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.
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.
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.