I’m writing this post after fielding a question from a representative in charge of implementing mobility projects in a European city last week. It was not the first time I was asked this question and surely is not the last: “How do you choose which cities to approach with a carpooling solution?” As I started writing (and writing a lot I might add), I told myself it made sense to share this information openly.
Whatever structure you work for, all questions ultimately boil down to these very basics for every message you attempt to get across: Who, What, How, Why and When.
I’ll start by answering these core questions before focusing on how we choose different cities to work with. For simplicity sake I’d like to break things down in another order.
What / Why / Who / How / When
What is our product?
We created a mobile application that brings ordinary people together — such as yourselves and I (unless you’re Zuckerberg, the Dalai Lama or a Nobel Peace Prize winner, we’re in the same boat) — to share a car ride together and split the costs.
What does carpooling change on a city level?
Less cars = Less traffic. Check
Less cars = Less pollution. Check
As more people adhere to carpooling (yes, including your colleague David with his brand new autonomous car), it can become a virtuous circle. With a growing number of people turning to this practice and as it (hopefully) becomes the norm and not the outlier, future generations can forgo their purchase of a car and reduce the number of cars on the road. It’s about satisfying more people’s mobility needs with less cars because it turns a personal vehicle into grouped transportation.
This is all the more important considering that 68% of the world population will live in urban areas by 2050 based on the estimates of the United Nations.
That's me every day
We’re at a crossroads in time where people and cities will have to adapt and transition towards sustainable modes of transport or face the consequences of global warming (they’re already well underway, 20℃ in March in Paris was nice but tells you something is off).
It was either this GIF or Baywatch
As for a person him or herself?
Recover some of your costs as a car owner. Check
No car loan to pay back because you didn’t have to buy a car to begin with. Double Check
Meeting new people on the road. Check Check Check
Now Jon, I don’t need to be saving cents on the dollar, get real. Let’s talk numbers:
This is how much you could be saving PER MONTH! So yeah, we’re not really making sense (my coworkers also think my jokes suck just be glad we don’t work together).
I somehow still have friends
As for the people you meet, well I’ll be honest, not everyone is going to be your best friend.
Who is our mobile application for?
There’s a famous Parisian expression — or is it a motto, I’m not entirely sure but let’s say expression — Métro, Boulot, Dodo. This translates in Metro, Work, Sleep. Suffice to say, commuting is a part of life for everyone and not just Parisians (except you freelancers, you lucky bast- Uhm sorry, I mean hardworking contributors to society). How you get to work on the other hand, that really depends on where you live. Some sprawling cities, such as Houston the city where I was born, are literally built factoring the car trip to go to work. Even if you live in the city center itself, the car is still the main mode of transport (to anyone from Houston reading this, yes there are some bus lines but who are we kidding).
How do you carpool?
1/ Download our application
2/ Post your itinerary
3/ Carpool, recover your costs and get gifts through our rewards system
I think I’ve covered all bases.
Well, any time really. The majority of commutes consist in home-office travels but if you’re going to your aunt’s house on the weekend and she lives on the other side of the city you can also carpool with Fred who happens to live in your neighborhood and plans to deliver yams to his uncle’s house that happens to be your aunt’s neighbor.
Now that we’ve gotten this general point out of the way, let’s talk about which cities we tend to speak with and why. As I mentioned at the start of this blog, I am a big believer in the point of view that every product fills out a specific need. Secondly, a product only prospers if the key stakeholders dedicate time and resources to a project as well.
Need => Market => Scale
Well, how exactly do you identify a need for a given geographic zone? I’m glad you asked.
1/ Modal Split
How well-connected is the zone in question? As expanding cities continue taking in more residents, more people live on the outskirts or in neighboring suburbs, the average Joe still commutes to commercial hubs to get to their 9-to-5s. Therefore, where they go tends to be the same, how they go is an entirely different question.
As everyone gets up in the morning they go through their usual morning routine (are you also one of those people flexing in front of your bathroom mirror? Might just be me then…). You argue with your loved ones over breakfast, put one foot in your left shoe then the other in the other but as you get out the door this is where things change. Some of you will walk or take a bus, a train, a metro line, a bike, a scooter, an electric scooter or a combination of all of the above (I personally am still waiting for the elusive hoverboard). I’m trailing off-topic slightly, my apologies. The point that I am making is that others still take their car. Some by choice, and other because they simply can’t reach their destination without their car.
Hoverboard, where art thou?
We want to make car owners living in areas that are not well covered by public transport or private short-distance means travel together. If the metropolitan area of a city has (1) around half its population driving cars daily and if (2) the average occupancy is below 1.5 persons per car, these are places where our carpooling mobile application fits right in like a patty squeezed between burger buns.
Random picture of a fine looking burger
2/ Local authority support
This doesn’t necessarily mean finance the trips of the passengers, as is being done in quite a few cities in France. Furthermore, we’re all private companies, creating a B2C business model that doesn’t generate revenue and relies on government subsidies isn’t exactly a long-term business plan. Our competitors decided to make their revenue generation rely entirely on their B2B and B2G business models but if this is a conversation you’re interested in diving into just shoot me a PM.
It is my opinion that THE major obstacle for the development of daily carpooling is the lack of awareness. Blablacar has been a trailblazer in the sense that people now automatically associate long-distance travelling with them, or at least that’s the case in Europe. That’s for long-distance travelling though, I dare you to ask those around you to give even a single name for a daily carpooling application to commute to work for example (this is the most common trip which is why it makes the question all that more compelling).
Our vision is that local authorities are the closest to their residents and have a more trusting relationship with them than with a company they have never heard about. Cities also have a better idea of how to communicate with their residents and through what channels. When we target a new city, we need to know that we have a partner that we can work with that is willing to help us, at the very least in an advisory role to help us understand what clicks with their residents. Understanding the reasons for carpooling is paramount and changes the approach to how you communicate. Some people will carpool for financial reasons, others to meet people and there are those that carpool for ecological reasons.
I’m not in the habit of writing blog posts so I hope that I’ve gotten my various points across and that you’ve found this (somewhat) interesting. I’d love to get your personal thoughts if you work in mobility or if it’s simply something you think about on a regular basis as you ponder life (but only of you agree with me). No but seriously, it’s a discussion I absolutely enjoy having whether we’re in accordance or in disagreement, especially in the second case because I think it’s something that we all stand to benefit from by getting different perspectives on an impactful topic such as mobility.