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How The Pandemic Shaped Our Startup’s Business Model - From The Founder's Of Passmate

How The Pandemic Shaped Our Startup’s Business Model - From The Founder's Of Passmate

Gavin Boak

Gavin is the founder of Otimo (formerly known as Passmate). Otimo aims to turn the everyday necessity of driving into a gamified user experience. Promoting safe driving; saving money, lives and the planet.

Updated 08 July 21



Back in 2018, Passmate was launched as a matching platform helping learners to find their perfect driving instructor. In a previous blog, we explained how Passmate built an MVP using a basic Wordpress website that directed visitors to a Google form. By doing this, not only did what they learnt guide Passmate's product build, they validated that there was a need for the solution.


Fast forward to the beginning of 2020, and Passmate had developed an automated matching process plus identified their key marketing channels. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, everything stopped as social distancing measures were enforced and driving lessons ceased. During this time, the team knew they had no option but to focus on other areas of the business. But what they didn’t know was what they were about to discover, would be the making of their startup.


Read the full story told by the founders of Passmate themselves, Gavin and Sam. They share their learnings and explain how each new insight took Passmate from a web-based matching platform, to a multi-functional mobile app with a mission to digitise the driving industry (taking driver training to a whole new level). 


Learning 1. B2B side of the business is just as important as B2C 

When we began working on Passmate three years ago, we approached a few driving schools in Liverpool and had a great response. We built very good relationships with our partners, but there’s only so many schools that you can contact in one city. Having a consistent flow of leads on the learners side, we were looking to onboard independent driving instructors. 


Getting them to spend five minutes on the phone speaking to us was not a simple task even in ordinary times, let alone during the pandemic. Our main proposition to instructors was that we took care of all things marketing, so they could get more learners without having to spend time or money on advertising. After the first lockdown, when driving tests and lessons were back on, the demand was so much higher than supply that our offer was simply not strong enough for them to join – their diaries were fully booked anyway! 


Without the driving instructors, we couldn’t make much progress on the learners side. We realised that we needed to introduce something new and completely different to get back in the game and expand the supply side. 


Learning 2. Great apps don’t have to be built from scratch 

Oddly though, the “down time” during the pandemic presented us with the opportunity to take a step back from what we had been doing. We wanted to reimagine how we might operate as a business so we could bolster our current value proposition.


Jeff Dandridge, our mentor who recently joined the board of directors at Nova, encouraged us to think about the daily challenges of driving instructors. Same as with the B2C side of the business, we had to find an issue that was bugging instructors – our B2B partners and potential leads. 


After some extensive research and numerous user interviews, it clicked – the instructors didn’t have an easy way of tracking pupils' progress and giving feedback! Some of them spent time at the end of each lesson but couldn’t always remember everything that the learner had done; the others had to allocate several hours a week to writing long emails (which most of their learners never opened!). This felt like the start of something big, and the first few conversations with instructors confirmed it. 


Now, how do you build something that’s easy to use in a car, while driving or during short breaks? We were looking for technology that would allow us to collect data about learners driving on the road, right where and when they made a mistake. This was when we thought of telematics, a vehicle tracking technology that uses GPS data. With telematics, we could build something useful for both instructors and learners, we just had to figure out what they would find valuable and easy to use.   

Learning 3. You don’t have to understand coding to start building your tech startup

Our plan was to create an app and integrate it into our current offering for learners and instructors. We weren’t entirely sure what to build (and definitely didn’t want to build something for the sake of it!), but we wanted a prototype that we could show to our user panel and get their feedback. Additionally, we were still managing the original side of our business and applying for small business grants/loans, so we didn’t have the time to embark on a big app build.


Instead, we decided to find some online tools to help us create quick mockups of the ‘app’, that would help us get feedback from our users. These were those 4 tools:


  • Secret.com

We came across a website called secret.com – this was great in terms of keepin the cost low and as lean as possible. Secret offers various discounts and deals on memberships across various platforms; their membership is around £140 which is great value. From there you can access the various platforms and decide which ones fit your needs. This massively reduced the barrier to entry for us on a lot of things and allowed us to test things out without paying an arm and a leg! 


  • Canva

Canva is a graphic design platform that many of you may already be familiar with. We had actually just been using it to create more aesthetically pleasing social media posts. However, once we had a rough idea of which direction our product may be going, and what our brushed MVP might be, we illustrated our ideas into Canva. Within the app and website you can design screens that are the same size as iphone screens etc. so that was really useful for us to collectively depict our ideas to each other. It is quick and easy to use and a great place to dump all of your ideas. In turn, these ideas can crystalise into something more real and life-like, which is where Adalo came into the equation.


  • Adalo

Having put all of our ideas down into Canva, the next step was to develop them into a more authentic flow and screens. Through Secret.com, we came across Adalo. Adalo is a really easy way to create a prototype of an app for free - everything is click and drop. Adalo is great for also creating a genuine flow with wireframes – when you are designing your app you have to consider what the user will click and what screen will come up next . You can really envisage the real-user-flow. This is important for you as a founder as you have a better understanding of what you want your product to be and you can assist product management moving forward.


  • Typeform

Another tool very popular with Nova. We used Typeform to simply gather feedback on our prototype screens and to create a waiting list for the release of the app. It is invaluable to get feedback both before and during the prototype powwows, so you know that you’re on the right track.


These tools helped us communicate what the app would be and do to our users. In doing so, we were able to gain their insights and quickly validate whether our app idea was wanted. After talking to our users, we had a clear pathway to creating the app that was validated by driving instructors and learners.


Learning 4. Product changes lead to brand changes 

With the new product that we’re bringing to market in 2021, we aim to take teaching to drive to a whole new level. Instructors will be able to leave in-app notes and make the feedback much more engaging, while learners will always have the opportunity to go back and check their progress. This is in addition to the matching service, marketing support, route tracking, cost reduction and many other benefits


Ultimately, this new idea leads to our target market expansion. The app can be used for brushing up on someone’s driving skills after a long break or improving further after taking a driving test. Our original name – Passmate – didn’t reflect these changes to our target audience and business purpose. When we launched the startup in 2018, we needed something straightforward and memorable, but we had no deep understanding of where it would lead us or even what mission we were really following. 


‘Passmate’ has done an amazing job and received so many positive reviews but it is time to move on. We are now ready to introduce our new brand, Otimo


(Check out out new website 👉 https://weareotimo.com/)


Otimo is modernising the learner driving process. With tracking technology, it can automate the driving experience, giving instructors valuable learning time with their students. We needed a brand that encompassed all of this.


Our designer Clare Curran said: “The Otimo brand embodies the themes of connectivity, movement and data. Using the letters from the word Otimo which translates to excellence in Portuguese, we have created a clean and colourful brand that aligns with our values of fun, sustainability, safety, and forward thinking.” 


“We have an engaging and dynamic look that can be displayed alone or used in brand patterns and iconography. Threaded through all of our messaging and instil trust and show empathy with our audience.” 


Now we are busy building the mobile app while still matching learners with instructors through the web-based platform. It’s already made it easier to start conversations with schools and independent instructors – and the app is not even ready yet! We’re looking forward to what this year can bring us.  



Thank you for reading the founders’ journey so far – we’ll keep you up to date on any further developments and successes. Comment below if there is anything else you would like to learn about this startup and please share this article on social media if you liked it!





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