What is the most desired thing any passenger wants after an exhausting flight? We bet you say that it is fast and comfortable transfer home. But what if taxis are too expensive, the car is not by side, but you still want to get home quickly and without spending a fortune on your ride? This is how Tobias Stueber and Alex Tregubov came up with the idea of shuttle bus app development. And this how in early 2019 our partnership with, Flibco.com began.
For the sake of foreword, we will say that Flibco.com challenged Ascendix Technologies with two major tasks: to upgrade the old software for a service called Shuttle Bus and to perform cross-platform shuttle bus booking software development for an innovative airport transportation software solution called Door2Gate.
Since then, Ascendix Technologies renewed an outdated software and created a game- changing driver app for Flibco.com. And we continue our partnership on a backend and transportation app development for customers.
In this nice talk, Tobias Stueber and Alex Tregubov from Flibco.com will tell what it is like to work with an IT outsourcing company, how they cope with the challenges connected with COVID-19 and share their tips and tricks on how to survive in travel tech industry.
Make Vision a Reality: Tobias Stueber and Alex Tregubov
Tobias Stueber, CEO and Alex Tregubov, Product Owner of Flibco.com joined the company in 2018. From that time the management and technical development in Flibco.com has jumped to the new level to keep up with the digital demands of modern public transportation world.
Meet Flibco.com – a Leading European Airport Shuttle Service Provider
Flibco.com provides private airport shuttle services in main Western European countries like Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Cyprus, Netherlands, France, Portugal, Spain, and Hungary.
Key Transport App Development Technology Solutions Offered by Ascendix
A Few Facts about Flibco.com
Flibco’s history started in early 2005. We had a first typical bus line to the airport from Luxembourg to Frankfurt and it is around a hundred kilometers.
But during that time, it was a booming airport, one of the main depots in Europe. And it was really making sense because a lot of people were going from Luxembourg to Frankfurt Hahn airport and it was very cheap to fly in different countries. At that time, the airport in Luxembourg was not that quite developed. So, Flibco started to develop this activity and in 2010 they started with a second line going from Luxembourg to Charleroi.
It is quite similar because Charleroi is a city in Belgium about 70 kilometers away from Brussels city center and a lot of Luxembourgish people went to Charleroi airport too because it is another low-cost airport. Then in 2014, Flibco grew to 1 million passengers that they transported in one year to these two different destinations.
Homepage of Flibco.com
Later, in 2015, it was the next milestone in the history of Flibco. Before, Flibco buses were going from Luxembourg to a German airport and from Luxembourg to a Belgium airport. But what was missing was the Luxembourgish airport. Flibco.com is a Luxemburgish company coming from a Luxembourgish group, Sales Lentz Group, which are really the top two here in Luxembourg. And Luxembourgish companies started finally operating services in Luxembourg.
In 2016 we expanded the business in Germany on another airport. It is Weiz as well as another low-cost airport next to Dusseldorf and Cologne. In 2017 Flibco developed small services in some South European countries like Portugal and Spain.
Then, 2018 was a very important year when I joined the company and Flibco.com was preparing for a tender. At that time, we defined some other lines in Charleroi airport, not going just to Luxembourg, going to Lille and other big cities around.
The Charleroi airport said that it was very interesting, and they were going to make a big tender. There should have been the concept of what Flibco is doing plus full integration of the airport transport services that should be managed by one company. They wanted to have a digital platform company or a transport company that would manage all the different destinations they needed.
Really big companies like Keolis and Flixbus were applying but at the end in March 2019 Flibco won this tender.
Now in Charleroi, we have kind of monopole where we are setting up a new infrastructure in front of the airport and a unique Flibco-branded mobility center that you will not find on any airport in Europe. The people go out of the terminals and reach directly in our mobility center to go to the different cities.
What have changed in the Flibco.com operations since you joined the company in 2018?
When I joined the company, I modified a lot and I gave a vision that Flibco should be the brand like Flixbus, a city-to-city transportation.
And we should develop it to the point that everyone knows when they go to an airport that there should be a Flibco bus. Or I can book my Flibco bus on the digital platform. And we have a vision that we will develop from around 1.9 million passengers to 10 million passengers per platform. We are in cooperation now with airports and we want to expand our business.
At the moment, we have different companies in different countries. In Luxembourg, our headquarters, we have 14 people: marketing and IT department, the administration, and the customer care. In Belgium, directly in Charleroi airport, we have 20 people who manage the business in front of the airport and sell tickets. And, for sure, we have a Belgium director controlling the whole business and who is responsible for the Belgium market.
We have other goals to develop the business in Belgium because there are more airports and we want to reach every airport there. That is our common goal. And what we had planned to start before the Coronavirus arrived this year was to establish a business in Italy.
Another interesting fact about Flibco is that last year we had a turnover of 27 million Euro. This year it was planned to reach the 32 million Euro, but it was before the Coronavirus. Therefore, we will not come to this 32 million Euro because the business has been dead for two months. But for the next years we want to grow.
Airport Transportation Services Arena in Europe and its Key Players
What are your main competitors on the airport transportation market?
The main competitors are public transport companies. And linked to the Door2Gate, there are more and more car sharing companies. Also, taxis that are waiting in front of the airport. But comparing to them, we have a better price and it is more comfortable to travel with us.
Trains are our competitors as well. However, our strategy is when there is an airport that is well connected with the train we will never go there. You see that phenomenon in London when you go to London stands at the airport. There is an express train that can go in 40 minutes to Liverpool street.
But sometimes it happens at airports when they have trains, but people are contacting us because the capacity on the trains is not enough. Then it makes sense to start with buses there.
If we consider your main competitors−other shuttle bus service providers, what differentiates you? What advantages can Flibco.com offer your customers comparing to them?
The point is that you must understand how these competitors work. For example, public transport companies have scheduled timetables, but they do not care about the flights. They never analyze the flight time tables, never check the flights, the different categories of flights. They never see the occupancy rate of the flights. On the contrary, we go into the analyzation of exactly that.
We specialize in airport transportation and we understand the airport business. We know when a plane lands, how long it takes from the passenger to come out of the airport, when the airport closes from four security controls to two because there are delays, which flights we can group and that these people can all take the same bus etc..
Public transport does not do that. Taxis are the same, they just wait for hours at the airport for people to grab them. But we are there when most of the potential is there because we analyze the peaks and go to the peaks. We have been doing this for more than 15 years and have a lot of experience. We know different cycles of the airline market and know how to react. We see when it is growing, and we were there on September 11.
And another advantage of Flibco that we are not just the digital platform, but we work close with our partners. We belong to Sales Lentz Group that was founded in 1948. It was a bus company that started with two buses going to some holidays in Italy. And they were organizing soccer games in Luxembourg, grouping the people, and bringing them to the soccer games as fans. Now Sales Lentz Group has 724 buses and more than 1,500 employees.
I go out of my office, I meet drivers. I meet directors that are since 20, 30 years in the transport business. We know when we develop an app, what the driver needs, what makes sense, what makes no sense. And this is an advantage because a lot of taxis do not have this app. The public transport companies do not do this.
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What are your main partners?
First, the airport is an important partner. Because, for example, in Charleroi, we are number two in giving them a kickback. They get commissions from our turnover attendance and they have a high interest that we transport a lot of people but not the taxis or others because they got nothing.
Second, for cross selling, for example, we are always interested in having agencies that can sell our tickets which is important just to grow. If you look at the digital world, we are interested in all transport platforms to be visible there because the more people see when they go to an airport, the easier they can book.
The third part are transport companies because Flibco has no buses. We always look in the countries for partners that can drive with us. We always say that we bring jobs to the country when we establish our service.
Then the government, the ministries. Because of COVID-19 they have to adapt a lot of regulations. We always need to have a communication with government and with some local authorities. But they are not partners, but parties.
Main Challenges Brought by COVID-19 and Future of Airport Shuttle Transportation Industry
What are the most challenging aspects of your business? Especially, during this COVID-19 pandemic and how do you cope with them? Have you rearranged your workflow?
The point is that the most difficult challenge that you have linked to the Coronavirus is no turnover. You can imagine that when you have a turnover of 30 million Euro a year, and then suddenly you have nothing, so you have difficulties to pay your employees, to pay your development partners. Also, you need a clever management. When I am thinking about tips on how I can come out of the crisis I have to think ahead, and then it is getting easier.
One tip on how you can come out of the crisis, it is motivation of the people. And one point on how to motivate people is to give them trust. And when I paid them 100% of the salary, that means, first, that you make a good management. And second, I get that trust. But this is not enough when you are looking in the future.
When I joined this company, I gave these people a vision. And if you have a good vision then a crisis will not destroy your company because the vision is still there. But with this vision of 10 million passengers we have, it is not changing the workload of my people. Because even if there is a crisis and we will not have to work now on the ground and sell tickets, we must work hard for our vision. My people now when there are some the governmental restrictions, are doing everything in terms of networking and creating new ideas.
So that we can survive and come back stronger when the business starts again. And another point is digitalization that is the future. We took some smart decisions after discussions with our associates to continue with the development. And I think that the most important thing is that you give people a future and that you make these people part of a future and up to date it has been working well.
If we talk about your vision, how do you see the future of your airport transportation industry as a travel tech expert?
The future of our industry is hard, and a lot of companies will die. This is clear because the crisis started not with the Coronavirus. If you are looking in the whole industry in Europe, digitalization is coming. And a lot of companies are still making money, but no one is interested in looking forward. They are living just now and not investing in the future because it is expensive.
And therefore, a lot of companies will die. But I am sure that we will not die because we think ahead and invest in the future.
The mobility sector will change completely, but that is not linked to the crisis it was before as well. But now with the crisis where you have totally different topics about security of bus driving at the full capacity, contactless payments, contacting the driver, control of the tickets etc. There are a lot of questions where we have the digital answers already.
I had a talk with an Italian airport transportation company that is making a hell of money. But because of the crisis and the restrictions, they cannot take cash. And they are lost. A lot of companies said that they did not need that digitalization because their business was running well. But now the mindset of the people is changing, and it opens doors for companies like us and it will kill other companies.
Launch of Flibco.com & Ascendix Technologies Partnership on Transport App Development
What were the main difficulties with your transport software in early 2019? Why did you decide that you needed software maintenance?
When I joined the company in 2018, the challenge was clear that we have to grow and to scale the business. And what I saw internally, I would not say that it was a bad system because they had a lot of success with it, but it was outdated, which is quite normal in digitalization.
What we do this year can be outdated in two years. I always take Nokia example. They were a leader on mobile phones market but then Apple came and some years later they were dead. Apple won the market.
I said to my associates, that is dangerous because we were running in the same issue. On a documentation level, it was too complicated. And there was a challenging decision: to modify the old system, which was written in a different programming language or to do something new but linked to the prices and to the ideas, I decided to have something new. And thing was who would do it: the companies, people responsible.
If you look in Europe, London is a quiet good hotspot of digitalization. Berlin and Munich are quite okay and there are some good people. Then we came to the point that there are a lot of fantastic companies in Ukraine. To be honest, my first impression was: is it really like that?
But then I went deeper into the topic. We have a clear vision of scaling the business in a good way, so we looked at how other companies are doing it because you do not always have to create your own thing. You can look by sides how the other big companies like Siemens do that. In our sector it was Flixbus because they made an amazing jump, they are growing in years.
And we questioned ourselves: Where are they? What are they doing? Are they making their development in-house? Where are their hotspots? Where is the quality at the end? So, we decided that we need a new system. And then I talked with drivers and asked what they thought about the app and what is the list of items they wanted in this app.
Our developers team said that it was difficult, and they could not develop this list of items. We had to be faster, change something immediately, and react just in time. And that was the main reason not going too much in details.
Did you have a list of requirements that you had for the IT outsourcing companies to change your old software? Or did you just listen to their offers? What was exactly the process of selection an IT outsourcing company?
I first created my vision and then I talked to some people. They said that was interesting, but you would never do it like that. Then I had the pleasure that some smart guys like Alex and others joined the company. And I explained to them my vision and said, “You are new as well, with new spirit. If you are not completely stupid, you can generate a new dynamic.”
I did not focus on what is on the list, but it was interesting to get a first picture. And for this the people have to understand my vision because we come from a family company and we have a special team spirit, so I was looking for people in other companies, like Ascendix that were interested in being a part of my vision. Maybe it sounds weird because I was not looking for employees, but I was looking for external companies sharing my vision.
In the meantime, we were contacting companies, but they were all not right for us because they were arrogant. And then Alex had an idea to reach out to Ascendix Technologies and I met Wes and Todd. I explained them my ideas and what is my spirit. We made a test within a driver application and just optimized it for our bus drivers because there was a huge demand. And it worked amazing.
We did some audits about how good the service was and got very good feedback. But the main part why I was going with Ascendix was not technical or about our requirements. It was the spirit of you, Ukrainians, and the passion for your work. That was for me important. In digitalization the smallest part of success is really the IT skills. It sounds weird, but I think the biggest part is passion and structure. And at the end it was the reason why I decided to work with Ascendix Technologies.
What was your vision of the shuttle transportation app when you started working with Ascendix? What did you want to see in it?
That was quite easy. First of all, we needed an app so that customers could book their tickets via the mobile phone. The second important thing was showing the people where the buses. Sometimes because of the traffic the bus is five minutes too late or people are too late, and they want to blame us that the bus was not there.
And then, for sure, sharing information with the customer like how to cancel the ticket prior to departure to make the customers independent from our customer care. What is fitting there are push notifications. When, for example, the bus is delayed, we can send the pushup to all the customers. Also, we can push special offers to customers who have this app.
Due to this, we can optimize information flow and the communication which helps us from an administrative side as well.
Some functions that customers would like to have are the invoice integration on the app. And when we can create directly the invoice issuing after the booking, the customers will be able to track their former bookings when they need it. I think that is the first version of the app, but I cannot tell you yet how the app will look like in two years.
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Shuttle Reservation Software Development Challenges of Flibco.com Project
Technology Solutions for Shuttle Booking Software by Ascendix
What technology solutions were offered by Ascendix Technologies for transportation app and software maintenance?
We were using a technology that allows us to basically build an application for the two platforms simultaneously: iPhone and the Android. Which is great in terms of a cost optimization.
Moreover, it is seamless because the end client, the driver, does not notice the difference. If we are talking about a technology, it is called Xamarin. There are other similar technologies on the market, but it was great that Ascendix offered us this. And it proved to be an asset.
What about Drupal CMS integration? Did it prove to be useful?
Drupal is the content management system. One of the weak points of the previous system that it was missing the content management system. So our marketing team couldn’t send an announcement to our customers, post the news, update the pictures, add a section on the website that could address not only customers, but also the potential partners independently from the developers.
Drupal came and helped there. And now our marketing department can do things like this on their own and they do not need to ask us as developers. Speaking of Drupal, it is out-of-the-box solution ready for the multilingual support, which was one of the points why we chose it over a similar solution.
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What about data? What technologies did you use to store data in more reliable and clearer way?
Speaking about the data before, we had an SQL database that had its pros and cons as well as other types of databases. We decided to transition away from the SQL database and use something that will be more efficient in our structure: database called Mongo DB..
Knowing the cost of the hosting for SQL database and having the customer database a little more than a million, we would be paying so much money just to host it.
Therefore, we decided to transition to MongoDB that is a very nice tool, because we changed the programming language from the old system to the new system. Now, we are using a Java integration between those two technologies that is good and efficient.
What about all these algorithms and route building? What technologies did you employ to match these algorithms with drivers and to simplify the work of your customer service department?
Speaking of the algorithms of Door2Gate system, it was very interesting to see how we would map them to reality. Because we came up with business requirements in cooperation with other departments and with what would be interesting for the clients just on paper,
And there the expertise from key people in Ascendix came in very handy because we did the whole round of the investigation on which map provider to use for this.
It was Google on the list and questions like what is the way that we can do it? how much do we have to put in there and how do we design that algorithm? We started with something simple just to build a route from point A to point B and then we were building on top and on top.
We were agile, whereas the requirements were changing as we go. But the Ascendix team was very flexible in terms of considering all these different adjustments that we had from the different stakeholders in Flibco and implemented them in a very reasonable timeframe and with a great quality.
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External and Internal Results of Airport Shuttle Bus App Development
If we speak about these changes and all the technologies that were deployed, what departments benefited the most: customer service department, marketing department, analytical department? What feedback did you have from them?
If I have a person in mind, I think our marketing guys are very happy now because they are more flexible in terms of how they can use the website that is connected to the backend.
The customer care department for sure, even though the backend is not ready yet with everything, but it is in a good way. It makes much easier to track everything and to administrate. I think for every department it is a huge benefit and people realize it.
Are there any features or tools they complement on the most?
I think all features. When we look now at our subcontractors, bus companies, they are happy about the driving app because it is easy to use it. Our customer care guys are happy about that backend system because it is easier to make changes, for example, when we have new timetables or when we change prices for Door2Gate there.
The customers also say that the website is now much better and clearer. When you have a vision and a way to go through, you do not look at one party and your goal is not to make just one party happy. Because if my goal as a CEO would be just to make the customers happy it would sound logic, but it would not be the right way.
You have to start earlier and work on your structure internally. Because when your employees are happy and when they have an easy way of working, it reflects on the customers and on the way they work with the subcontractors and it has a relation to customers too.
At the moment we are internally cleaning up and are cleaning up with our partners to have better optimized processes. From different parties we have good feedback. So, first we just make internal people happy and our goal is to make everybody happy. We do not focus on one app.
If we speak about external results, have you noticed any changes that reflected on the user experience or on customer experience. What are the most noticeable changes in customer engagement on the page? What tests did you conduct to prove that your changes worked not just for you internally, but also externally?
We had more visits on the website linked to the improvements. Also, our business developers said we have less server errors. And we had better feedback about the usage of the back office and the people in administration said that is now easier and faster.
And for sure we had a better documentation of our technical architecture. When we cooperated with a company in Berlin and had a meeting, we planned two hours for it. At the end, the plan for the integration was two weeks. But in the meeting, we were ready with discussing everything in 20 minutes. And that is the best feedback because they said we had a very clear documentation that is state-of-art.
What is your feedback of our custom outsourcing software development services?
I am really very happy with the cooperation and we have a clear and transparent way. I think Todd and Wes as well as Tatiana, Kate, Oleg, Kirill did an amazing job and we are talking directly about things.
We had some improvements, but the reaction of Todd and Wes was always fair. And what makes success is when you have a clear and fair communication. Ascendix was always professional and respectful. When we developed different things, it was amazing to see Ascendix team working with their spirit. They never complain and are solution oriented.
And I think the biggest challenge in the cooperation with Ascendix is keeping this level because to come to the level, it is not easy. But it is easier than keeping the level for the next years. Because I am looking for success story together. And at the moment we had a good start, but to have a success story we have a long way to go.
I always say to Todd and Wes to make sure that Ascendix will stay on that level. And if you ask me now about my dream, it is like that we are in 20 years sitting here and saying that it is still a good cooperation.
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Cherry on the Cake: Travel Tech Experts Hints and Tips
What are three things that you would recommend other travel tech companies that are looking for a custom development technology partner? What should they pay their attention to and look for in a cooperation with any IT outsourcing company?
For me, one important thing is to make sure that you are talking the same language. Because if you do not speak the same language on a level to make business, then, considering different cultures, you will never match expectations. That sounds a bit logical, but I know that a lot of projects fail because there is no common understanding.
The second one, it is to have a vision before you contact the companies. Be clear which way you want to go, share this vision, and make it understandable for IT companies. Otherwise it will be difficult to reach the results you want to have.
Another point is having a good structure and challenging your company before contacting IT companies. Because digital companies will be not the solution for your problems. They just extend your good ideas, but they will never solve your problems.
And one more thing which is important is to challenge your decisions at any time, because a good decision today is not a good decision tomorrow, especially in the digital world. And other people are not responsible for your decisions from yesterday.
This is what businesses should take care of because IT outsourcing companies are doing a good job linked to development. But it is just the last 20% of fulfilling the goals.
The 80% is in front of the CEO who is contacting them. And we have CEOs of companies, who have no vision, no structure in their companies and they want to do the development of digital product because they think that is the goal. But I think they will fail.
Do you have any tips as a public transportation expert in Luxembourg that can make custom software development project a success?
The point is to understand your business. Because if I have no idea about an app, a backend, a website, and it will create a lot of problems. The people who want to move forward are not people who work from eight to four because you have to invest time and challenge decisions. And there will never be an end. And after the crisis, I am absolutely sure this platform economy will grow. And if you dare not on the top of the market and are not going with the new trends, today can be a good day for you but tomorrow it maybe a day to die.
We do not want to die. So, you have to look in the mirror and ask the person in the mirror if you are doing it. And a lot of companies are already dead, but they do not realize it.
Do you have any strategy on how to adjust for the future changes and become better for your customers?
Digitalization is one key factor, but a fancy website is not digitalization. It starts before, with the bus driver. And before you start with digitalization you should have the knowledge on what you want to see in the digital product and the knowledge from the people on the ground.
We are permanently working on a good structure before we start working with companies like Ascendix Technologies as well as on the common understanding to start digitalization and on this communication part to be ready to start with digital ideas and digital products.
Another thing is linked to my people and it is the modern way of working. A lot of people are talking about that “new work” that is a big word in Europe and is about home offices, but they are not ready for it.
But we are ready. That was for me mandatory to enable every person who has family and kids or just has a long way to work to have an opportunity to work from home in a legal frame because they are linked to taxation.
This is a modern way of working, giving people the freedom to work at home or wherever, to be creative, to be their own boss to it. Also, what we take care of is critical feedback culture in our office, but it is difficult for some people because they are from the old business. A lot of people are leaving because they think that I expect too much. But for me it is fine because we are here on a clarification process.
In Europe, Luxembourg, Germany we are far away and companies in Ukraine maybe five years in front of us to understand how digitalization works to do it. We started to be on top in Luxembourg. It is not that difficult because the top is not that high, but we are now on a better level.
How do you try to become better for your customers in terms of marketing and customer service?
We are very present on the social media. Because at the end if you want to get better for customers, you have to ask them. We optimized the customer care. Before a lot of people were working in the customer care in the wrong, non-digital way and a lot of things were done by phone, which I am not a fan of. We standardized those things, but we are still there for our customers and we are in a direct contact via customer care team, the social media management.
Also, we look at the trends e.g. we measured that near to 77% of customers book our tickets via mobile and we analyze all processes linked to how we communicate with to the customers. I cut off the older phone system, emails, therefore, we need an app because then we can send up push notifications.
And then we have to implement the website with very good FAQ section because most questions when customers call are like “Can I have a refund for my ticket?” But we can write it on the website, and we do not need customer care staff for that. People can see it 24 hours, they can copy paste and put it wherever they want.
And another point is that I always talk to my people on the ground because they are every day, every hour in contact with our customers. They can tell me why people do not take the buses, what is wrong on the ground, if ticket prices are too expensive, what is their feeling about Flibco etc.
And that is why I look at our surveys, when we ask for customer satisfaction. We have more than 95% customer satisfaction rate for years because we are always close to the customer. And that is a non-technical element why we have this success.
Judging by Flibco’s vivid example, to make the project a success in life but not only a nice plan on paper, you need to attain harmony within your organization first. Your company should work as a single organism: from people on ground to the upper management and share the same clear vision of the company’s future. Without this vision, it’s not possible to find the right software development partner because your software should be more than a short-term technology instrument, it should be a long-term assistant for both your employees and your customers that echo your values and business model.
What needs to be particularly stressed, are Tobias Stueber’s words that we can’t agree more with: digital success of software ensures not only technical skills of a development team, that is also important, but rather its synergy with their passion for work and devotion. It guarantees that your technology partner will crave for success of your project as much as you do and will discuss all the issues with the same enthusiasm to reach an agreement.