new business. When planning a journey, Mileus will automatically interconnect ride-hailing services with transit system lines, improving the comfort and convenience of public transport while motivating people to leave their cars at home. In an interview, the successful manager explained how the new project started and predicted the future of autonomous mobility. “Mileus will be more comfortable than public transport alone and cheaper than a taxi alone,” says Juraj Atlas about the new project he plans to take to the market soon.uraj Atlas cofounded the ride-hailing company Liftago, a successful start-up, and is now building a
At the end of 2017, Juraj Atlas left a full-time executive position at Liftago, which he had been building since 2012, only to find in 2018 that merely mentoring and investing was not satisfying enough for him. He decided to take a risk once again and established a new startup called Mileus. He believes that the future of urban mobility lies in an efficient combination of mass public and individual transport as well as in sharing capacity between public and private carriers.
Your new start-up is called Mileus. What is the main idea behind the project?
Years back, Liftago was established to take people out of their private cars. For the past two years, analyses have been undertaken worldwide to see if it has worked and to what extent services such as Liftago have helped alleviate traffic problems. Results from the US show that 18% of Uber rides would have been made by the passengers’ private cars. And this is the positive effect that disruptive services, such as Uber or Liftago, have brought about. But what about the rest of those trips? For instance, 5% of city center journeys today made with Uber would not have taken place at all had the service not existed. A yet more unsettling result of the US survey shows that 42% of journeys with Uber would have otherwise been made by public transport.
The situation is not that bad in Europe or the Czech Republic. One of the reasons is significantly lower quality of US urban transit systems as compared to Europe. Another reason is the price difference between taxis and public transport. In the US, it is a double or a triple. However, in the Czech Republic, the price may be as much as tenfold higher. Liftago and its peers have built greater trust in taxi and ride-hailing services, cut the prices and improved the quality. It has also turned out that people are willing to pay a premium for greater comfort.
Mileus is bringing a technology that enables automated interconnection between transit and ride-hailing services. The aim is to motivate people to leave their own cars at home, drive new business for services such as Liftago, but at the same time, keep passengers in public transport.
What role does the price of individual transport play in all this?
In the taxi service, the driver accounts for more than 50% of the total cost. Car electrification is coming. An electric car has approximately 200 movable parts, whereas the current combustion-engine vehicles have as many as 5000 of them. This represents an order of magnitude lower complexity, which will translate into lower maintenance costs of electric cars. As soon as autonomous vehicles arrive, the cost will fall to an equivalent of 10–17 eurocents per kilometer. A comfortable ride by an autonomous taxi in the future will cost the same as a public transport ride today. However, it is impossible to move all commuters from mass transport vehicles to low-capacity cars. One of the solutions that municipalities have been considering is imposing a vehicle tax on individual transport at peak times and in locations where low-capacity cars negatively impact traffic throughput.
To me, this seems to be a distant future. You cannot predict when such times come.
I don’t mind the uncertainty of the timing. But one must keep in mind that cemeteries are full of heroes. We must focus on what can be done today to prepare a reasonable position for tomorrow. In other words, we need to be in the right place at the right time, even if we don’t know when that will be.
What parallel is there today to your vision of using autonomous individual transport?
Autonomous mobility will once become a reality and we will consume it as a service, rather than owning autonomous cars. Today’s taxi is like an autonomous car of the future — it arrives, takes us where we need, and we may never see the same car again. Today, it is driven by a human, in the future, it won’t be.
So if I want to sell autonomous mobility in the future, an analogous activity today is selling ride-hailing services. If I know that falling taxi prices impact public transport negatively, and at the same time, it is impossible to switch from public transport to low-capacity cars no matter to what degree they may be shared, I should not be thinking about how to keep taxi prices high but how to leverage falling taxi prices to improve the quality of public transport while increasing sustainability.
Autonomous mobility will improve traffic infrastructure throughput — or road utilization — due to lower requirements for parking places along the streets as well as due to the majority of autonomous cars being much smaller than today’s cars, which will allow for increasing the number of traffic lanes. Nevertheless, this increased throughput will not be sufficient to do away with public transport.
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In what stage of development is Mileus at the moment?
We are not on the market yet and are developing the platform internally. We have a prototype that we’re evolving into a product to be launched on the market within a few months. Our target customers are not consumers but rather transport service providers that will integrate Mileus into their platforms. This will allow them to offer a new type of guaranteed intermodal transport service combining public transport and ride-hailing to their customers. Such service will be more comfortable than mass transit alone and cheaper than a taxi alone. We are doing this to improve the living conditions in our cities, with fewer cars in the streets than today. We have a global aim. It would not pay to develop such a solution just for Prague. Mileus business has great potential and is worth the risk.
You’ve had a diverse career, you succeeded in the United States, cofounded Liftago… How do I know that “I can do it” and that even after many years in the corporate environment, I can start my own successful business and keep growing?
All you need is a growth mindset. The kind of thinking: I want to get better and improve, I want to help others grow, I can find a way even if I am lost right now, and so on.
The six years I spent working abroad gave me self-confidence. A feeling that someone from Central Europe who grew up under the Communist regime is not inferior to those who were raised in the American style. A belief that I can succeed in the market, make an impact, and do not need to fear large players.
Where did your first steps lead after your return to the Czech Republic?
Having gained experience from the Big 5 companies (EY, CapGemini), I returned to the Czech Republic to further pursue my corporate career. A few years later, I started considering how high I wanted to climb the career ladder and why.
Suddenly, three factors combined and made it easier for me to decide to step in a new, unexplored direction: From the time I started building a corporate career after graduation at the end of the 1990s, a time of the launch of commercial internet in the Czech Republic, I kind of envied my schoolmates who started their own businesses and achieved something interesting on their own. I sometimes regretted my switch from technology to management, which I was talked into in the US. I did not find creativity in management as fulfilling as creativity in technology. At the same time, I did realize that my experience from the corporate sphere was a great asset that others lacked and had to learn slowly and laboriously from their own errors.
Each path has its pros and cons. Even though I believed that I had a good chance of becoming a COO or CEO in a larger company, such goals suddenly made no sense for me internally. Until then, my work life had flown naturally in approximately six-year cycles and the sentiment may have had to do with this professional half-life. At that time, I also realized that my life circumstances changed and that I could afford to take risks again and start my own business, which I would not have ventured into after school. That was the start of a journey to something new, which is now known as Liftago.
Yet after another six years of building Liftago, you handed over the rein to Ondřej Krátký. What was the reason for your departure?
My mission, which I had pledged to myself to accomplish when establishing Liftago, was to build the best product, put together a perfect team, set up a stable process and organizational structure, and make the business profitable. It took six years and that professional half-life of mine started kicking in. I owe the success to my business partners and the entire Liftago team as well as to investors who have trusted us and supported us.
My passion is to create IT technology products. My key talent is to solve non-trivial problems and analyze complex systems in depth. I started feeling at a certain point that the talent the company needed to flourish started diverging from the passion that drove my energy. If you are able to suppress your ego, such a step is only natural. Or, at least, it was for me.
In fact, I did not leave Liftago completely. I am a shareholder and the chairman of the Board of Directors. I just no longer take part in the daily management and operations but continue to advise on a strategic level.
Would you say that Liftago set your current direction? I mean designing a symbiosis between shared individual transport and urban transit systems?
Digitization is happening and will increasingly disrupt a wide range of industries, including transport. E-mobility, autonomous vehicles, urbanization, shared economy, a shift from ownership to services — all these are trends that will redefine transport in the next ten to fifteen years.
I started focusing on mobility when building Liftago. After six years, you develop an idea of how it could evolve, what the risks are and what the right direction will be, and you want to work towards that. Yes, some inspiration came from Liftago, too. However, what sets my current direction are all the journeys I have traveled until now. And I should stress that all those journeys — whether more or less successful — have been the result of my own decisions.
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