Show of hands: Who has a horrible public transportation story? If you’re one of the millions of Americans who live in a major urban center, you probably do. It probably has something to do with vomit, or a guy with a butcher-paper-manifesto taped to his chest and back.
Another show of hands: Who developed a unique new product to avoid ever having to deal with one of those public transportation horrors in the first place?
That would be Logan Green and John Zimmer, the two men who created Zimride - a ride-sharing program based on social networking. The San Francisco, Calif.-based company on Monday announced a $1.2 million in seed funding led by FLOODGATE, K9 Ventures, and various angels, including Keith Rabois and Teddy Downey.
The concept behind Zimride is summed up easily in the first sentence of the Web site’s description of the product: “For too long we have driven our cars with empty seats.” This indisputable fact led co-founder and CEO Logan Green to develop a way for people to pay for those seats to get where they need to go.
“When I was a student at UCSB, my girlfriend lived down in Los Angeles. I didn’t have a car, and it was about a 100-mile trip,” Green explained to me. “I was always trying to find rides form friends, but when I struck out, I would have to take the Greyhound. Traveling on the Greyhound is a very motivating experience. I never wanted to have to travel on Greyhound again, so I started building Zimride.”
You can’t ignore logic like that.
The concept is simple. Using Facebook and Google Maps, users can connect with other people who share the same commute, thereby easing the stress on the environment and on one’s finances. The obvious value in being able to check out other Zimride-users’ profiles is that you can pick and choose who you want to share a ride with, which makes for a unique social networking experience.
As the company explains on its Web site, “We embrace ride-sharing as a social activity and Facebook provides a rich social context to connect and establish trust.” You have to admit, though, the irony is unmistakable. Online social networking has exploded out of its boundaries and reached a new dimension: real-life social networking. But irony aside, Zimride kills two birds with one stone: “Zimride is about bringing people together to build community, and helping [to live] a higher quality of life while consuming less environmental resources,” said Green.
Zimride was launched in 2007, and by September 2008 the ride-share program had served over 300,000 users. The ride-share solutions are fairly versatile and can be employed by various networks, such as university campuses and businesses. Networks are easy to locate on the company’s Web site, where users can find their school or employmer. Zimride’s university networks include such prestigious institutions as Dartmouth, Harvard, George Mason, Stanford, University of Michigan, and UCLA, among many others. Businesses that have jumped onboard include CIGNA, Clif Bar SOS, Esurance, and Wal-Mart.
Users who are not affiliated with one of the participating universities or businesses are not being ignored, though. One can simply select the option of Public Zimride and find a ride in any of the locations that Zimride serves, which currently include all of California, practically the entire East Coast, and several states in-between. Furthermore, ride-shares can be anything from daily commute, to shuttle services, and even long-distance travel.
Co-founder and COO John Zimmer reportedly traveled all the way from New York to California by carpooling with Zimride. Even more alluring is the startup’s freemium model, which allows the first 50 users within any new carpooling community to sign up for free, and then subscribe beyond that.
The company has made several high-profile friends. In 2008 Zimride was awarded a $250,000 grant from the fbFund to continue its expansion and development, and in 2009 the carpooling company partnered with the prominent car-sharing company, Zipcar Inc. The Zimride/Zipcar partnership was first launched on Stanford University to provide users the ultimate in college-student-cheapness: users can carpool even if NONE of them owns a car. When reserving a Zipcar, users can post the exact date, time, and route on Zimride’s Stanford network, which then looks for other users who may be interested in chipping in for a ride.
To clarify, Zimride is not the first of its kind. Other online ride-sharing services have sprung up in recent years, including GoLoco Inc.’s goloco.com, and PickupPal Online Inc.’s pickuppal.com, but neither has seen the same kind of user growth as Zimride, which is likely due to its innovative use of Facebook applications to develop online carpool networks.
"The Web sites’ usefulness really has to do with building a critical mass of people that share an origin, destination, time-match, and that’s the giant difficulty," said Zipcar founder and chief executive of Goloco.org, Robin Chase, on The Wall Street Journal,
Zimride is definitely onto something big, and with any luck, it will not only reduce pollution and the money spent on gas and car maintenance, but will significantly reduce the number of public transportation horror stories that we all have to sit through.