Niftie was born from a simple idea: take the time wasted commuting every day and give it back to its rightful owner, the people.
After all, time is the one thing that you cannot get back.
Niftie’s origin is typical in many ways. Wanting to be agents of change meant we had to scale existing infrastructure, scaling the platform already built from which to yell. Back in those days, not many listened.
But some did.
Some of those people were the right kind of people and some were not. Our origin is a story about deciphering who and what was going to help and who and what would not.
I have learnt over time to lean into opportunities with vulnerability. Some of the best lessons in life I learnt from feeling them.
When we started I had little idea of the size of the opportunity we had uncovered. The size of the problem is so great that literally the world now depends on solving it. I was so green at the start of our journey that I could not even articulate what we were attempting to achieve. But I could feel it.
At our core, Niftie builds technology to synchronise passengers with transport, when they need to travel, not when they want to travel.
19th Century design thinking from the coal powered Industrial Revolution saw mass adoption of completely new forms of distribution and exchange in energy, telecommunications and transportation.
Modern notions of time and its conception come from rapid industrial scale. Before that, 75% of the world's population worked the land. Sailors and some business people used a more officious adherence to time, but for most, it was either day or night, and that was enough.
So, in Sydney when we started our first regular passengers taught me a lesson that turned out to be the building blocks of Niftie, some 5 years later. That is - It doesn’t matter what time you start your commute, it only matters when you arrive.
I grew up in Melbourne Australia, and would for my entire life from the first days of high school through to my middle thirties, think about commuting by what time I got on the train, or bus, or tram or boat. And this thought process, despite the fact that my kids tell me I am old, I did not personally learn during the industrial revolution. We have been trained over generations to think about time in a specific manner, and changing this is what Niftie is all about. What we hope to deliver - is time.
Humans get on a train and hope that it delivers us to our destination at a time that suits our needs. If it doesn’t, the thing we are left with is water cooler chat.
It is worth noting that the origin of the word commute is the latin word commutare - meaning change. It was all coming together - I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
The first iteration was simple in every sense. We built a stand alone bus commuter service for people in the mortgage belt of Sydney, who had to travel at least 40 km each way each day to get to their workplace. Our system built a community around the commute, and we were able to give back an hour each day to everyone who used it.
I would stand on the street corner at 6 am and hawk people into a coach, telling them that if they were brave enough to step into the coach, time, almost like a currency of sorts, would mysteriously reappear in their life. Some thought I was mad, some funny. Some got on, others did not.
All who were brave enough to participate in the “commutare” got their time back.
Not everyone was impressed though. The Roads and Traffic Authority (think traffic police) had me under active undercover investigation. I received calls from their agents quizzing me on the service, and how they could buy tickets under pseudonyms . In my view, their job was to smash the change. In their view, they were trying to stop illegal activity. To this day I am not sure how operating a positive, licensed, insured commuting service could be illegal.
In the end, we ended up with a testing ground, a proof point. Something that showed that 19th century design thinking needs a reboot. We ended up with a service offering that people were willing to be patient with because of the upside.
As time went by, we got better and better at articulating. Articulating the problem, articulating the solution and articulating the opportunity.
It was 2018 by this point, and that is when life moved me to Asia.