Launching a Venture in an Emerging Marketplace: Traveling Within a Community

Kate (CAS '17) is the COO of Hi-Hi. She assures that the day-to-day operations of the company are aligned between Hi-Hi's goals and the founding partners. Kate has a background in Economics and Computer Science from NYU College of Arts and Science. Her suitcase is always packed in case any opportunity arises to discover a new corner of the world.

This post is part of the NYU Summer Launchpad 2017 blog series featuring NYU entrepreneurs’ first-hand accounts of challenges faced in starting a business and the lessons learned along the way. Learn more about the NYU Summer Launchpad 2017 participants here.

The concept of the sharing economy has seen exponential growth around the world in the past few years. Even 10 years ago, majority of consumers were sceptical and untrusting of this concept of sharing with strangers, be it staying at their houses or riding in their cars. Technology has been pivotal in this space and is leading to breakdown of those mental boundaries. Nowadays, we happily sleep in strangers’ homes via CouchSurfing and Airbnb as well as hop into cars with people we know nothing about using Uber, Lyft, Via and whichever new app comes along.

Something that used to be considered unsafe and threatening is now the norm and is considered convenient. Consumers are showing a greater appetite for peer-to-peer and on-demand access to goods and services.

Long range shared rides is an anamoly in this shared-economy. Millions take buses, trains, airplanes, and ferries every single day and do not for a second question their safety – even though they are surrounded by hoards of complete strangers. Yet for some reason that level of comfort and feeling of safety has yet to penetrate the long distance car-based ride-sharing market.

When interviewing customers or pitching our idea to investors or even friends the question that comes up most often is, “Why isn’t there a long-distance carpooling app in the U.S.?” Well, actually there are a few, yet even our well-travelled friends don’t know about them. It’s easy to pin the blame on poor marketing or unsuccessful fundraising, yet some of our predecessors have raised millions of dollars and still shut down months after launch. Why is this?

Our hypotheses is that current users of the existing platforms have failed to spread the word. As a result platforms fail to reach the level of adoption we see amongst short distance ridesharing and eventually shut down.

At Hi-Hi, we see long-distance carpooling as a reflection of our ‘social society’ and hence we believe that users need to want to tell their friends about a cool new product. In order to have a successful launch and an exponentially growing adoption of our product, we believe that trust, convenience and a sense of community are critical to product adoption and viral amplification. One cannot simply expect to release a product – from a yet unknown company – without a social sentiment from its target group and expect the wider population to 'hop on' pronto.

Regardless of how the perspective around sharing economy evolves, people will always want to meet others with similar interests and share experiences. At Hi-Hi we aim to do exactly that with long-distance carpooling, and if it helps the planet and saves money on gas and travel, well, those are just some of the great perks that come along the way. Once Hi-Hi brings together its first communities, be it concertgoers, skiers, tax convention fanatics or whatever else, we believe that other communities will want to travel through us as well. And before you know it, Hi-Hi users may become a community of their own.