Pantrek: A New App to Book Intercity Buses in Colombia

Pantrek

I met David Feldsott for the first time in November of 2014.

At the time, David had arrived just before me in Medellín after traveling throughout Latin America. He was the first to tell me about the Latin American intercity bus network, which reaches as far north as Mexico and as far south as Patagonia.

The intercity buses, however, are operated by a range of companies, making it difficult for any foreigner to make use of them. Their websites more often than not missed a 21st-century update and often lack online ticket sales. So tickets are, generally speaking, bought from the ticket counter at the bus terminal.

David came up with the idea for an app, called Pantrek, which would make it easier for anyone to buy intercity bus tickets. He worked out an initial wireframe as early as May 2013.

He thought about making the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) himself and started to acquire skills like programming and design. Soon, he realized that running a startup requires far more skills.

It wasn’t until early 2015 when the first application was ready to demo to the bus companies.

In that same year,  David learned that doing business in Colombia is significantly different from what he was used back home in the United States.

He was often very vocal on social media, including a time when his entire team spent a day at a bank to get things sorted. One of his partnering bus companies nearly took a year to sign a long-anticipated contract.

Bus companies, in particular, have not seen much change in the last few decades and therefore tend to be very conservative. Despite all the setbacks, David’s app has Colombian and Peruvian coverage, including all the principal cities.

One major advantage that David points out about doing business in Colombia is the relatively low cost of living.

Despite his team having grown to eight members and renting an office in a good location in Laureles, his total burn rate does not exceed $6,500 a month. This is something that would be nearly impossible to do if this were a U.S. company.

David is bootstrapping Pantrek, except for a small stipend he received from an incubator. He tells me that the next step will be to raise a round of funding in the U.S., which he plans to do later in the year.

Pantrek's partners

I raised the question if bus travel wasn’t already old news due to flights having become so cheap, especially in Colombia.

David acknowledges bus travel isn’t for everyone, but he sees opportunities with large groups including students, tourists, and backpackers for whom relatively small differences in price make a big difference.

The overall Latin American market for bus travel is estimated to be $15 billion annually. David hopes to integrate the Pantrek application with Expedia or Rome2Rio so that more people see intercity bus travel as a serious option.

At the moment, his application does not offer a public API to integrate with these companies, but he says that will soon change. Their current focus is the iOS and Android mobile apps.

Bus seating chart

A particularly neat feature of Pantrek is the “Social App” which allows you to select a seat on the bus and check if there are people on the bus that you might want to have an interesting conversation with. This encourages more interaction during the bus ride.

The first lines of code were done by David back in 2014, but he admits that most of that code has been replaced by his current team.

His stack consists of Angular, Jquery, Ajax and on the backend he is happy to tell me it’s working in Django. His server is hosted by Amazon in the U.S., as he says Latin American servers are more costly and less reliable.

As of this week, Pantrek.com is live and can be used to buy any intercity bus travel tickets in Colombia. Soon an iOS and Android app will be added to make the experience completely mobile.

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About Niels Siskens

Niels brings us his views as technologist and entrepreneur. Niels has been living in Medellín since 2014. Niels is the CEO of a Web and Mobile development company, called Ruby on Rocks. Niels holds an MBA from IE Business School in Madrid and has completed the Technology Bootcamp at Make it Real in Medellín. If you have any entrepreneurial or technological topic, please reach out to his twitter

Comments

  1. Very helpful. All in one place to get the bus fares. Usually have to hunt on each bus line’s website or go to the depot.

  2. Hi everyone! This is David Feldsott, one of the co-founders of PanTrek. I am happy to answer any questions that you might have about inter-city bus travel or about PanTrek, specifically. Or to offer any help I can!

    We are currently live with 2 bus companies at the moment, and are finishing an integration with a 3rd company within the next 2-3 weeks. We have many contracts signed in Colombia and Peru with bus companies, so we will be offering a lot more routes very soon. I would love to get your feedback about PanTrek, especially the bad stuff so we can continue to improve the platform. So, please do check out our site and let us know what you think of it. Thanks a lot!

    • This is fantastic news! I tried to plan out a journey via bus routes through Central America but found their antiquated websites extremely frustrating to use. I’m very glad to see that there are entrepreneurs out there that are willing to tackle this difficult task. Bringing the Latin American bus companies to the 21st century will be challenging but so very necessary, best of luck!

  3. chet mcintire says:

    great idea and have already thought about somehow using what Uber and now the numerous others both in the US and globally are doing to compete and adapting to the local markets like via rickshaw?
    also would appear you have two market opportunities and both difficult selling to local users and owners
    – refusal to change,
    – many not using smart phones and
    – payment, the un-banked
    and others perhaps you know.
    the additional market and a result of the contact with the providers is web hosting, site management, etc. (AWS?) and perhaps you’ve already identified.
    since 2013 I’ve been attending government sponsored Digital Revolution focused economic events and making contacts with the highest level ITC officials and other responsible here.
    before coming to Colombia the first part of my technology career included working in Silicon Valley during the birth of the PC Revolution at Intel (1978/79) and others responsible for it. Steve Jobs and the “Woz” too had just introduced their first Apple at the Stanford HomeBrew Computer where I was a member. then of course in SF years later Facebook Twitter and Uber who first started as perhaps you know there identified with “pink steer like horns” on their first drivers cars.
    best of luck in your continued success and stay in touch if you prefer and I’ll be watching and using PanTrek when possible.

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