High-tech car-sharing start-up brings P2P to the transport industry

Anyone who has ever spent 60 rush-hour minutes stuck in traffic can attest: commuting sucks. But is there a better way? Andrew Kissling sure thinks so.

He says high-tech car-sharing is truly the solution the world’s been waiting for. Kissling, former product innovation directorship at Vodafone, says that once car-sharing goes mainstream, everything we know about transport will change – hyper-efficient transport options, less cars on the road, huge environmental payoffs, all working seamlessly with a public transport system. That, he says, is the way of the future, and he wants to make it happen here, now.

To that end, he and Jezz Santos (former product development leadership at Microsoft) have founded Wellington-based peer-to-peer car sharing platform, Roam, and launched an equity crowdfunding campaign on CrowdCube to finance it. Leaning heavily on their points of difference ­– keyless car access, in-app car location and digital rating tools – they’re hoping to raise a 20% equity stake of $390,000, and bring the value of the fledgling company to just under $2 million.

Idealog had already wasted the morning in Auckland traffic, so we spoke to Kissling by phone to find out why millennials are the drivers of the sharing economy, why Uber really are the good guys, and why big car manufacturers already know the writing’s on the wall.

Idealog: Hi Andrew. What makes Roam different from other car sharing services?

Andrew Kissling: Roam is a peer-to-peer car-sharing service. With Roam, people who have cars that sit around idle can sell that idle time to people who need cars.

With traditional B2C sharing, that’s essentially a rental company in drag. We’re peer-to-peer, so it’s different – the vehicles are owned by the participants and the prices reflect that.

It’s a great idea, but it sounds like an insurance nightmare – is it?

It should be but it isn’t. We’re very fortunate. We’re working with IAG and they’ve been really forward-thinking. Others internationally have struggled to get insurance companies on board, but we approached them at just the right time.IAG realised they needed to be in the space so we’re stoked.

Image: Roam founders Jezz Santos and Andrew Kissling

Oscar Peppit of Uber says that this might be something they’re considering – what would that do to your market?

Honestly, any player in the industry is good for the industry at the moment.

But currently we don’t compete with Uber. We imagine our customers will use Uber as well. It all depends on the context. Uber is A to B. Our market is when you’re going from A to B to C and back again. Honestly, I think the Uber phenomenon is pretty awesome because it’s challenging existing services.

What industry opposition are you guys facing?

The opposition tends to come from those highly-regulated elements of the industry who have something to loose from people doing things more efficiently.

The industry is slow to change. Here’s a fantastic example. The Las Vegas Taxi Federation decided to try and make their service more responsive to customer feedback. So what did they do? They had customers fill in a form, in triplicate. Who would want to do that? But that’s what everybody is up against.  

So who’s in the market already? How is Roam different from say, Cityhop?

Cityhop is B2C, so they own the cars. We’re a peer-to-peer network, and we’ve got smart tech that allows access to the car without a key. That’s pretty unique and only a handful [of platforms] offer that worldwide.

So what are the specifics of the tech?

We’ve built a piece of in-car tech that will be 3G and Bluetooth connected. You get approved as a borrower, approach the car with the app, the lock clicks up, and off you go. Then you’re charged by actual use, with the owner setting their own hourly, daily and weekly rates. You can also set up a repeat on your calendar for ongoing use and you’re sorted.

Sounds legit. When does Roam go live?

We’re going to trial next month. The car kits are being installed in the first car which we’ve purchased as our experimental vehicle.  

You’re in Wellington – you've received some support from the council, right? 

So I initially met with the Deputy Mayor. He was keen on the car sharing model, we’re really keen to establish a product innovation capability, so he was keen to support that. So Wellington City Council are helping us out with a central city car park.

The public transport system [in Wellington] is already pretty good, especially for commuters. There’s a very good train network, and a good bus network, which I use a reasonable amount. Roam supports people who need periodic access to a car, or of a different type of transport to the one available. If you need a big ute with the towbar for the weekend, that’s what we can do.

But what does the Council actually like about what you're proposing? What does Roam offer Wellington City from the Council’s perspective?

Councils like what we’re doing because people start to make decisions about what mode of transport best suits their needs – walking or bussing, simply because it makes sense, rather than just jumping in their car every time. When Roam is established, they’re going to walk more, cycle more and use public transport more, and that’s a public good. Iceland was just passed legislation supporting car-sharing, so [Wellington Council] are not alone on this.

Auckland Council recently called for tenders for an electric car-sharing scheme here. Is that something you pursued?

We went and talked to them, but it’s one of the traditional tender programmes i.e. it was enormous and we were so early in our development, it just wasn’t going to happen. Looking at the criteria we’d be kicked out in the first round. They’re looking for a big foreign interest to sweep in and own it all. They wanted one organisation to look after the whole thing, soup to nuts, charging stations, everything, and that’s not us.

So why now? Why is the world suddenly ready for collaborative transport technology?

Millennials' buying patterns are changing. For millennials, it’s more about access to services, rather than owning assets. My generation is different. The trend with millennials is to put off buying stuff and just get access to it what they need when they need it. Think AirBnB, Uber and us. So the rise is from a new awareness of the true cost of owning stuff. Tech’s now at the point where if what you’re doing is a waste, it’s because you’re choosing for it to be a waste.

Have you always planned on fundraising through a crowdfunding platform? What’s the attraction to the crowd?

The CrowdCube platform is a very mature one. We’re doing seed stage funding now, so we are going to be coming back for a series A next year, so it makes sense to go with CrowdCube. They’re well established and will be able to help us with that. Also, if we do decide to look at initiatives outside New Zealand, say, in the UK, having that track record [with CrowdCube] will help us with that.

So is New Zealand the testing ground? You’re thinking about taking this model to the world, so to speak?

The strategy isn’t to go into a foreign country and start a peer-to-peer car sharing network. It’s to take the technology we’ve developed here and apply that to existing car sharing networks.

Question: There’s something personal about a car, right? I’m not sure if I’d want strangers in my precious – Do people have a natural resistance to sharing their vehicle?

Yes, there is. We’ve taken an extremely conservative approach to our projections and we’ve actually assumed that close to 90 percent of our target demographic aren’t going to want someone in their car.

Increasingly though, we’re finding a reduction in that wariness as people get used to the idea of a sharing economy. It’s certainly working for AirBnB. And here’s the thing: uptake of car-sharing really does reduce car ownership. 37% of people who took up car sharing actually disposed of their car altogether.

So, crystal-ball time. Do you see car sharing as more than just the emerging model? Do you see it ultimately dominating the transport industry?

Look, car manufacturers can see this coming. They’re realising that they don’t just manufacture cars, they provide transport services. Ownership patterns are changing. Ford’s recent move was a masterstroke – it partnered with Getaround and Easy Car Club. We see that as a model that other manufacturers will eventually follow.

But it’s going to happen slowly and progressively. By the time the shared vehicle economy comes in we’ll have driverless technology as well. It’s just like the horse and cart and the motorcar. Those two modes of transportation existed side-by-side for a long time. I see the same with self-driven cars and the car-sharing economy.  

It’s probably going to be a slow process, but it’s certainly going to have a lot of really interesting implications.