Founder Spotlight — Cole Calhoun, CEO & Co-Founder of Hopthru

Ash Rust
3 min readJun 11, 2024

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In our Founder Spotlight this month, we highlight Cole Calhoun, CEO and Co-Founder of Hopthru, which provides data analysis tools for public transport.

How did you come up with the idea for Hopthru? Has it changed along the way?

In each city that we’ve lived in, my co-founder and I have been riders of public transit. We’ve found its benefits and promise to be extremely compelling, but always thought the industry was underserved by the private sector.

We didn’t find the current product immediately. The first iteration of Hopthru was a mobile ticketing application that would allow users to purchase and validate passes directly from their phone. No need to worry about cash or maintain a smartcard. We grew this model to over a dozen agencies and had a plethora of riders using us as their primary form of fare payment.

As the popularity of the app grew, transit planners would consistently ask us how we could use the app’s usage data to understand ridership trends. Better yet, could we take the usage data they were already generating from their Automatic Passenger Counters (APCs) and help them derive actionable insights?

We heard this line of questioning so frequently, we decided to take a pause on all mobile ticketing development and kicked off our “North American Research Tour”. We spoke with 100+ agencies to truly understand the landscape, and quickly discovered the limitations in both data quality and analysis that agencies were struggling to solve. We put together some early stage mockups and had 7 customers sign on to be beta customers before we even had a working product.

That gave us the conviction we needed to pivot full-time to the data platform we’re building now.

How did you meet your co-founder(s)?

Having just left Salesforce to pursue Hopthru full-time, we were accepted into Forum Venture’s SaaS accelerator. It just so happened that one of the Senior Associates at Forum had a roommate who was just as optimistic about the future and necessity of public transit as I was. After many dinners and brainstorming sessions, Daniel and I decided that we were the right duo to take on the challenge together. Your network can be a powerful thing!

What is the one piece of advice you ignored back then but wish you’d taken now?

Health is wealth. Building a company is a bit like running a sprint and a marathon at the same time. You need to make sure you’re up for the challenge day in and day out.

What has been the most challenging aspect of being a founder?

There have been high highs and low lows throughout our journey. Oftentimes within the same day! Tempering my emotions to reduce distraction is something I’ve had to practice — but is something I’ve found to be necessary.

Learn more about Hopthru at www.hopthru.com.

Thanks again to Cole for sharing their story!

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