looking for alternative channels such as transit apps and GTFS service alerts feeds.
What challenges has COVID placed on professionals like yourself – Product Manager in the mobility landscape?
The biggest challenge is not seeing the client in person. The remote connection (although useful at times) always makes you miss something important concerning an issue the client has and makes it harder to build trust. I can give numerous examples of having an okay relationship with a client before meeting them in person and once we start communicating face to face things just go to a whole new level that surprises both sides.
Another thing related to traveling is exploring how others commute – no matter if it’s work or leisure-related. When I travel, I always spare some time to experience first-hand how people move from one place to another. Yes, during the pandemic the internet is still here and there was a lot of news about how some cities started partnerships and develop their transit networks, but these articles always answer the question “What”, not “How”. You’ll get the answer to the second question only as a rider.
What bothers you most in the current mobility/transit landscape? How would you solve it?
What bothers me most are the issues with access to different transport services, how easy are they to use, and the user experience as a whole. A lot of cities have an app for every service out there. Let’s say they have 4 scooter services, 2 bike services, public transit, DRT, private railway, 2 on-street parking apps, and an app for gated parking in the city. That’s 12 apps! This is simply unacceptable regardless of whether you are a daily commuter or a tourist. Either way, you have to install 12 apps, register and link bank cards. And this doesn’t include any of the big MaaS apps where you’ll mostly find links to those 12 apps and routing. There will always be a chance that some of the services are not integrated into the MaaS app and you won’t get the best route for your trip.
The reason there are this many apps is simple – a lot of new vendors are trying to grow fast and gain a huge user base. That’s why they need to accommodate the new users in their app with good UX, gather their data, and promote the app with some deals and coupons. That’s the right way to grow for the vendor but not the right choice for the cities and the riders. Having one app or a set of apps with integration between them, sharing one wallet would fix this major issue and set the foundation for a form of digital citizenship. Whoever solves this, will raise the bar on what the cities and agencies can expect from the technology urban mobility vendors. I think this is not a job for one team or one company. It’s a complex task and with the right partners teamed up it could be the next thing everyone will be talking about.
Do you think there’s something missing in the transit market? What is it and what problems would it solve?
We’re missing the common language and the common goal. I believe we have the right people and the right technology in place, and we can achieve something bigger that will improve the rider experience. I haven’t seen a specific problem without a solution on the market. It’s just different scales and prices of the solution and the key is to combine the right solutions for the right case.