Founder Spotlight: Philip Cheang of Sakay, Commuting Made Easier

By Ysa Lauta

Commuting is a dreadful experience in the Philippines. Gridlock is a daily reality and traffic problems are compounded by an inefficient mass transportation system. It's even harder when going to an unfamiliar place for the first time; public transportation providers and their respective routes aren't easily available. While Google Maps and other navigation apps have stepped up their game in Southeast Asia, the routes they provide are only of the formal variety such as buses and trains. This is the problem Sakay.ph is addressing.

For locals by locals

Sakay.ph gives users a way to figure out the best route from Point A to Point B, but localized. The app provides bus and train routes, similar to Google Maps, but it also covers the common, esoteric forms of Philippine transportation: Jeepneys, Point-to-Point Buses, and UV Express.

Sakay came out of a hackathon project for the 2013 Philippine Transit App Challenge (PTAC). Despite auspicious beginnings, it took four years after winning PTAC before the team considered Sakay.ph to be a real business venture. Today, Sakay is shifting into full startup mode; joining Betatron, a Hong Kong-based accelerator.

Philip Cheang and the Sakay team

Key to success

Philip Cheang, co-founder and Product Lead of Sakay.ph sharesSakay.ph’s three pillars: aggregation, data, and advertising.

Fundamentally, Philip sees Sakay.ph as an aggregator of different transportation options. In just one place, users can check and compare different rates and times to decide whether to commute or book a rides. This access levels the playing ground and gives opportunities to small transportation players, improving the commuting experience for the end user.

Commuter data can then support the overall ecosystem. User choices and behavior provide insights which can be used to support government and operator decisions, improving transportation infrastructure and services. The same data can be used to assist businesses in checking good locations with high traffic for their branches.

Finally, building on the Filipino tendency to navigate using establishments such as fast food restaurants and convenience stores as landmarks, Sakay.ph plans to embed advertising into the navigation. This type of advertising is non-disruptive and gives establishments the ability to share their services in a highly relevant manner.


From local to global

Having grown to 150,000 active users with approximately zero marketing costs, Philip and his team are looking forward to expanding their coverage and product offerings. On the B2B side, they aim to land partnerships with government, transport operators, and different transportation apps. Seeing a strong potential product market fit across developing countries, Sakay.ph hopes to expand across Asia, focusing on countries where there are similar gaps in the local modes of transportation.

When asked how he would advise other startup founders, Philip pauses and says, “I think the best place to start is what bothers you — what is the problem? What is such a painpoint in your life and how can you solve that.” For him, it was the lack of readily available information on commute routes in the Philippines. And he solved it with his team through Sakay.ph.

Learn more on Sakay.ph’s website here.