Marty Bauer got the idea for his business while in graduate school at the University of South Carolina. As part of the program, he had the opportunity to travel overseas. At one point, he and a friend found themselves needing to get from a city in Germany to a small town in France, but they couldn’t afford to pay the 120 euro fare to take the three-hour train ride.
“My friend convinced me to try another way — finding a ride with strangers via text message. We showed up at this parking lot, met the individuals, chatted for a bit and it was a good conversation. We decided, ‘Okay, let’s do this,’” Bauer recalled.
Instead of 120 euros, worth about $161 today, they spent about $15 contributing to gas for the trip. The three-hour ride gave Bauer a change in perspective: “Instead of sitting on a train, anonymously, for three hours, we sat in a car with three other people who wanted to know about us and we wanted to know about them. So long story short, for the next six months, that’s how I got around without a car in Europe and Southeast Asia.”
When he came back to the United States, he began weighing his options for what to do after graduate school. Bauer kept thinking about the way he’d been traveling and saw a business opportunity for creating a new transportation option. He started RidePost in June 2012 and moved the business to D.C.
“We have two sides of the business. On the public side, RidePost.com, we offer an online ride-sharing marketplace. Users can connect to share rides to a common destination. Our platform helps people already making a drive monetize the empty seats in their cars, and gives passengers another way to travel where they can know who they are traveling with before they ever arrange the trip. That part of our business is running with thousands of people using it.
“Our main focus right now is on the other side of our business: We build private transportation networks for colleges and universities. We work with universities to solve very acute problems around travel and parking on campus.
“College students have so many other expenses — cell phone, cable, Internet, etc. — that many elect not bring a car to campus and need alternative transportation. On the university side, budgets are being cut everywhere and enrollments are increasing, new housing is being built, and parking is becoming more and more scarce.
“We are partnering with universities to create private transportation networks for students, faculty and staff. Our software verifies all members of the community, links up with social media to enable users to connect with drivers and passengers their friends might know, and we incorporate a rating system for passengers to provide feedback after a trip.
“Our biggest focus right now is distribution and growth. We have taken an idea for a product to market, we have thousands of people using it, and now we have universities paying for our private software product. We have several universities signed up now and many more in the pipeline. How do we continue to grow our distribution?”
Elana Fine, managing director, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship
“Consider what you are offering the universities to make it interesting to them and stress that in your sales process. You may have to offer a university your lowest price point possible just to get onto campus. You could consider offering your service on a transaction-priced basis for the first year (rather than your standard subscription service).
“Your distribution challenges don’t stop when you sign on a campus. Parents and students are an important piece of your distribution. My perception is that university transportation departments don’t always have the best communication with students, so consider multiple touch points to reach students. Perhaps you can offer information about RidePost in orientation packages.
“Also consider how you can use your student customers to your advantage, perhaps through a student ambassador program. What we’ve noticed on campus is the things that are student-driven are much more appealing than the initiatives that are university-driven.”
“Student/user awareness and engagement are the two biggest things that will make RidePost a successful program on a university campus. As we’ve been building our business, we have really made it a point to listen to the market. We’ve talked to universities to find out their needs and meet them with our product.
“We recognize the critical role parents play for us. With one of our current partners, Clemson, we worked with campus to introduce RidePost during freshman orientation to great success.
“We also have an ambassador program in place to help students get the word out. As we grow, we aren’t going to know the heartbeat of every college campus, so we can rely on them to be our ears on the ground.”