Getaround is a marketplace for peer to peer car sharing – think Airbnb on wheels! The idea is simple. Car owners can share their cars when they’re not using them, and renters can get access to anything from a Tesla roadster to a Prius. There are no membership fees, and the entire process is smart phone accessible, including initiating the rental and unlocking the car doors.
The company is the brainchild of Jessica Scorpio and engineers Sam Zaid and Elliot Kroo, who were all members of the inaugural class of Silicon Valley’s Singularity University graduate program. As part of that institution’s mission to foster the use of accelerated technology to solve the world’s grand challenges, the team took on the problem of “car overpopulation.” Thus, the idea for Getaround was born.
I had the recent opportunity to chat with the Getaround’s co-founder and Director of Marketing Jessica Scorpio, about the trajectory of bringing the group’s vision to fruition. From the start of development in 2009, it took a year and a half to bring the company to launch, and another 18 months to scale to over 10,000 car owners currently signed up to rent out their vehicles.
The benefits of this service are multiple. On the environmental side, there are already one billion cars on the road globally, most of which sit idle for about 22 hours a day. Each shared car takes between 9-13 cars off the road. On the financial side, the average car owner spends nearly $9,000 a year to own a car. How great would it be to earn a significant portion of that back by renting it out?
Early challenges regarding insurance and product development have yielded some great innovations within the company. A big hurdle was the question of liability insurance. Getaround has been able to work with their insurer, Berkshire Hathaway, to develop a one of a kind insurance policy that applies during the rental period, offering $1 million in coverage, while car owners get to keep their standard insurance for private use. The company also offers their customers roadside assistance and 24 hour support.
At present, Getaround is active in five cities – San Francisco, Austin, Portland, San Diego and Chicago, with plans in the works to expand to new markets. Although the company was basically bootstrapped for the first year or so, in 2012 they raised a $13.9 million Series A round of financing in a deal including Menlo Ventures, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, A-Grade Investments and Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors. They are currently headquartered in San Francisco, and have 40 employees.
One of Getaround’s key differentiators is an electronic hardware device they’ve developed called the Getaround Carkit, which, when installed in the vehicle, enables drivers to unlock the car door using their smart phone. Real time driver screening integrated with state DMV’s and identity verification through credit cards and Facebook add to the high tech, disruptive quality of the product.
Scorpio’s background in politics (she used to work for the Prime Minister of Canada), has been quite useful in combination with her marketing and prior entrepreneurial experience (she founded the non-profit organization IDEAL, pairing young Canadian entrepreneurs with their mentors). Not only has she been able to leverage the power of social media to its best use in creating a unique flow between business and community, but she’s been able to apply her political acumen in helping pass laws that would support the growth of her company and its mission, including California legislation to clarify how insurance works for personal vehicles.
A key piece of Getaround’s success so far has been the development of strong ties between drivers and car owners. Rental transactions have given people an opportunity to meet their neighbors and develop new relationships. The website features a ratings and review system for both sides of the marketplace. All of this has helped in fostering an overall sense of trust and safety in the Getaround community.
Some of the feedback has been especially gratifying for Scorpio. When people say, “… they can’t live without it, they love it, that we’ve changed their lives – it’s just amazing to hear that.” Their founding mission to take cars off the road seems to be expanding greatly. In fact, they have recently received a $1.7 million grant for a Portland study examining the impact of peer to peer car sharing on driver behavior.
All in all, Getaround is showing tremendous promise as a disruptive force in the car rental industry. With its innovative technology, strong social media foundations and competitive rates, the company offers a fresh alternative to traditional car rental options. They also offer customers the opportunity to try out a wider variety of vehicles than they would normally be able to access. Scorpio reports that people have rented cars for everything from weekend getaways and weddings to music video shoots… or even just to have a chance at test driving a Delorean.
As a woman who created her first startup at the age of 18 and helped found Getaround at age 22, she’s clearly a big fan of starting young and starting now. Acknowledging that startups take a lot of energy and focus, she echoes the thoughts of so many other successful entrepreneurs when she says, “You’re also going to learn a lot and make a lot of mistakes.” She advises, “… being prepared to work really hard and seeing it through – most importantly getting a lot of people around you, whether investors or advisors, who can help you along the way… and picking the right team is really key.”
Listen to the full interview here:
Deborah Oster Pannell is a writer who specializes in the arts, culture, special events and creative & innovative projects of all kinds. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog, shesaysyes.wordpress.com. Currently she is preparing to launch Project Mavens, a content branding firm. On Twitter @projectmaven.