With a number of competitor breathing down its neck in the crowded ride-sharing space, YC alumni Ridejoy is taking its roadtrip matchmaking service mobile today with the launch of a free iOS app. I spoke with the design and development team at length to get an idea of their objectives and the decisions made in delivering the previously web-based experience to a mobile audience.
The 11 month old Ridejoy aims to personalize what could otherwise be a transactional experience and take ride booking from a deliberate, “plan ahead” task to a more spontaneous and spur of the moment possibility. This is now possible, because while it previously took five to ten minutes to post a ride, not including the time required to find a computer, the new mobile app has reduced this time to a matter of seconds.
Despite the fact that its web portal has grown 200 percent in the last six months to list more than 3,000 active rides at any given time, the company’s founders are looking to significantly increase this inventory.
Currently hundreds of new rides are posted each day, although a similar but slightly smaller number expire each day as well. Ridejoy’s mobile usage has grown dramatically in spite of the lack of a mobile-optimized website or native app.
The new Ridejoy mobile app is designed more around people and experiences than a simple list of trips from “point A to point B” according to co-founder Kalvin Wang. With Facebook Connect implementation, the app highlights user profiles, amenities, and experience that happens during a trip.
A core attribute of attribute of mobile devices, according to lead designer Seth Warrick, is their always on nature which allows for an entirely different type of interaction than desktops. On the existing web version, users are relegated to sending emails to propose and coordinate shared rides, but often find them going unanswered. With the new mobile app, the team has implemented a fully functional chat client with push notifications to drive instant communication.
Although not the only ride-share app in the iOS app store, the new Ridejoy offers a number of features that the company believes set it apart. Chief among them is “Perks and Preferences,” which allows drivers and passengers to customize their ride offers by including car type, music, and snack preferences.
Further, with the app’s Popular Destinations feature, users can scroll through the platform’s most popular cities and see the faces and profiles of other travelers headed there. Ridejoy also offers a first-of-its-kind in the space “Autopilot” feature that can plan an efficient trip route with a single click.
One of the more interesting wrinkles the company has implemented to increase ride matching is the ability to match partial trips by analyzing trips based on their route rather than their starting and ending destinations (for example a ride listed from San Francisco to Los Angeles may match with a rider looking to travel from San Francisco to Santa Barbara).
Ridejoy recommends fair prices for each ride (based on average gas mileage) and offers riders the option to pre-pay for their share using a credit card — users are free to modify this pricing based on their own discretion. Although not mandatory, these pre-pays create a degree of a “no-flake guarantee” according to Wang. The company monetizes by adding a 15% fee onto these passenger payments.
Surprisingly, Wang revealed that Ridejoy users span all ages and that only approximately 15 percent of the company’s users are in Bay Area — although it is the largest concentration of users. Ridejoy chose to launch its new mobile app in Canada first, approximately two weeks ago. With 10 percent of its current users in the northern US neighbor — mainly in Vancouver and Toronto — the company saw an opportunity to soft launch an earlier version of the app, gather feedback, and work through any kinks. Facebook reportedly takes a similar tactic by regularly rolling out new features in New Zealand first.
Ridesharing offers a variety of benefits, including cost savings, camaraderie, and environmental friendliness. The company highlights the opportunity by pointing to the statistic that over 76 percent of all in the US are taken solo endeavors, with 20 million seats wasted daily.
Despite the above, there are obvious challenges when pairing up total strangers in any capacity — AirBnB can attest to this as well as any company. Ridejoy has taken multiple measures to ensure that users can answer affirmatively the question “Would you feel safe driving with this person?” Most obviously, the service recently rolled out driver’s license verification — which is executed through a third-party partnership.
Since launching last September, Ridejoy has heard of a number of unusual and interesting uses of its service. Several users have used the service to find someone to move their car across the country. Others have found drivers to move their pet or large expensive-to-ship Christmas presents. The founders anticipate that an easier to use and more community driven mobile experience will likely to increase this type of activity.
“Right now, Ridejoy.com helps thousands of drivers fill their seats with friendly passengers,” says Wang. “But our sights are set much higher. We poured enormous effort into designing this app because we believe a great mobile experience is what will drive the growth of ridesharing.”