Carpo Offers Long Distance Ridesharing for College Students
Ania Alberski | June 19, 2018
Over twenty million college students in the United States seek to travel over long weekends and academic breaks each year. Travel can be expensive for students, however, given forty-eight percent of them don’t bring a car to school.
Founded out of the University of Maryland, CarPo makes long-distance ridesharing possible. The company’s mobile application connects student drivers with passengers following similar routes, making it easy for students to get home, attend music festivals and sporting events, or visit friends at other universities.
We spoke to Alec Aronwald, Carpo Founder and CEO, on how the company is making life easier for college students with cost-effective, long-distance transportation.
What was your initial inspiration for CarPo? What is the problem you’re seeking to solve, and how did you identify it?
When I was a freshman at the University of Maryland, I realized how difficult it was for many students to commute to school. I’m from New Jersey, which is about a three-and-a-half hour drive from campus, and I often found myself taking buses and trains, or asking my parents to drive that distance. It was extremely inconvenient.
I often questioned, ‘How is there not something out there that connects students at such a large university to their peers trying to go in the same direction?’ A driver already headed in a certain direction could post offers for rides and get reimbursed for travel they were going to complete regardless. The passengers would benefit because they’d receive convenient, low-cost rides to their desired destinations.
I started finding people also from New Jersey and offering them rides during semester breaks. I also conducted research on how students got home, and found most commuted by bus, train, or with their parents.
After hearing that most people didn’t have the luxury of asking friends for rides, I created Carpo, which connects students in college with drivers already traveling to their desired locations.
Can you walk me through your founding team’s background leading up to CarPo?
I’m a Junior at the University of Maryland, where I study Accounting. Our Operations Lead, Andrew Martin, studies Emerging Media at Ithaca College.
We also have a Marketing Advisor and a Financial Advisor. Our Marketing Advisor, Mladen Djankovic, has more than ten years of experiencing building global brands and guiding top-tier companies. Mladen previously worked with Citibank, AT&T, and Xerox on brand repositioning and growth. Our Financial Advisor, Dan Winter, previously served as the Chief Revenue Officer for BookedOut, which was acquired by ShiftGig.
What do you think makes your management team especially capable of solving this particular problem?
Because Andrew and I are college students, we understand the pain point we’re tackling first-hand. Additionally, because we’re college students targeting college students, we’ve been able to easily conduct market research and understand our customer demographic.
We’ve also built a strong team of advisors who have all previously led successful companies. Their advice, coupled with our grit, makes us the best team to solve this pain point.
Can you walk us through how the app connects students going to the same places? How is it different than typical ridesharing?
I don’t consider us to be anything like Uber or Lyft – those two platforms are meant for short-distances (maybe 5-10 miles), while we’re meant for long-distances (100+ miles).
Each CarPo user inputs at least three favored destinations. Favorite 1 is their college, Favorite 2 is their hometown, and Favorite 3 is a friend’s school. Each user can input up to seven favored destinations. Anytime two users are within 20 miles of each other and a created or requested trip “links up” with another user’s favorite destinations, a push notification will be sent to the appropriate user, making them aware their desired trip has been created or requested.
How do you size your target market and revenue opportunity?
We have a huge market: college students across the nation. Our revenue opportunity lies with college students who are either (1) out-of-state or (2) don’t have cars to get home or to visit friends.
Looking at 20.4 million college students in the U.S. alone, we have a $1.25 billion market opportunity. If we can capture just eight of this market, we’re looking at a $100 million market opportunity.
Who would you say are your top competitors in this space, and what is your edge?
While most people think that Lyft and Uber are our main competitors, we don’t see it that way. As I mentioned earlier, Lyft and Uber focus on short-distances (maybe 5-10 miles), while we focus on long-distances (100+ miles).
Our main competitor is Wheeli, another carpooling app for college students. Wheeli is based in Vermont, and they’ve had great success up there. But they haven’t branched out much beyond Vermont. It’s a race between us and Wheeli to see who expands quicker and plants our flag at the top of the hill first.
We also have a more minor competitor in Zimride. Zimride does exactly what CarPo does, except it’s a web-based platform. Zimride was actually founded by the Lyft co-founders, who eventually ended up selling the company to Enterprise Holdings. Zimride, however, has suffered from poor marketing and development; they don’t have an app and schools are pulling out of their subscription. I had a chance to speak with Logan Green, Zimride co-founder and Lyft CEO, and he thinks there’s still a huge untapped market in long-distance ridesharing.
Our edge is that our platform drives all the activity itself. By requiring students to input mandatory favorite destinations, we automatically alert students when a desired trip has been created or requested. We engage students, rather than having to wait for students to engage with our application, which in turn drives up user activity and increases CarPo’s usefulness.
How do you generate revenue?
We generate revenue through a per-passenger surcharge that ranges from $2.50 to $25. The price varies based on trip distance.
Passengers reimburse drivers at the IRS reimbursement rate of $0.535 per mile to comply with carpooling liability insurance laws. No negotiations have to be made and passengers and drivers can always settle on a secure and fair price – our fare is always as competitive as that of bus (and hopefully beats them most of the time).
How much traction are you seeing among customers? Any particularly insightful feedback?
We’ve achieved proof-of-concept, developed a platform, and piloted at the University of Florida and Florida State University. Over the course of two weeks, we acquired 650 downloads and saw over 180 trips being created, with 160 being requested. What this suggests is that CarPo has a 54% user activity rate – a particularly high rate for mobile apps.
The most insightful feedback we’ve received is that our platform helps not only college students, but also colleges. Two major issues at bigger schools are sustainability and parking. Lots of times, freshman can’t bring their cars to school and only a certain amount of people can keep cars on campus. Schools also worry quite a bit about their carbon footprint. CarPo helps alleviate congestion and reduces carbon emissions because more people rideshare for long-distances.
A lot of colleges are interested in this type of platform because CarPo makes it so much more convenient for their students, but also helps the schools themselves. A major issue at bigger schools is parking; freshmen generally cannot bring their cars to school, and there are restrictions on how many people can keep cars on campus. If we bring CarPo to these schools by building our brand and getting people interested, we’re helping not only alleviate congestion but also reduce carbon emissions because less people are using their cars and can rely on CarPo.
We plan to officially launch at Penn State University and the University of Maryland in Fall 2018. We’re currently finalizing a partnership with the Department of Transportation Services at the University of Maryland.
Once we obtain metrics, gather more customer feedback, and raise funding, we’ll rapidly expand across college campuses.
Do you have any major development goals moving forward?
Our first goal is to integrate customer feedback into our app. We’ve heard our app is extremely user-friendly, and we want to keep that reputation. Convenience is key to Carpo’s success.
We also want to continue to build our brand and expand our presence on college campuses. To that end, we plan to spend a significant chunk of time and capital on marketing and advertising.
What is your long-term objective with CarPo?
Our long-term objective is to be the BlaBlaCar of the US. BlaBlaCar is the leading provider of long-distance ridesharing in Europe. If CarPo proves successful with college students in the United States, there’s no reason why it won’t work for other people as well. A lot of college graduates, for example, still use undergraduate Facebook groups to find long-distance rides.
Another exit opportunity would be being acquired by Waze Carpool. Waze Carpool focuses on connecting commuters to and from work in highly-concentrated areas where traffic is a major problem.
Message you would like to convey to our readers?
The market validation we received from our pilot suggests that there’s a huge, untapped market in long-distance ridesharing for college students. We’re looking for investors to help us tap into this market.
The college market is a particularly good one to enter because of how quickly new products or offerings can gain traction. College students are really good about spreading the word and creating viral trends through social media. A solid Seed round will help us pursue the strongest customer acquisition strategy, which in turn gives us the potential to grow exponentially.