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"From the very beginning, we proceeded very much from a, 'If you build it, they will come' philosophy. We grew our business by focusing almost entirely on our existing customers."

Hitching a ride online: Kangaride rideshare launches across Canada

Kangaride is a ridesharing community that connects passengers and drivers who want to travel by car together and share fuel costs. From the small start-up that founder Marc-Olivier Vachon began in his parents’ basement in 2006, Kangaride has grown to have over 150,000 members and thousands of rides per week in Quebec and Ontario alone. While Vachon tackles the creative side, since 2008, finance and HR guru Edith Bisson has taken care of business. The complementary combination of Vachon’s visionary vigor with Bisson’s strategic realism grew into both a successful business and a solid romance—the young Kangaride entrepreneurs are engaged.

Now Kangaride is leaping into the big time: on a recent Dragon’s Den appearance, all five Dragons were involved in a bidding war, with each itching for a piece of the rideshare service (Kangaride finally joined forces with Bruce Croxon).

Kangaride has been launched in all of the Canadian provinces, and is expanding into intra-city rides—which means lifts to Mutek and other cool events all summer long!

We chatted with Bisson about the rideshare community, the Dragons, and balancing life with work as an entrepreneurial couple.

She Does the City: Tell us about Kangaride. How does it work?

Kangaride: We specialize in intercity ridesharing, which means ridesharing on an occasional basis between, for example, Toronto and Montreal or Edmonton and Calgary. In a nutshell, the value we deliver is that passengers can travel for less and drivers get help paying for gas. Plus the fact that you meet nice people on your way!

What makes us truly unique is the level of professional monitoring we provide. Our platform contains a cutting-edge rating system, where passengers and drivers can evaluate their experiences. We also have a customer service centre that is open seven days a week, 365 days a year. We place great emphasis on security, and validate our drivers’ licenses with the proper authorities in Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec. In other words, we care.

SDTC: How much does a trip cost?

K: To book a seat, passengers pay $5 to Kangaride (they can save on that booking fee if they buy bundles of booking credit for future use). After that, they’ll need to give a certain contribution to the driver once they get in the car. The amount of that contribution depends on the driver and the distance. Typically, a driver would ask around $30 per passenger for a ride from Toronto to Montreal. A shorter trip for Montreal to Ottawa would be around $15.  All prices are known in advance, before you book your seat.

SDTC: What cities do you cover?

K: Our members are travel all over the country, and in the U.S. The majority of our rides happen between Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, and Sherbrooke. As we speak, the community is growing steadily in Toronto, Kingston, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Halifax, and Vancouver.

SDTC: OK, time for real talk. How do I know my driver and fellow passengers aren’t crazy weirdoes?

K: Glad you asked, because that’s that differentiates Kangaride.com from everyone else in the ridesharing space. All of our members need to register in order to post or reserve a ride. We also verify the validity of our members’ driver’s licenses in Ontario, BC, and Quebec.  The fact that we enable our users to rate each other after they have traveled together is hugely important. That way, as a rider, you can select, for example, an experienced driver who has driven 50+ people, and who has five stars on safety, reliability, and punctuality. Professional support and dedicated customer service makes everything a lot safer, too. We proactively call our users to welcome them to the service and make sure they understand how we operate. From time to time we’ll also ask them for feedback on a given driver or passenger. Our call center is a big plus for reliability, too, because we’re here to answer questions and help people find their ridesharing companions. Safety is a common concern among women, but when you look at the data, almost 55 percent of our users are women.

SDTC: How did you get the ball rolling for Kangaride? Can you tell us challenges or obstacles you encountered when starting up?

K: From the very beginning, we proceeded very much from a, “If you build it, they will come” philosophy. We grew our business by focusing almost entirely on our existing customers. And I think it almost singularly explains our sustainable growth and success. Kangaride’s growth is impressive in terms of numbers (we have more than 21,000 seats, or the equivalent of 500 buses, available every week to inter-city travelers), but that growth has never been forced though advertising; it just happened organically.

Being a couple, we were initially concerned about working together, but we quickly found out that it enriches both the professional and personal aspects of our lives. Marco and I complement each other very nicely. While he is the visionary behind Kangaride, I am the realistic and efficient manager who has a good combination of human and strategic skills.  Striking a balance between work and personal life has probably been our biggest obstacle so far, but we’re getting much better at it.

SDTC: Tell us about your Dragon’s Den experience.

K: It was as nerve-wracking as it gets. We decided to go on the show at the very last minute. Looking back, though, we think it’s been an amazing experience overall. It allowed us to meet Bruce Croxon in Montreal; we have immense respect for him. It also gave Kangaride a lot of exposure.

We went way out of our comfort zone on this one, because we both prefer to work behind the scenes with our team to serve customers. Being in the spotlight like that was definitely something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives!

SDTC: What advice would you give for budding entrepreneurs?

K: Love what you do, no matter the result. Focus on your customer, on their needs. Don’t forget to take time for yourself to see the big picture before taking big decisions.

SDTC: What are your goals for the future? Any plans for intra-city service?

K: We are now enabling ridesharing to music festivals and major events. Festival organizers can call us to add their events to our website and have a dedicated page for ridesharing/carpooling to their events. By way of example, we are currently hosting a page for the Mutek music festival in Montreal. Those attending the festival can use this convenient and fun way of travelling, announce a ride, or reserve one with others who are going to the same event. It gives people more travelling options. We believe it will be well received because it’s a lot more fun to travel with people going to the same show as you are, and because it helps to reduce the carbon footprint of the event while enabling people to save money. On top of it, this approach help reduces logistical headaches associated with parking and allows more people to come to an event if it is well publicized.

We are also investigating the possibility of offering a local carpooling service to enable people to commute to work or school on a daily basis. This is definitely a big need nowadays when you look at problems like traffic congestion, soaring gas prices, and the cost of owning a car. This service means building a totally different tool and a much different business model, but we’re very motivated. 

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