Software ace Justin Coetzee shows how accurate and user-friendly the train commuter information application is that he developed for cellphones. Picture Ian Landsberg
SIMPHIWE is standing on the platform at Mabopane station. The 16h31pm train is late again. It could be another two minutes … or two hours, if the cable thieves have struck again. Sigh.
She whips out her Nokia and punches a few buttons. She smiles: GoMetro has just told her that the train is delayed by only 12 minutes. Just enough time to buy a cooldrink from the platform shop.
Simphiwe, and thousands of other train commuters, now have the ability to quickly and easily see live train movements on their cellphones – allowing them to eliminate wasted time and plan their days better. All thanks to Justin Coetzee, the Pretoria-born entrepreneur behind GoMetro.
28-year-old Coetzee, who went to Sutherland High School in Pretoria, and then graduated as a civil engineer from Pretoria University and Stellenbosch, is a coffee addict (Americano, no milk, no sugar, as much as possible as often as possible) who saw a real life problem that needed solving: rail commuters standing on platforms and not getting the right information fast enough from MetroRail.
Today, GoMetro – a free application – has a healthy customer base, and generates revenue from advertising on its mobi-site. It already counts Zando, the on-line clothing retailer and Wonga, the micro-loan company, as major advertisers.
Coetzee’s day starts with making a list of the “must-do” things for that day.
“Anything that does not have to get done today does not get on the list,” he says. “It’s usually about 20 to 25 things, and I rank them according to which ones are revenue generating. So working on a presentation for a conference – or anything that is not going to somehow make money – will always come after something that’s going to generate revenue.”
“One day per week I just schedule meetings and engage with people . I try and cluster my meetings in one day because for me, absolute focus is critical. I need to spend three hours on the product every day, and only on that. It’s vital to focus on specific things. You can’t accomplish anything in 20 minute sprints, if you want good results you have to dedicate sufficient mind-space – that means time and mental attention – to one issue or problem.”
Coetzee’s day doesn’t end until 10pm, but he intersperses it with family time.
“My wife understands, because she is involved in the business. She is responsible for the user-experience and application-design, so she knows what’s going, and when things are against the wall, she is there to help with what needs to get done, and share the stress and workload. It’s good that it’s our opportunity and our business, not just mine.”
GoMetro is located in the Telkom Bandwidth Barn (The Barn) incubator, in Woodstock, Cape Town, along with a host of other technology businesses.
“Being in an incubator is definitely worthwhile. It really helps you if you are, like us, a highly scale-able start-up that is looking to refine and develop your product while at the same time trying to grow. The real value is that you have lots of opinions, and the ability to get new perspectives from smart people, who are right there around you.”
When you’re wrestling with new products or new business models, the value of a really good idea can be massive.
Says Coetzee: “For example, we were looking at one business issue where we were trying to decide how to do something with just one cellphone service provider. Another entrepreneur said, well why not do it with all the service providers and let the consumer choose which one to use? It was such a simple thought but it completely changed the way we approached that business issue.”
Mauritz Gilfillan, Marketing and Community Manager at The Barn, says Coetzee is a good example of an entrepreneur who is really managing to “boot-strap” a start-up that normally would require substantial funding to get going.
“He has managed to keep his costs down, secure revenues and build strong relationships with the right stakeholders such as MetroRail,” said Gilfillan.
So before you next decide you’re going to take the train … jump on board with GoMetro first. It will keep you from building up steam, while waiting for the train!