From band practice to language lessons, most after-school activities require a ride home, and their participants are unlikely to be old enough to drive.
That’s why three Los Angeles mothers started a ride-hailing service just for kids. HopSkipDrive launched in Los Angeles last year and expanded to San Francisco and Orange County this spring. Other ridesharing apps for children – namely Kango and Zum – have not grown beyond the the Bay Area. San Francisco-based Shuddle, which launched a year prior to HopSkipDrive, folded in April, claiming it couldn’t get enough funding.
Many of the traditional options for ferrying kids to and from extracurricular activities – leaving work early, scheduling the school bus, forming a carpool or hiring a babysitter – are taxing on parents, said Joanna McFarland,co-founder and chief executive of HopSkipDrive. “They are looking for a consistent, safe, dependable solution that brings them peace of mind,” McFarland said. “We are competing with inconsistent alternatives.”
The market for children’s rideshare apps is underserved but small. Shuddle’s demise might hint at either a lack of customer demand or a waning appetite among venture capitalists to fund such services. “To me, this is a tiny crack in a niche market,” said Bob Dorf, an entrepreneur in residence at Columbia Business School. Once the audience is distilled to people who use ride share service, have kids between seven and 17 years old (HopSkipDrive’s customer base), and trust a third-party with their child, the market is miniscule, he said.
Backed by more than $14 million in venture funding from FirstMark Capital, Upfront Ventures, Greycroft Partners, Pritzker Group Venture Capital, BBG Ventures and 1776, HopSkipDrive got a boost when it was chosen as a top 10 mobility startup at the the Los Angeles Auto Show’s Connected Car Expo last year.
McFarland founded HopSkipDrive with two mothers also living in Los Angeles, attorney Carolyn Yashari Becher and brand strategist Janelle McGlothlin. “We were so frustrated with the constant struggle of getting our eight kids to and from six different schools and to all of their activities,” she said. ”That’s why we created HopSkipDrive, so that parents don’t have to deny their kids the opportunity to play soccer or basketball or get to tutoring to improve their grades.”
Parents must use the app or website to schedule and pay for rides at least eight hours in advance. The driver, clad in an orange “HopSkipDrive” T-shirt, gives the child a code word upon arrival to verify that the rides match. Drivers must pass a 15-point test that includes fingerprinting, vehicle safety inspections, background and reference checks and an in-person interview. They must have clean driving records and, significantly, at least five years of childcare experience.
A single ride costs between $14 and $20, depending on the distance and whether a parent has purchased a package.
“We heard from countless parents that there was a need for our service,” McFarland said, “given that 60% of kids live in households where every parent in the household works outside the home.”