Instead of looking for jobs after graduating, former Boston University student Armir Harris created them. As the CEO and founder of CharterUP, an Atlanta-based charter bus rental company, he has created the first “fully-integrated marketplace for charter bus reservations.”
“Our goal is really to build the largest and the best marketplace in the industry and to really disrupt this industry for the better,” Harris said. “It is an industry that has been antiquated and archaic and hasn’t seen much technology innovation in over 20 years.”
Harris attended BU from 2008 to 2010 and competed on the BU’s men’s tennis team. He then transferred to University of California Los Angeles to finish his degree.
In 2018, he launched CharterUP and now the company has secured a $60 million series A funding round, which is an investment in a privately-owned start up which shows potential to grow and generate revenue.
The company is a two-sided marketplace that fulfills supply and demand needs, Harris said. They provide charter bus operators with technology to run their operations, while providing consumers with a platform to book charter rentals.
He said he never planned on going into the transportation industry but learned all about it from a young age.
“I learned the industry at the dinner table when I was a teenager, meaning that I grew up in the transportation industry,” Harris said. “My family had a limousine operation, and I would do anything that was necessary for the business.”
The transportation service he now runs has over 3,000 charter buses available and allows its customers to book buses within 60 seconds, he said. Harris said his company is also helping the community in other ways.
“For every one bus that someone rents, that is typically at least 30 cars off the road,” Harris said. “Our goal is to make the world a greener place and reduce carbon emissions.”
Harris said they are also hiring “aggressively” while tech companies are laying off workers.
“We have created over 200 jobs,” he said. “That’s over 200 families that we helped support, and we’re going to continue growing.”
James Bernstein, a 2010 BU alum and a friend of Harris from the BU men’s tennis team, said back when Harris went to BU, “everyone knew he was going to be very successful.”
“He knew how to connect ideas and people,” Bernstein said. “He’s charismatic.”
Bernstein said Harris didn’t have the same “educational foundation” as other students — he was homeschooled and came from an immigrant family who was homeless for a period of time. It was Harris’ athletic and tennis abilities that landed him at BU, Bernstein said.
“At BU, not everyone, but a fair amount of the students come from privileged families and are given a tremendous amount of resources to learn and study from, and Armir didn’t have those things,” Berstein said. “For him when he first got to school, it was largely a game of catch up.”
Bernstein said Harris grew “a very profitable business without ever taking a single dollar of investment capital until last year.”
When asked about the influence of his experience at BU, Harris said it was the place where he made some of his best connections and was exposed to a lot of diversity. He said the economic and business classes, as well as the BU Private Equity and Venture Capital Club, were “instrumental” in helping shape his thinking.
“You have to do an impeccable job of allocating capital and time as efficiently as possible to build a successful business,” Harris said. ‘”I’d like to think (the club was) instrumental in helping me raise some capital.”
Parth Bhardwaj, a 2013 BU alum and a friend of Harris, said unlike Harris, many will take jobs and careers after college because it’s the safer route.
“He took a risk of building his company from the ground up,” Bhardwaj said.
Harris said the company is helping young professionals at the company to build character and values such as growth mindset, teamwork and integrity.
“In an age where entrepreneurs and companies have been celebrating raising capital, I think it’s more important to celebrate raising good businesses with a solid foundation and unit economics,” Harris said.
Harris reminded BU students to remain open-minded to possibilities.
“College is a great time,” Harris said. “You’re learning about yourself, you’re learning about the world, and you’re getting a great education at Boston University. I think it’s important to make the most of it.”