Car maker BMW sees opportunity in Israeli mass transit app

Moovit’s new $50 million Round C investment puts the start-up closer to ‘IPO territory,’ say analysts

Moovit screenshot (Courtesy)
Moovit screenshot (Courtesy)

Although it hasn’t gone public yet, Israel-based public transport app maker Moovit’s valuation is, according analysts, well into IPO territory.

The company last week announced a new Series C funding round of $50 million – which, according to analysts, means that the company is worth as much as $450 million.

Among those investors were investment houses Keolis, Bernard Arnault Group and Vaizra; Nokia Growth Partners, the mobile tech company’s venture capital arm; and, perhaps curiously for a VC sponsored by a car company, BMW i Ventures is also part of the investment in an Israeli company that strives to be the Waze of public transportation.

Like that driving app, Moovit, which provides step-by-step directions to commuters who get around by bus, train, light rail, and other public transportation methods, is going global, said Moovit CEO Nir Erez.

“Since our last round, Moovit has seen tremendous growth in our initial markets. Now it’s time to bring community-powered local transit to people around the globe,” said Erez. “We’re also proud to welcome our new, strategic investors to the team who will play integral roles in our plans for worldwide expansion.”

The comparison to Waze is apt; the Moovit interface and background technology are remarkably similar to its driver-appropriate cousin. Users type in a destination (using a device’s GPS chip, Moovit already knows where the user is), and get back a list of alternative routes they can use to get to where they are going.

The app keeps track of the location of buses, trains, trolleys, jitneys, and any other form of public transportation in an area, and supplies exact instructions on how to commute – including directing the user to the bus or train stop, and telling them how long they will have to wait, which stop to get off, where to go when if they have to transfer, and how to find their address when they get off the bus or train. Moovit is available for free in the Apple iTunes App Store, Google Play App Store, Windows Phone App Marketplace, or at the app’s website.

Currently in use in 500 cities and available in 31 languages, Moovit has about 15 million users – not quite the 50 million Waze had when Google bought it, but on the way – and has a very “passionate” community, according to Alfred Lin, partner at Sequoia Capital, which, along with BRM Group and Gemini Partners participated in Moovit’s Round B investments (they are also participating in the current round).

“We’ve long been believers in Moovit’s mission to democratize local transit,” said Lin. “But we’ve still been stunned by the passion of its community and how quickly it’s transforming the way the world travels across more than 500 cities.”

While the enthusiasm of an investment professional is understandable – especially given that Moovit is nearly halfway to the $1.2 billion Google decided Waze was worth when it bought the driving app in 2013 – the involvement of a company like BMW is perhaps puzzling, but only at first glance. Moovit fits right in with BMW’s vision of “sustainability,” which involves combining private and public transportation to ease urban traffic.

BMW, its investment arm says, sponsors “a range of innovative integrated mobility solutions. For example, the Professional navigation system in the BMW i3 and BMW i8 includes an intermodal routing feature capable of providing directions to a Park and Ride car park – where drivers can change conveniently to a bus or rail connection – and also of displaying the rest of the journey, by local public transport, to the final destination. Stepping out of the vehicle, users are guided by the BMW i Remote app to the right bus or metro line and are also provided with directions for the last lap of their journey on foot. The app also navigates users back to their vehicle on the return journey.”

That sounds a lot like what Moovit does. With the Israeli app already in 500 cities (two or three are added each week, the company said), BMW could use Moovit’s infrastructure to provide drivers in many more cities with park and ride guidance – a value-added feature that enhances the BMW brand.

“Promoting urban mobility is one of the biggest and most fascinating challenges of our times,” says Bernhard Blättel, president of BMW i Ventures and BMW Group Vice President Mobility Services. “We believe that Moovit’s service will have important benefits for the future in terms of improving personal mobility within the transport systems of major cities. And we look forward to being a part of this project.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed