Those established players boast resources that dwarf what Split brings to the table. Uber has over 30,000 active drivers in the D.C. area. Split has just over 100. Uber has raised over $10 billion from investors. For Split, expanding outside the city to the nearby suburb of Arlington is financially problematic because of Virginia’s $100,000 licensing fee for app-based car services. For its first six months Split did not even have an Android version of its app. Only iPhone users could ride Split. Lyft operates in more than 200 U.S. cities. Split operates in one.
Amid challenging odds Split sees a chance to carve out a niche due to its focus on shared rides. And now with the D.C. subway going through a series of closures for repairs, Split sees another opportunity. It will be encouraging its drivers to position themselves near closed Metro stops to attract commuters. Drivers who follow Split’s recommendations receive a financial incentive. For consumers, Split never charges surge pricing.
Of course, such tactics are available to Split’s competitors. When compared with Uber and Lyft, only Split was built from the ground up for shared rides, said Split chief executive Ario Keshani. A company such as Uber has to consider how shared rides impacts its other offerings, such as black cars and UberX.
“We’re not trying to replace everybody else. We want to be a cog in the machine that makes the city move more efficiently, better, in a more green way,” Keshani said.
Split is growing steadily — with 50 percent more rides each month, according to Keshani. In the first four months of this year it’s completed more rides than in all of 2015. When D.C.’s Metro shut down service completely for inspections on March 16, Split saw three times as many people as usual download its app. There was a 50 percent increase in demand.
For Keshani, Split’s big challenge is having the perfect amount of supply available to match the demand for rides. If Split has too many drivers, then enough rides won’t be shared, and the platform won’t operate at a profit. If there are too few drivers, riders will be left with long wait times and may take other modes of transit.
Before launching Split, Keshani led business development in the on-demand division of Transdev, a French transportation company that is Split’s largest investor. Keshani won’t reveal whether Transdev is the majority shareholder, or the identity of its two-dozen other individual investors.
One of Split’s first moves was to acquire Ajelo, a Finnish start-up that was designing a shared-ride service. While Split has a team of more than 10 based in a D.C. office run by the co-working space company WeWork, its engineering team — all holdovers from Ajelo — work in Helsinki.
Split opted to launch in Washington because of its sizable population of millennials without cars.
Split was originally based in 1776, the start-up incubator in downtown Washington, but relocated to WeWork in February as it sought a quieter setting. It plans on raising more funding later this year.