Interview with Snap’s Founder and CEO, Thomas Ableman

  • Snap is a travel-tech startup offering affordable and environmentally-friendly on-demand coach travel.
  • The company uses technology to aggregate travel demand and match it with spare capacity from independent coach operators. You can also build your own tailored trip that will run if there is enough demand.
  • Thomas Ableman founded Snap in 2016, which has since raised £5.4 million in funding from Kindred Capital, ADV and Oxford Capital.


Why did you create Snap?

I created Snap because I passionately believed that transport could be cheaper, more flexible and better quality. I’m an avid Airbnb user and the power of the digital marketplace to unlock latent supply, drive up service quality and make travel affordable was something I wanted to replicate in the domestic travel space


What is Snap’s mission?

Snap’s mission is to enable the car free generation to enjoy travel again. The ‘again’ is important, as it reflects the fact that travel is in danger of becoming something people fear: because of the climate impact, because of the price, because of the poor information and now, more than ever, because of Covid-19. Our mission is to eliminate these barriers to enjoyment for the millennial generation: the first generation that has elected to dramatically scale back car ownership. In the context of Covid-19 it means enabling social distancing and contact tracing through our app; it also means carbon efficiency, price efficiency and an effortless, digital user experience


What role does technology play in the company?

We are solely a technology company; we own no coaches and employ no drivers. Yet we’ve enabled 25 million miles of travel. That has been achieved through a mixture of a digital booking and travel platform, and the underlying data analytics that predict when trips should run.


How could travelling with Snap be good for the environment?

Coach travel is THE BEST FORM OF TRAVEL for the environment, other than walking or cycling. The average coach journey emits around half the carbon per passenger of the average train journey, and the comparisons with car don’t even bear thinking about. Moreover, we only use the lowest emission standard coaches that exist, despite them only comprising 11% of the national coach fleet.


What challenges have you faced?

Building a two-sided marketplace is a uniquely difficult startup challenge. Most startups need to build a single marketplace, and it is tough. But for a two-sided market, you’ve got to build the two sides simultaneously. Lean too far into customers, and trips go unfulfilled, trashing your reputation with operators. Lean too far the other way, and operators have no customers and will never work with you again. There’s been lots of trial and error but I’m super proud that since September 2019, our trips have been profitable at a unit level, while satisfaction for both customers and operators have been off the scale.


What is the next stage for Snap?

It’s obviously a weird time to be leading a travel startup given that the future of the sector is incredibly uncertain. Nevertheless, despite the horrors of Covid and the obvious challenges for our space, there are some real opportunities to hold onto. In the ‘new normal’ that is going to emerge from this, people are going to be replacing international flights with domestic travel. They’re going to want socially distanced travel solutions. And they’re going to want a great price. These are our core strengths. We haven’t furloughed our tech team, so we’re still hard at work, building new product to excite the next generation of car free travellers.