Although carpooling is gaining in popularity in Europe, it has been slower to take root here in the US, due in part to lower fuel prices relative to Europe, a generally less dense population concentration, and perhaps by a strong American attachment to their own personal transportation. Safety and personal security are also important factors. While HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes in dense traffic corridors encourage a certain amount of pooling, most Americans have preferred to go it alone. Census Bureau data says 10% of American workers carpool to work, down from 20% in 1980.
Of course, changing economics (higher fuel prices, financial pressures), environmental concerns and more traffic congestion could change that. And this is what Philadelphia startup Ridaroo is betting on happening.
Riadaroo's value is its application, which allows users within participating organiztions to connect with others with similar routes who are also willing to carpool. It also provides for flexibility. There are many people who might not want to commit to an everyday carpooling schedule, but might want to do so on an occasional or perhaps sudden basis, and through Ridaroo you can make those arrangements through a feature named "Quick Trip". The benefits of Ridaroo probably increase when there are more participants at a given location, since the larger network means a greater probability of finding a suitable hookup.
Ridaroo's app allows each participating organization to to have its own unique and secure portal. Commuters can create and edit personal profiles to connect with others within that portal. Ridaroo says it has a "unique algorithm" that matches commuters based on start address, destination address, and other factors.
While Ridaroo has publicized its service to college students, which it expanded this Fall from Drexel to all area colleges (and is available for free to students), the key monetization potential appears to lie within the Enterprise market. Ridaroo co-founder, COO and Director of Business Development Aksel Güngör told me the startup is working with some large corporations in the Philly area, and also a few governmental organizations in DC, on possible deployments, though it does not yet have a major client to announce. In addition to providing a convenience and a cost-saving option to employees, an organized carpooling app may also help companies reach measurable goals for sustainability and reduced carbon footprints, which are becoming increasingly important for many.
Güngör and co-founder & CEO Andy Guy launched Ridaroo about a year ago with a little angel funding from family and friends. They have been working out of Drexel's Baiada Center business incubator. Both are Drexel grads, Güngör having an undergraduate Finance degree and Guy an undergrad degree in Computer Science from Penn State and an MBA from Drexel. They are the only full-timers at this point, although they've been getting part-time development help from some Drexel students.
The market is fairly open in the US. Carpooling.com, which claims to have the largest carpooling network in Europe, is said to be pondering an entry into the US market. In the US, Zimride seems to be the furthest along. In September it raised $6 million in VC funds in addition to $1.5 million it had previously raised. That much investment would appear to provide a degree of validation for the market. Facebook just announced it will be financing Zimride's expansion into Menlo Park, where several thousand Facebook employees will be based at its new headquarters there. Another startup, Y Combinator-backed Ridejoy, is more focused on helping people find passengers to share (and help cover expenses on) longer road trips.
Güngör said Ridaroo's goals for now are to get a couple of substantial enterprise clients on board, and at some point, to seek a larger funding round.