In conversation with Forbes 30 under 30 nominee Menno van der Zee

Forbes recently released the brand new '30 under 30 list'; a global ranking of game changers under the age of 30. The class of 2024 also includes Dutchman Menno van der Zee. Together with co-founder Alex Wallar, he founded The Routing Company with the mission to organize public transport worldwide as logically and efficiently as possible. But how did the Dutchman experience his own journey to this milestone? "Don't be afraid to ask for help and don't let your ego get in the way of growing your business."
Menno van der Zee
The Routing Company | Menno van der Zee and Alex Wallar

First of all, congratulations. How did it feel to find out that you were included in this prestigious list? 

'It was a pleasant surprise when we learned that we had been included in the list. The whole process was actually quite mysterious. At first we had a suspicion, as we had received a questionnaire from Forbes. But then it was quiet and we heard nothing for a long time. It wasn't until the day of the list announcement that I was suddenly added to a Slack group and found out we had been selected. We are extremely proud. It is true that co-founder, Alex Wallar, and myself are the only ones on the list, but I want to emphasize that this is truly an achievement that we have achieved with our entire team.' 

You are a kind of Uber, but for public transport, explain... 

'We have developed a technology that makes buses flexible and continuously adapts to the demand for transport at that specific time. It is a well-known phenomenon that buses are overcrowded at some times, while at other times they are virtually empty. Thanks to our technology, travelers inform us directly about their desired boarding and alighting locations and we always know where the buses are located. This allows us to dynamically adjust vehicle routes so that passengers arrive at their destinations quickly, whether via traditional bus stops or a door-to-door service. In addition, we have developed user-friendly apps for both passengers and drivers. Passengers can provide their location and destination via the app and receive information about the expected pick-up time, the route and other fellow passengers along the way. Drivers can easily see where they need to go via the app and indicate when passengers have been picked up and dropped off. Indeed, it is actually a kind of Uber, but for buses.'


“This showed that with our technology we needed 80% fewer vehicles to transport the same amount of passengers”


When did you start The Routing Company and how did it go?

'The Routing Company is inspired by a study. We looked at how we could tackle mobility problems using mathematics. Specifically to algorithms that can optimize real-time routes for shared vehicles, such as buses. Determining the best route is a complex task. As a driver you do not go directly to every passenger; along the way you can pick up and drop off a few at a time. The number of possible sequences to do this is enormous, meaning that even traditional computers take a long time to calculate this. To find a method to calculate this faster, we performed simulations with a public dataset from New York. This showed that with our technology we needed 80% fewer vehicles to transport the same amount of passengers, with minimal impact on waiting times. Then my co-founder and I realized that this was not only interesting for research, but could also have a positive impact in practice in the field of public transport. That's how the ball started rolling and we started looking at how we could apply this. The Rest is History..' 

In which countries are you active and is the Netherlands also on the list? plan the campaign

'We are currently active in many different countries, but mainly in the United States. We also have a number of ongoing projects in the Netherlands, a nice example of which is in The Hague. This project, the Hague Hopper, is still relatively small, but it shows what is possible with our technology.' 

Menno van der Zee

Do you think the Netherlands is ready for such a public transport shift?

'As far as the reactions here in the Netherlands are concerned, people are certainly enthusiastic. It's always exciting to see how new technology is received, especially in the Netherlands, where we have high expectations of public transport. But we are seeing positive results.” 

Should Connexxions and Arrivas fear a new competitor? 

'No absolutely not. We certainly do not consider ourselves competitors, but rather partners. We generally work directly with local authorities or carriers such as Arriva and Connexxion. Our expertise lies mainly in software and we work with parties that supply vehicles and drivers, which is a completely different aspect. In The Hague, for example, our system is implemented on behalf of the municipality, but in collaboration with transporter HTM.' 


“It is important to put your ego aside”


Menno van der Zee

Looking back over the past six years since founding, what are the most important lessons you've learned as an entrepreneur?

'One of the most important lessons we have learned is that our customers – mainly governments – are often reluctant when it comes to implementing new technologies in public transport. This posed a kind of chicken-and-egg problem. No one wanted to be the first to work with us, and because no one wanted to, there was no confidence from other potential customers to be the first to step in. So we finally decided to finance a project ourselves and show that our technology works. This has created obstacles, but ultimately paid off because we can now show that it works all over the world. Another important lesson is not to try to do everything yourself. In the beginning we wanted to keep all the reins ourselves, but we quickly brought experienced people on board, including a CEO with a lot of experience. It is important to put your ego aside and let people with more experience join the team so that the company can grow faster and make more impact.'

At the same time, is that your advice to other young entrepreneurs? 

'Of course. What I would like to tell other young entrepreneurs is not to be afraid to ask for help and not to let your ego get in the way of growing your business.'

How do you see the future?

“We recently celebrated our millionth passenger, which is a significant milestone. But we want to go even further. We aim to implement our system on a much larger scale, with more vehicles, in more areas, in order to have a positive impact on public transport. Our system can be used much more widely and integrated into public transport. For example, we offer the option of fixed routes, hybrid models and flexible adjustments between stops. In some cases it may be useful to have a vehicle follow a fixed route in a specific area, especially during rush hour. At the same time, we can also implement flexible routes, where a vehicle still visits bus stops at certain times and times, but can deviate between those stops. For example, if someone has difficulty walking and has difficulty walking to a bus stop.' 

Menno van der Zee