Along with sharing their kids’ joys and tears, offering words of wisdom (or just dad jokes) and all the other emotional aspects, parenting is also about managing people.
That practical aspect comes into clearer focus when one kid has to get to ballet class, the other has soccer practice, one spouse has an emergency dental appointment and the other is in the middle of a business meeting. When all the usual helpful neighbors aren’t free to drive – and Lyft, Uber and taxis all seem to carry an air of stranger-danger – things might start to feel dire. A parent might even be inspired to quit his or her job.
Bilal Khan actually did.
When faced with that family transportation tangle and safety riddle, Khan decided he’d hit upon a powerful market need – one for a secure, safe rideshare that busy parents could trust with their children. He left his job to help create what he hopes is the solution: Zemcar.
In a recent interview with PYMNTS, Khan, the company’s co-founder and CPO, and Juliette Kayyem, its co-founder and CEO, explained what it takes to make a scalable rideshare service aimed at assuaging parents’ fears.
Safe and Secure
Zemcar’s focus is catering to parents who need to send their young kids on a drive without being anxious about security and safety.
To that end, the company’s drivers are seen as caregivers. They must pass background and reference checks, phone and in-person interviews and safety training before being cleared to drive, according to Kayyem. The car itself is also inspected for safety and features, and ongoing verification is intended to ensure that everything remains up to Zemcar’s standards.
Parents can select drivers and place them into a pool of favorites based on their own experiences or on recommendations from family and friends. They can request a specific driver and, should something come up, can draw on a backup from their trusted driver pool or choose from the larger group of Zemcar-approved options.
“We bring drivers to the platform who satisfy standards that we believe parents would want, but then parents have another review system for which drivers are getting into their pool,” Kayyem said.
“It’s hard to convince parents to let their kids go independently,” Khan added. “What we’ve seen is that they asked questions initially, but then once they used the service … there are so many additional safety features for riders that makes them comfortable on the first ride, and then they keep using that car.”
Parents can watch the ride progress on a map or through a live video feed. They can also call the driver, or give audio or text instruction to the driver or to her supervisor. Smartphone notifications alert parents several times during the process, including when the driver is on her way, when the ride starts and when it finishes. And, as an extra layer of security, children have their own app with a parent-to-child chat feature and a panic button that informs customer support specialists if they feel distressed.
This safety focus also gives Zemcar a different model than the top rideshares for adults, Khan said. While a customer may rely on Uber as a one-off solution in a pinch, Zemcar’s customers tend to use the service on a regular basis and schedule rides ahead of time.
“Once they use the service, they keep on using it,” Khan said. “And a lot of it is scheduled rides, unlike Uber.”
The Payment Problem
Even if the service is designed for kids, the company and its drivers still need to get paid. To make that happen, Zemcar currently uses a third-party provider to process payments.
Drivers receive their pay on a weekly basis via direct deposit, with funds held in escrow between payment dates. Keeping these payments digital was important to ensure business scalability, Khan said.
“If we start doing checks and we don’t do it automatically, it could become a bottleneck,” he added.
Given Zemcar's focus on parent customers, the company's audience is on the older side, and typically uses credit and debit cards. As such, payment is completed with cards stored on file. With parents often becoming repeat users, Khan noted that adding loyalty programs could be an attractive feature in the future.
Zemcar notes on its website that its rideshare service is also available for seniors and adults, and the company is currently eyeing expansion to new audiences. With that, it is also looking to add new payment options, including Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPal.
Providers and Platforms
Selecting a payment provider was not an easy choice. In balancing concerns including security, the ability to accept and send payments and easy integration into Zemcar’s platform, the company ran into some problems.
“There are a lot of typical merchant payment providers out there, but few marketplace payment providers,” Khan said.
While Zemcar eventually found its payment vendor, it ultimately decided to build and add extra features to capture the kind of data the company craved.
“We had to build a whole payment platform with Zemcar,” Khan explained.
That process was done to blend the payment services with the company’s business model. It needed to not only receive a payment securely, but also track why it was being paid – including whether it was associated with a particular kind of ride or related to a promotion.
Zemcar also needed to choose a payment provider that could scale with the business, as growth is high on the company’s wish list. Though currently focused on Boston, it aims to expand to cities across the U.S. and around the world.
“It’s a niche market that we are targeting, but it’s a huge niche market,” Khan said. “It’s a $10 billion-plus market just in the U.S., and globally it’s even bigger.”
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