RideTandem: Driving Transport Access

Ascension first invested into RideTandem in 2020 from our Fair By Design fund

Iulia Tudor

21 Dec 2023

Ascension first invested into RideTandem in 2020 from our Fair By Design fund to tackle the transport poverty premiums and ensure that everyone has access to the best commuting infrastructure, allowing them to increase their household income. We have since seen the transformative power of the RideTandem platform, clocking up more than 75,000 passenger journeys a month across 4,000 unique passengers. Investments like these embody the ethos of Ascension and we are excited to continue following RideTandem’s positive impact on communities across the UK and then beyond.

Driving Transport Access

Every day, thousands of individuals who live outside of big cities face challenges in their employment journey due to the demanding daily commute and the substantial transportation expenses it entails. RideTandem, a Fair By Design fund backed company is seeking to solve this problem. The 2022 UK Tech Company of the Year collaborates with local transport companies to provide support for people that would otherwise have difficulty finding work.

We recently caught up with Tatseng Chiam, RideTandem co-founder, about the growth and impact they’ve experienced so far

Talk to me about your motivations behind RideTandem and your vision for the company.

Prior to RideTandem, I spent most of my career in professional services, including management consulting with Monitor Deloitte, renewable energy investment banking with Credit Suisse and early-stage impact investing with the Global Innovation Fund. But I’ve always had a strong desire to start my own business. All of my grandparents were entrepreneurs or small business owners — you can see the restaurant set up by my maternal grandparents, which is still the #1 rated restaurant on Tripadvisor in that town. In terms of a sectoral focus, because my father spent most of his career working at Mercedes, I grew up in a world where people were obsessed by transport — new car releases, F1 races on the weekends. Ironically, I don’t have a driver’s licence myself and I’ve spent a lot of time living in places with poor public transport, and know first hand how constrained life feels when you can’t go where you want to go in an affordable, convenient way.

RideTandem got its start back in 2019 when my co-founders and I met some other people who also felt stuck when it came to transport. Specifically we met a group of dads in a town called Rochdale, just outside of Manchester, who were looking to get back into employment. We asked what was holding them back from getting a job and they said that the #1 barrier was transport! The nearest jobs were a 20 minute drive away, but none of them could afford a car, and the public bus route had been cut years ago. And when we dug into this more, we found that even for those who could access jobs, transport often ended up being a needlessly expensive portion of their household budgets.

What does success mean for you and RideTandem

For both the founders and the company, it’ll be a combination of commercial growth, paired with social and environmental impact. We currently take thousands of passengers to work every day, but hope to increase that by an order of magnitude in the next few years, which should result in a healthy uplift in revenue and many more positively impacted lives- to date we’ve enabled nearly £50m of wages for our passengers, and I look forward to the day when we’ve enabled £500m of wages!

Our vision is ultimately a world where sustainable commuting is enabled for all, and we hope to be a major contributor to making that a reality.

How have both you and the company developed since its inception? What has been the biggest hurdle that you have faced?

The biggest existential risk we faced early on in the company’s journey was COVID — we launched operations in October 2019 and then a few months later most of the world shut down! Although it wasn’t fun at the time, ironically it did accelerate our move towards product-market fit by allowing us to hone in on blue-collar worker transport, one of the few use cases that continued throughout COVID.

Right now the company is in the midst of implementing a whole set of improved processes that will allow us to scale up our next phase of growth — which is exciting as it means we’re reaching a certain stage of business maturity. I still get surprised sometimes when I realise that we’re at about 40 full-time team members, we didn’t make our first hires until July 2020 so the days of it just being the three co-founders doesn’t feel that long ago!

On a personal level, I’ve been really working on setting (and adhering to) work-life boundaries, especially in a business where our services run 24/7. It’s hard to avoid checking emails/slack on a constant basis, but if I’m to continue being an effective leader I need to make sure my routine is sustainable, as well as to signal to others in the company that it’s important to switch off and recharge. I recently took a full week off and completely unplugged, the longest stretch of time I’ve fully taken off since starting the business four years ago!

How have you worked with us at Ascension and why did you decide to get us onboard as investors?

RideTandem has had Ascension on our cap table since 2020 when the fund invested in our pre-seed round (with subsequent follow-on in later rounds). There’s lots of reasons why we’ve enjoyed working with Ascension including:

  • strong focus on caring about not just commercial impact, but also meaningful social and environmental impact (e.g. the Fair By Design fund)
  • helpful in connecting us to other great investors like the Conduit Connect and Ventures Together
  • great team who bring a healthy blend of support and challenge

So what’s next for RideTandem?

We’ve just closed our £2.5m pre-A round and plan to continue with solid growth. On our current trajectory, we think we’re in with a chance for being named one of the top 20 fastest growing companies in Europe (based on the current Financial Times FT1000 benchmarks). Part of this will involve expanding into continental Europe, with our first route hopefully launching in Q3 this year — stay tuned!

Who has inspired you the most?

My maternal grandmother — forced to flee China during World War II when one in three people in her province (including most of her family) had been killed by invading forces, she rebuilt her life in Brunei with less than £10 in life savings and started a successful restaurant business, working more than 80 hours a week for decades to raise her family and propel them. Startup life is hard, but it will never come close to the circumstances that she overcame!