Regardless of whether you ride chicken bus in Nicaragua or greyhound in the United States, intercity bus travel is rarely glamorous. Despite its essential nature in moving people around for vacations, visiting family, and business, this particular type of transportation is often stripped down to its most essential components—many seats, wheels, an engine, and a driver—to make the most profit for the most. -little effort.
In Latin America, advances in technology combined with a growing middle class with higher disposable income have opened the bus industry up for disruption. Kolors, a Mexico City-based startup that provides elevated bus service and smart intercity mobility, may just have an edge in this disruption.
Anka Gardea, co-founder, CTO 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 after the founding of Busolinea, the company was purchased as a subsidiary by one of the largest intercity bus operators in Mexico. Gardea and Martinez continued to lead the digital unit of this company, where the two gained a lot of experience in various aspects of modernizing the intercity bus industry.
Feeling stymied by the lethargic technology so often found in larger organizations, the two decided to pivot in September 2019 and launch Kolors.
“At Kolors, we have developed everything needed to run operations from route planning, price optimization, tools like revenue management, crew and customer support, etc.,” Gardea told TechCrunch.
Everything but actually owning and operating the buses themselves. Kolors follows a model the company describes 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 run more smoothly. Kolors also provides each bus with an attendant, a Kolors employee who checks in passengers, accepts cash payments when needed, and sells snacks and drinks – all to provide this almost luxury level of service.
“I’ve been working in the tech industry for over 15 years and it’s not enough to be the smartest person at the table if you’re not a team player and a good person.” Kolors co-founder Anka Gardea
This business model, although still developing, has attracted the attention of major investors in the mobility space. Kolors recently closed a $20 million Series A which 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 six months without pay while Kolors launched, why intercity bus travel in Latin America is ripe for disruption, and how the company plans to expand in the following year.
Editor’s note: The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.