From carpool to deadpool: Ridejoy’s startup journey

In spring 2011, Kalvin, Randy, and Jason, friends and roommates, decided to work together. We had shared passions for travel, connecting people (IRL!), and making the world a better place, so when we came across the existing universe of carpooling online, it seemed to have huge potential.

Others were dubious. Y Combinator partner Justin Kan told us to hire 20 drivers in SF, where we lived, and start a taxi company instead. (Sidecar stealth-launched 6 months later, and Lyft shortly followed.) Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar and subsequently of carpooling-network GoLoco, gave us several reasons from experience why we’d fail. (Thanks Robin! :) )

But we decided to go for it anyway. We knew many others had tried before us, but we believed by building a far superior product, and being creative about signing up users, we could turn long-distance carpooling from a niche activity to a modern mode of transportation.

We also saw Craigslist’s rideshare sections, and bet that the half million anonymous and sometimes sketchy rides posted every year represented “demand by proxy” for millions of verified rides on Ridejoy.

What Happened? I Saw You in Vanity Fair?

First, we started with rides to Burning Man 2011. Flush with optimism (and a steady stream of signups from Craigslist refugees), we later enabled tens of thousands of friendly ridesharers to carpool long distances, mostly up and down the West Coast from Vancouver to Portland to San Francisco to Los Angeles, but also all across the country. (Atlanta to New Orleans, woo!)

But while we did succeed at growing steadily (25-30%/mo), creating an Apple-featured iPhone app, building a userbase of 30k+, we never discovered demand in the way that VC-backed startups need to. (We now no longer believe the market exists in the US, but of course, perhaps we just couldn’t find it.)

This mean that when Craigslist C&D’d us (they didn’t want our users linking to their Ridejoy ride offers or requests), we still had almost half our users coming from Craigslist. This spurred us to reconsider what we’d learned so far, and we eventually decided to halt instead of burning the remaining half of our (investors’) money.

Way Above Average!

Since we’re publishing this for our tech-centric followers, you’re surely familiar with startups failing. Here’s a few common questions, and our uncommon answers.

So you ran out of money?
- Unusually, we ended up returning the remaining half of our raise. As one of our investors said, “Well, a 50% return is way better than the average internet startup!” (You’ve got to be extra optimistic to invest in two-sided marketplaces with several variables…)

Why didn’t you pivot?
- We did explore a ton of other ideas, and other options like being acqui-hired, but none of them felt right to us at the time. That’s the short answer, anyway.

What’s happening to the Ridejoy service?
- Our investors have been very gracious, so we’re able to leave the Ridejoy website and iPhone app up and running for a while, until it starts declining in usage or requires too much maintenance.

Did the founders break up?
- Nope. We started Ridejoy from our apartment in San Francisco and continued happily living together throughout our journey. We agreed to end things together. We’re now spread out geographically, but are grateful to remain close friends.

Thanks, Thanks, and Ever Thanks!

Overall, we had a great experience, we’re glad we had the opportunity. (Thanks YC!)

If you used Ridejoy, thank you. If you sent us love, even more so. Hope you had a smooth ride, a great conversation, and a Driver/Passenger With Snacks!

PS – If you have a story about using Ridejoy as a service, we’d love to hear it. We’re collecting user stories here(Deadline December 31st, 2013)

Psst: We're looking for our first engineering hire!
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