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Meet Aey, Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer of ViaBus!
Have you ever taken the bus around Bangkok? It can definitely be quite daunting, especially if it's your first time. What are the routes? Where do they stop? When will they even arrive?
We caught up with KIS Class of 2013 Alumnus, Thanatseth (Aey) Howattanapan to learn more about a startup he co-founded, ViaBus, enabling everyday commuters to easily track and navigate the city using buses. Today Viabus has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times!
When did you join KIS?
I joined KIS in 2002 at the end of Grade 1, and stayed all the way till Grade 12!
Were you involved in any of KIS activities/extracurricular I.e. student council etc.?
I was in the student council media team. Could seem ordinary, but it helped me practice my foundations of communication design for my design career.
Where did you attend University and what did you study?
I majored in Information and Communication Engineering, Faculty of Engineering at Chulalongkorn University.
You launched an app with your university friends, can you tell us more about it? How did you come up with the idea? What does the app do?
My friends and I co-founded ViaBus, a real-time transit app for Thailand. I’m the Chief Design Officer overlooking design in product development and communications. With ViaBus, public transit commuters can track buses live in real-time and get transit directions. This means you no longer have to wait endlessly for a bus in Bangkok’s horrendous traffic!
It started off as a small university shuttle bus project, Chula Popbus. My friends and I struggled with the university’s bus routes and missed the bus regularly. These struggles drove us to develop a transit app to help ourselves and others who face the same problems. We got over 100,000 downloads and gained real traction where we could see other students using our app at the bus stop. Inspired by the impact witnessed in real life, we launched ViaBus to scale that impact to all modes of transportation for the entire country. So far we have over 1.5 million downloads and counting.
Have you received any startup funding or grants?
We received a few grants from the university and government institutions and recently partnered with Plan B media, one of Thailand’s largest out-of-home media service providers!
You went to the Web Summit! How was that experience?
It was absolutely overwhelming to be present in the global startup scene being one of the many international startups gathered in Lisbon, Portugal. However the most memorable experience was when we had a booth visitor, a Lisbon native, come up to thank us for helping him survive Bangkok buses when he backpacked to Thailand! This is one of the motivating moments reminding us that the impact we made is not contained to just the local community but already delivered to the global community.
What are you working on at the very moment? What’s in store for the future?
We’re looking to extend our service from being just a mobile app into services that are in the commuter’s physical surroundings. Earlier this year we launched digital signages for Saen Saep canal piers and a dynamic digital signage/announcement system for Chao Phraya Express Boat. Our recent partnerships with media service providers and governmental institutions are enabling us to reach larger platforms such as digital bus signs at Central Rama 9, Central World, and much more to come!
How has the pandemic impacted ViaBus?
Our active users dropped significantly at the start of lockdown but as cases cleared up, users are returning to almost at the pre-COVID level now. Workplace-wise, we began working more remotely from home but I ended up realizing how much I actually like working in the office than from home.
How did KIS/the IB curriculum prepare you for your university/career?
Critical thinking and analytical skills practiced throughout the whole IB curriculum is very useful for product development. IB Business is probably the most apparent example as I co-founded a business and take part in running it. A lot of the concepts taught in IB Business can be applied in every aspect of your business. I regret doing only Standard-Level because I didn’t plan on becoming an entrepreneur this soon, otherwise I would’ve definitely taken Higher-Level IB Business!
As a designer, I still remember the elements of art and principles of design from MYP/DP Visual Arts to use in my designs and to coach other designers in my team as well. Surprisingly, IB Language and Literature also gave a very solid analytical foundation on media, which is very useful once it’s your turn to produce media for marketing.
Do you have any advice for students at KIS who would like to progress in the tech sector/app development?
Find out which part of the app development scene you want to take part in. Coding? Designing? Business? You can focus on corresponding subjects like IT, Visual Arts, Business to strengthen the skills you need for that role. I highly encourage learning more outside of school, there is much more to learn than in your textbooks.
Most importantly, practice them. Find opportunities in KIS to use your skills: class projects, clubs, student council, school-wide events, etc. This gives you a chance to sharpen your skills and see whether it is the right way for you.
Any favorite memories at KIS?
Free periods. Some time to relax, hang out with your friends and daydream about your future. Life needs balance!
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