Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Share a car and drive towards social change

Share a car and drive towards social change

Founders

Today, there are over 1 billion cars in the world – a number which is set to triple by 2050( International Energy Agency) With more and more vehicles on the road, the problems of traffic congestion, resource depletion and greenhouse gas emissions will place a huge strain on the infrastructure and health of the planet.

One company trying to reduce the number of cars on the road is carpooling.com – the largest rideshare network in Europe with 3.3 million users. Founded as a MBA student project by Stefan Weber, Matthias Siedler and Michael Reinicke in 2001, the carpooling platform is now used by more than 2 million people every month across 5,000 cities. Based in Munich, the team is now comprised of 30 people from countries all over the world.

So how does carpooling work?

With a few clicks, drivers can offer available seats in their car and passengers can find or book a ride. Rides can be booked on a computer, through social networks or on your mobile. The concept is simple; by carpooling both passengers and drivers save money. Since the creation of the site, carpooling.com has facilitated more than 24 million carpools, helping to save 323 million liters of petrol and 630,000 tons of C02 in the process.

What gave you the idea to start your company?

“Rising unemployment, gas and transport prices mean that many people are looking for solutions to reduce their transport budget,” says co-founder Reinicke, “and many are also concerned about our planet and how they can contribute to reducing their carbon footprint. We wanted to provide a service that is easy to use and that addresses both these concerns.”

“Our success principle is very simple,” adds Weber, “our offer is affordable, reliable and convenient. Carpooling enables anyone with limited budget to go from A to B. With our free iPhone and Android mobile phone apps, carpooling can also be spontaneously organized on the go. And people really enjoy it!”

Offering a potential saving of up to 75% of the driving costs and the choice of 600,000 lifts at any one time, it’s easy to see why carpooling.com is experiencing such growth in popularity.

What was the biggest transition you had to make?

“The biggest transition was when we decided to expand internationally,” says Reinicke. “Users kept pushing the boundaries with more and more trips abroad but entering a new market is not so easy. What users may value in the UK may be very different to Germany or France. In terms of carpooling, you have to consider geography, language and infrastructure. In most countries, we even had to explain what carpooling is! That said, we see today that it is working everywhere because whether you’re in Poland or Spain, affordable transport is always a universal concern.”

What is the business model?

Our business model is based on paid advertising, premium service, value-added services such as online booking as well as revenue sharing deals with transportation and other corporate companies. We also sell white label solutions for companies, cities and communities.

Who are your competitors?

Our biggest competitor used to be in our market of origin (mitfahzentrale) but we bought them last year. Today we have hundreds of competitors but no one really at the international level who are comparable in terms of size.

Share a car and drive towards social changeIs car sharing the new trend for the future?

Definitely! Modern technology means that people are better informed than ever and increasingly mobile. Today, people like to share: good ideas, cool videos, information and even their car. The concept of collaborative consumption (‘what’s mine is yours’) is really becoming a global phenomenon because everyone wins. Look at companies like Airbnb or Zipcar or even successful public programs like the bike share schemes in Paris or Barcelona.

When you share a car, when you share a book, when you share an idea, you forge connections with the people around you. In an age where people are increasingly isolated, carpooling helps to promote solidarity and social links within communities. We have been told, for instance, that we have helped created thousands of new friendships on the road and have even been indirectly responsible for 10 marriages (and apparently quite a few children as well)!

And when there is a problem in public transport like a strike or the trains are too expensive or when the flights are cancelled like in 2010 due to the Icelandic volcano, carpooling becomes a natural way to express solidarity with those around you.

What can you tell other potential social entrepreneurs who are deciding to make a difference?

“This may sound a little trite, but it’s important to really put your users first,” explains Siedler. “We had no financial support in the beginning and had to invest our own money and time in the project. Given that the service was completely free to users, we had to hold down fulltime jobs and work on our company in our spare time. But it was really the support of our users that kept us going. In 2009, about 20,000 transactions a day were taking place on the website – which is huge if you consider that this level of site traffic was achieved without any advertisement thanks to the word of mouth of our users.”

“At the end of the day, it’s about creating real, tangible value for your users in a sustainable way. That’s what’s going to make you successful. That’s what’s going to help you make a difference.”

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One Response to “Share a car and drive towards social change”

  1. Robert says:

    Great idea!! Private traffic is really one of the biggest problems we have out there and the fact I like most is that its all based on EXISTING ressources!!

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