Remix: Planning for Cities


Remix  builds software for planning cities, starting with public transit. They help cities plan everything from a small day-to-day detour to an entire transit system redesign and everything in between — through a web-based planning platform that replaces pen, paper, and spreadsheets in local government.

How did you develop the idea for Remix?

My cofounders and I met at Code for America, a nonprofit working with local governments to deliver services that are simple, effective, and easy to use through better technology. We had all signed ourselves up for a year of public service through the fellowship (Danny and I were working with the City of Charlotte to launch open data initiatives; Sam was in Atlanta helping to streamline the court system; Dan was in Long Beach reducing 911 calls at high-utilizing addresses).

Remix was actually a side project for us — we all were kind of transit nerds and wanted to see if there was a way to help citizens of San Francisco suggest better transit routes to Muni. We tweeted a link to our prototype on in June of 2014 (something akin to “look internet, we built a thing!”)— and the next day, it immediately got written up by about 10 different blogs. At the same time, we opened our inbox to see 200+ emails from planners and transportation enthusiasts all around the world telling us that they wanted to use Remix for their city’s upcoming transit project. That’s when we knew we had hit upon something huge.

 

How did you make the decision to take the plunge and start your own company?

As our fellowships were wrapping up, I decided there were two personal criteria that I wanted to fulfill in whatever I did next: 1) work on a clear, focused urban problem that I was passionate about, and 2) work on it with friends who cared about the same things.

There was already so much traction with Remix that we just wanted to find a way to keep working on it somehow. In the first couple of months of launching the prototype, people created maps in over 30,000 cities around the world, and wrote us 5-paragraph emails listing out all of the features that we should build next to help them with their planning work. We couldn’t *not* pursue it and see what would happen.

 

What is the scrappiest, most startup-y thing you’ve had to do to date?

Probably trying to visit 20 different cities across the country in a single month during YC — in the spirit of learning and “doing things that don’t scale”, I found myself on some ridiculous last-minute road trips by plane, train, bus, ferry, and more. One of them required me to criss-cross LA County multiple times by car (worst idea ever) and to avoid traffic I got up before dawn and I nearly fell asleep at the wheel. I had to pull off on the side of a highway and take a micro-nap before my 9am meeting. This type of memory is one of the many reasons why I try to avoid cars (and LA highways) when possible.

 

How did you fund the business?

We run our business mostly off of revenue that we bring in. Our business model is pretty simple — 200+ cities around the world pay us an annual subscription for access to the Remix platform.

 

What has been your greatest WFIO (we’re f*****, it’s over) moment so far?

Ha. I need to think more on this one.

 

What are you most excited about in the next year (either within the company or industry/technology wide)?

Growing our team. Two years ago there were 4 of us in a 1BR flat squeezed between a GameStop and a fish market in the Mission. We’re about 30 now, and we’ll keep growing as fast as we need to support all of the cities who come on board.

It’s been one of my favorite parts of building a company — bringing together extremely talented people who care and share the same vision of more livable cities, but making sure that each person contributes something completely new to the table that the rest of the team can learn from. One of our hiring criteria for each new role is “do they make the team fundamentally better in some way?”

 

If you could give an aspiring entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?

Focus. Say no to things that feel like work, but aren’t actually moving your company forward in a concrete way. For example, ambiguously shiny things like startup conferences or “having coffee” with investors when you could be spending your time doing actual work. Aaron Harris wrote a pretty good blog post about this. 
What is one question that you wish an interviewer would ask you? How would you answer it?

How do you measure impact? It’s the hardest question and hardest metric, but most important. Companies approach it in a ton of different ways…and some don’t measure it at all. We started tracking impact last year by tracking each time a city makes a planning or policy decision, recommendation, or document that is based on using Remix to help them get there. We call each of these a #win, and our team shares them in our #wins Slack channel, at weekly all-hands meetings, and with other cities who are experiencing similar challenges.

I’d love to hear other ways that companies measure impact.