Being An Uber Of Something

While there is no end to complaints modern travelers can make about getting from point A to point B, at least mythical monsters don’t usually make the list. The worst thing that one worries about today is an excessive layover; back in the Heroic Age, sailors were concerned about running into Sirens.

Unfortunately, the same can not be said for modern entrepreneurs and investors, who continue to be susceptible to Sirens — or, at least, the Siren songs that occasionally start resonating. The most recent choruses to take up residence in their collective ears are “The Uber of X” and “Platforms are the future.” As Karen Webster recently noted, those discordant notes are starting to blare fairly loudly.

“Of course, it would be great being the Uber of Something,” Webster noted. “But a lot of entrepreneurs are more likely to be the Uber of Nothing and burn up a lot of VC cash, because they think platforms solve all problems and ignore just how hard being a platform is.”

“If I only had $1 million for every payments platform that has gone up in smoke in the last 10 years, I’d be writing this, or maybe not, from my very own island in the Caribbean.”

And last week was, sadly, a big week for “Ubers of Nothing.” Zirx has shut down its “Uber of Parking” concept in favor of looking for a more mathematically workable B2B framework, and Shuddle just abruptly shuttered its doors, because it just couldn’t get “Uber for Kids” to scale.

Which made Chariot For Women’s headline buoyancy last week all the more surprising.

While analysts, investors and startup watchers like us are getting mightily wary of an on-demand economy oversaturated with companies claiming to be the next Uber, Chariot For Women came from seemingly out of nowhere with a lot of buzz offering a service that isn’t just Uber-like, it is darn near Uber-identical.

Chariot For Women is a ridesharing service that lets users order and pay for a ride all with a couple of quick taps. Its big differentiator is in its name: The service offers female-only drivers for female-only passengers (or children of any age under 14).

“I started this company just because I was afraid for the safety of my children and my wife,” Founder Michael Pelletz noted in an interview.

Pelletz got the idea for Chariot For Women when he was an Uber driver dealing with a passenger so intoxicated that Pelletz was forced to flag down the police. The experience, he said, was eye-opening and made him realize that what had been a bad situation for him might turn out to be a wholly untenable one for a female driver.

And thus, Chariot For Women was born. Pelletz said that he started putting together funding very shortly after his unpleasant encounter and has pushed forward from there.

“I kept meeting the right people, even if it was in the back of my Uber. So, it’s been unbelievable. It’s resonating worldwide because, unfortunately, there’s such a need for this.”

Unbelievable and incredibly buzz-generating, even if many of the sharper details remain rather blurry. Chariot For Women has apps for both iOS and Android that its founder says have been approved, but they are not available for download yet. The firm has been putting together funding, but how much or from whom still remains to be seen.

“Our big concern was attracting drivers. I initially had set a target of 1,000 drivers by April of this year,” Pelletz explained. “We are already well over 9,000 because we are seeing a real hunger for this service among women who are both looking to be part of a solution and also who are just looking for a reasonable way to earn some money.”

And, if Chariot For Women can manage to stick to its current guidelines for paying its fleet of drivers, it really could be more than “some” money since the advertised rate of pay is $25 per hour.

“As an Uber driver, you only get paid once a week. Chariot For Women, as soon as you drop that person off, you get paid immediately. So, that’s something really different and unique that we’re doing. Uber takes between 27 percent and 33 percent of every fare. What we’re doing for our women is: We are only taking 25 percent, where 2 percent of that goes to charity. So, basically, our company is taking 23 percent, but it’s only for the first $100 that that driver makes in a day. Anything over that $100, we take nothing, and they get 98 percent of their entire fare. So, that’s a huge pay raise after an hour or two of just driving around. That’s how we can say that they should make a minimum of $25 an hour.”

Uber, for the record, notes that, in Boston, its take is 20 percent to 25 percent.

For his part, Pelletz noted that, beyond the “quibbling over the commission rate,” the bigger picture on his end is about flexibility and inclusiveness.

Pelletz said the real differentiator for Chariot For Women is its willingness to custom design its product based on the needs of its targeted users.

Some have questioned if it is actually legal for Chariot For Women to only employ and only offer rides to female passengers. For this interview, Pelletz waved off the legal questions, saying his current priority is getting the launch perfected.

Though today (April 18) was supposed to be day one for Chariot For Women in Boston, that has been delayed.

Instead, the service will reveal its new name tomorrow and has certainly gotten a boost with all the public attention.

Will that attention turn into a service that could be an Uber of Something? On that, we’ll keep you posted.