It's safe to say most of us don't look forward to the inevitable morning traffic jam. So how do you make the worst part of someone's day better?

Brothers Jonathan and Robert Sadow think they have the answer: carpooling. Their aptly named startup, Scoop, offers busy Bay Area and some Los Angeles residents inexpensive and flexible trips to and from work. And although it's somewhat surprising in city that serves as the headquarters for both ride-sharing leaders Uber and Lyft, the company is actually catching on with riders.

Since launching in August of 2015, the company, which serves various counties in the Bay Area and LA's Century City, has facilitated more than 100,000 carpools and helped eliminate about 1.3 million pounds of CO2 emissions.

"Uber and Lyft are incredibly compelling solutions for the commuter who is going a mile, two miles, back and forth. But if you're driving really long distances--15 miles, 20 miles, 30 miles--it can be very expensive... and harder to find trips," explains Robert, Scoop's CEO.

As a former product manager at Google (Jonathan) and management consultant at Bain & Company (Robert), the two aren't unfamiliar with the vagaries of the startup world. But they're confident anyway. Emboldened by their vision for building congestion-free communities, as well as market research that shows a lack of options when it comes to longer journeys, the founders think Scoop can stick it out.

Barriers to Entry

The reasons why more people don't carpool, the siblings found, are two-fold. Not only can it be tough to find someone with the same route, few people really have consistent work schedules. "Most people just don't know what time they want to go home when they get to work in the morning," Robert says.

So the duo created an app that not only plays matchmaker among carpoolers but also allows booking morning and afternoon commutes separately. If at 3 p.m., you realize it's going to be a late night, you can schedule an 8 p.m. ride home without annoying your buddy who's leaving in time for happy hour. The app handles setting up the match, coordinating contact information and payment. Riders pay a fee based on the trip, and drivers earn money for commuting to work.

Drivers are allowed a max of two passengers, and Scoop takes roughly one dollar per passenger trip. If for some reason a user can't find a ride home, they will be reimbursed up to $40 by Scoop.

Naturally, the founders have their work cut out for them. Not only do both Uber and Lyft offer carpooling options, Google recently joined the fray with its Waze app, which also pairs commuters in the Bay Area. Riders are charged up to 54 cents per mile, while Scoop takes factors like traffic density and trip length into consideration for pricing. The average cost per trip is $6.

The founders aren't concerned about the competition, however. "Our biggest focus is on how do you change behavior for commuters?" asks Robert. "The issue is not that everybody carpools today. The issue is that 80 percent of people in the Bay Area drive alone back and forth to work."

Selling Carpooling

Scoop hopes carpooling will soon become second nature, like hopping on the subway in New York City. It's best marketing tactic so far has been partnering with employers like Cisco, Tesla and Kaiser Permanente. It sets up lunch and learns, giving out ice cream and tabling at benefit fairs. At Cisco, the app is so popular that current employees often tell new hires it's the best way to meet colleagues.

Scoop's latest partnership is with Foster City and San Mateo, two Bay Area communities that will subsidize costs. Launching Oct. 10, the cities will offer $2 rides to work or a reimbursement of 50 to 100 percent of commuting costs. Foster City invested $60,000 while San Mateo contributed $30,000 towards the effort. They may choose to re-up, if the program catches on, but Scoop says that'll be decided at a later date.

Of course expanding to other traffic-ridden cities seems like a natural evolution, but Robert says the company isn't in a rush. For now, the brothers are focused on perfecting the user experience and growing their California base. "I think if we do that we'll be very successful," says Robert.

Published on: Oct 10, 2016