Jun 27 2008

Driving Out of the Bubble

Driving Out of the Bubble

It’s easy for those of us who live in the Internet bubble to confuse the words “startup” and “entrepreneur” with the word “technology.”  Every once in a while, I am struck by a fantastic entrepreneurial idea that’s low-tech or no-tech. 

In the last few weeks, I’ve learned of two of them — oddly, very similar ideas.  They’re both going after the New York City black car limo market (all those car services that take business travelers to and from airports and meetings), which is a lucrative but kind of gritty business.  I’ve used black car services for 16 years now, and while I’ve found one that’s pretty good, they all have massive customer service problems and are pretty expensive.  It’s a market ripe for revolution.  But how to execute it?

Kid Car New York is one new service that is attacking this market with an alternative car service that’s oriented around families and kids.  The cars are mini-vans.  The drivers are trained in safety and friendly.  The cars all have car seats and bases in them, which are sanitized from one passenger to the next.  The drivers are actually employees with benefits — this company is trying to do to car services what Starbucks did to convenience store workers.  There is a membership/subscription pricing model that makes it feel more like a club.  While it’s moderately more expensive than black car competition, Kid Car is a natural alternative that appeals to a big niche audience.  The entrepreneur is a friend and former Return Pather, Topher McGibbon.  He’s excited about revolutionizing a sleepy, rough industry.  Mariquita and I have used Kid Car for a bunch of trips with the kids, and it’s like night and day.

In a different way, Ozocar is doing the same thing.  It’s a black car service with a fleet 100% made up of Toyota Priuses (if that’s the plural — I keep wanting to call them Prii). That’s the hook.  If you care about your carbon footprint but still have to do things like fly on planes and get to and from airports, why wouldn’t you pick a service that’s more environmentally friendly?  I tried Ozocar last night for the first time, and it was perfectly fine.  Plus, I felt better about myself the whole 18 minutes home from LaGuardia. 

Ozocar reminds me of my friend Andrew Winston’s book, Green to Gold (I posted about it here), and how businesses can be both more sustainable and more valuable at the same time.  Both Ozocar and Kid Car are great examples of innovation being driven by customer needs and market opportunity unrelated to high tech.  They’re great services, and I hope they succeed.  I just wonder how businesses like these get funded with all of the venture focus in the world on high tech and life sciences.