Robin Chase recognized early on that there is money to be made by making car travel smarter and more affordable. Her earlier company, Zipcar, shook up the industry by offering a subscription-based, by-the-hour system for reserving cars. After stepping down as CEO of Zipcar in 2003, Chase became head of GoLoco, a site for arranging carpools. She also worked as a transportation consultant and served on a task force for the city of Boston. Her latest venture has taken her to France, where she recently launched Buzzcar, a car-sharing service. Chase spoke with Inc. senior reporter April Joyner about her new business:
How does Buzzcar work?
Buzzcar uses people's own cars. They rent them out to neighbors. People put cars they aren't regularly using on our network, and we make those accessible easily and quickly. It's all done with a location-based app on your smartphone that lets you find and reserve the cars around you. To ensure quality, after each rental, drivers rate the cars, and the owners rate the drivers, building a vehicle and driver history. The company covers liability insurance.
Why did you decide to start the company in France?
The market for Buzzcar is people who don't need to own a car but would like to drive on occasion. It costs more to have a car in France than in the U.S., and there are many more options for getting around without a car, so there's a greater density of my market here than there is in the U.S. France has also been doing a lot of innovative transportation experiments, and I want to be part of that. In the fall, the city of Paris is introducing a one-way car-sharing program called Autolib'. When people are thinking about Autolib', I want them to realize that Buzzcar is a faster, cheaper, better alternative.
What did you learn from launching Zipcar that has helped you with Buzzcar?
Zipcar's success was predicated on the economics of excess capacity: people who need only a tiny piece of a car, by the hour, rather than owning a car all year. But we could place cars only in dense urban areas, where we would get a good return. Buzzcar takes the idea further. We see individuals putting their excess capacity onto a common platform on the Internet, like Flickr for photographs. So it's natural to do peer-to-peer car sharing. With Buzzcar, we'll be able to get into every niche market, because we don't have to pay for the asset. And unlike other car-sharing services, we'll be able to offer a wide range of specialty vehicles.