Just months after an “Uber for kids” startup called Shuddle shuttered, another one is revving up its service in San Francisco. It could be a losing bet for a number of reasons.
HopSkipDrive sees its service working in a city notorious for having more pet dogs in households than children, and a public transit system widely used by youngsters. At first glance, it’s hard to see the difference between HopSkipDrive and Shuddle, which begs the question of why one would thrive over the other — not to mention the fact that there is another player in the game locally called Zum. But there is a key difference between the three ventures: money.
HopSkipDrive has venture capital backing. Zum does not, and Shuddle’s dried up and it could not attract more. Forbes surmised that Shuddle’s downfall might have been due to a lack of demand or lack of further interest from venture capitalists. It could also be that this kind of market is just too small.
[jump] “To me, this is a tiny crack in a niche market,” Bob Dorf, an entrepreneur in residence at Columbia Business School, told Forbes. He added that with a customer base of 6- to 17-year-olds whose parents will trust a stranger with their kids, the market share is small.
It’s also pricey. The company sells “ride packages” that range from $14 per ride in a pack of 30 to $20 for a single trip. Rides must be less than 5 miles and take under 30 minutes. Exceeding distance and time costs more. Compare that to $1 for a single ride on Muni for 5- to 17-year-olds, or free for low-income families.
In the lead-up to San Francisco’s free Muni for youth program, the city found that 36,600 kids used the system daily, accounting for 15 percent of total ridership.
The major attraction for these services would presumably be their vetting process for drivers — if Uber and Lyft are the community colleges of ride-hail apps, accepting almost anyone as independent contractors, then HopSkipDrive and its peers are like Ivy League schools. Drivers are required to pass much more rigorous background checks and certification processes, and have at least five years of childcare experience. The vetting is so intense, in fact, that when Shuddle closed down in April, HopSkipDrive immediately recruited its drivers since they’d already passed muster with Shuddle.
HopSkipDrive is also serving the East Bay, Peninsula, and San Jose, which might prove to be better markets than San Francisco since they are less dense and have fewer public transit options.