Photo: Matt Rutherford via Getaround
During the summer of 2009 at the Singularity University, Google co-founder Larry Page challenged a class of 40 students to pick an idea that could impact one billion people.One of the program’s students, Jessica Scorpio, thought if she could get enough people to share their cars with neighbours, she could reach one billion people around the world.
For it to work, Scorpio would need more than a business plan. People would have to start thinking differently, and they would have to value access to cars over ownership.
After finishing the program, the Canadian-born entrepreneur turned her idea into a company called Getaround. It’s like Airbnb for cars; it allows owners to rent their vehicles to peers for short durations.
Last week, at a coffee shop near Getaround’s San Francisco office, Scorpio told us about her life as an entrepreneur and how she plans to change the world.
Here’s what we learned:
- Scorpio thinks people should value accessing a car, overing owning it: “We feel transportation is a major problem. There is an over-population of cars. Cars sit idle 92 per cent of the time. The total number of cars will double to two billion cars. There’s no reason to put another billion cars on the road. It is our goal to make Getaround a global company.”
- People in the Getaround community become friends: “We noticed recently that a lot of people become repeat renters of a certain car or owner. We’ve had people become friends through the service. You find a few cars that you like and you like their owner and you just share with them.”
- Larry Page gave her permission to launch at Google: “The first time we met him, we said, hey can launch Getaround at Google? He said, sure why not. We didn’t do that because Google had a lot of transportation options, and we wanted to offer the service to a campus or city that needed it a lot more. So we started it in Mountain View, which had no car sharing options.”
- Owners make enough to cover their monthly car payments: “Owners, on average, make about $300 a month. We make sure they are getting rentals, so they keep sharing their car.”
- Renters save money too: About $8,000 a year.
- Why Getaround is better than Zipcar: “One of the major differences between us and fleet-based car sharing like Zipcar is that we can operate all over a geography. So Zipcar really only plays in the densest areas like downtown San Francisco. We have members in North Bay, East Bay, and South Bay.”
- It’s her whole life: “Honestly, 7 days a week every hour of the day, I am focused on making Getaround a successful business. I think work-life balance is a personal thing.”
Here’s a full transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity:
Business Insider: What’s your relationship to cars?
Jessica Scorpio: I’ve never owned a car. I love cars, but I’ve always set my life up in a way I can live car-free. Here, I get a car a few times a month for various tasks, business meetings, or for getting out of the city.
BI: How did you start the company?
JS: We did an alpha at Singularity University, which is where we came up with the idea. We did our beta in 2010. We launched officially at TechCrunch Disrupt in May 2011. We are in three cities: San Diego, San Francisco, and Portland.
We just got a $1.7 million grant to launch in Portland. The grant comes from the Federal Highway Administration. Portland should be really great. Portland is the birthplace of car sharing and the city has a lot of people who are into sustainable living. It’s ingrained in their culture. A lot of people bike there, or if they own a car, they just use it on the weekend.
BI: So you went to the Singularity University in the summer of 2009? What was that like?
JS: Larry Page was one of the corporate sponsors, as Google. Every idea we came up with, he was like, no, think bigger. He came up with a challenge to come up with an idea that could impact one billion people in the next 10 years.
When we were germinating our ideas, we always had that lens. Can this impact one billion people? Is this solving a major world problem?
We felt transportation is a major problem. There is an over-population of cars. Cars sit idle 92 per cent of the time. It’s going to double to two billion cars. There’s no reason to put another billion cars on the road. It is our goal with Getaround to make it a global company.
BI: What was it like getting advice from Larry Page?
JS: Page gave collaborative feedback. To be honest, Getaround was one of our first ideas and just really stuck. The first time we met him, we said, hey can launch Getaround at Google? He said, sure why not. We didn’t do that because Google had a lot of transportation options, and we wanted to offer the service to a campus or city that needed it a lot more. So we started it in Mountain View, which had no car sharing options. Today, it’s still very popular there.
BI: How are you different than Zipcar?
JS: One of the major differences between us and fleet-based car sharing like Zipcar is that we can operate all over a geography. So Zipcar really only plays in the densest areas like downtown San Francisco. We have members in North Bay, East Bay, and South Bay.
Zipcar has created a big movement behind car sharing. People now understand that it’s better to have access to a car if you can, rather than own one. Each shared car takes about 13 cars off the road. As a person accessing a car, you’ll save about $8,000 a year.
BI: How does sharing take cars off the road?
JS: Basically, what happens is the owner’s mindset changes when they decide to share it. They have the choice of sharing it or using it themselves. In general, when they have their own car, they do a lot of trips that are unnecessary. When they share, people will start batching trips and reduce the radius they go to and stay local.
BI: What’s the community like?
JS: We noticed recently that a lot of people become repeat renters of a certain car or owner. We’ve had people become friends through the service. You find a few cars that you like and you like their owner and you just share with them. It’s real car sharing, you’re not renting from a company. You’re just sharing a car with another person.
BI: How do you pick cities?
JS: We work hard to make sure it is a great experience every time. We work to get the right amount of renters to owners, so that each owner can make a significant amount of money each month so they are incentivized to keep doing it. Owners, on average, make about $300 a month. We make sure they are getting rentals, so they keep sharing their car.
We have tens of thousands of members and we have 8,000 cars signed up across the country. Not all of those cars can actually share yet because we are not national. We go geography by geography. Those people are waiting until we activate their area.
BI: Tell me about the technology.
JS: We built our own hardware called the Getaround car kit and build the website and mobile app from scratch.
The car kit is really unique because it’s easy to install. And it’s way lower cost than typical fleet management technology. It tracks the car, so we can find it and so the renter knows where to pick it up. It also allows the renter to unlock the car really easily. Our biggest thing is making this a convenient transaction. If the owner wants to meet the renter for the first time, they can do that.
They’ll get a text message or if they have the app, it pushes a notification to them saying ‘Jessica wants to rent your car for two hours, you’ll get $20.’ They can respond based on if they are using their car and if they want to rent it out at that time. If I have the app, I can pick up the car with my smartphone.
BI: What’s your day like?
JS: It’s not to scare people off, but it’s really intense. I have several things happening at every hour of the day. I usually get up between 8 am or 9 am, not that early. I’m not an early riser. I used to do 6 am yoga, but it wasn’t fun so I don’t do that anymore. I usually go to bed at 2 am to 3 am.
Honestly, 7 days a week every hour of the day, I am focused on making Getaround a successful business. I think work-life balance is a personal thing. I don’t worry about work-life balance, but I do try and have a healthy life. So I try and get 7 hours of sleep. I try to walk or bike to work. I try and incorporate healthy food and vitamins.
BI: So you like being an entrepreneur?
JS: I’m close to thinking nothing can phase me. Think of anything and it’s probably happened working at Getaround. It loses its sex appeal pretty quickly. Luckily, I’m a hard worker.
At the beginning we had a co-founder burn out after like 30 days and the other one decided she wanted to go back to med school. Startups aren’t for everyone.
BI: Do you spend a lot of time with your co-founders?
JS: Late at night, my co-founders and I go through our accomplishments and have a few celebratory drinks together.
Sam Zaid was part of Singularity University. I was helping out with marketing and PR on Sam’s other startup. We met Elliot that summer. Elliot is a really brilliant engineer. Elliot worked at Google for a number of years on the Street View team. Elliot helped build our first iPhone app. What I’ve learned is that you have to pick your people really wisely. We are around each other about 18 hours of the day. You have to get along and like each other a lot.
We are about 30 people now, mostly engineering because we do hardware, mobile, and web. We are starting to build out our marketing and operations side.
BI: Why is this idea taking off? What’s changed?
JS: Now people see an idle asset as waste. People have made that realisation and are trying to move their life into the cloud, but also make it very efficient. If you go to Europe for three weeks, you don’t just leave your apartment empty and lock it up. Instead you pay for your trip by sharing your apartment on Airbnb. If your car is parked at work, you can pay for your parking by sharing it for two hours on Getaround or you can pay your whole car by sharing it a few days that month.
BI: The economy played a role too, right?
JS: I think the economic downturn was a big catalyst. When there’s a new dip in the economy, there’s an opportunity for new businesses to come up and get people thinking differently about stuff.
Five years ago, I don’t think it would have been possible to do Getaround. The laws weren’t there. The technology wasn’t there. The social graph wasn’t as far along as it is.
When money is tight, people are willing to do different things. These days, people are being smarter about how they spend their money.
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