In 2014, I was in my 9th year of leading a well-established, 52 year-old and highly successful, private equity backed travel management company. Quite a mouthful. The business managed the travel of most lawyers in the UK, a good proportion of lawyers from the USA, and many other professional service individuals from the insurance and specialist finance sectors. The travel requirements were pretty standard. Business class, chauffeur to and from airport, and a 5* hotel accommodation – the Four Seasons in New York was especially popular. But in 2014 something fundamentally changed. We kept hearing requests for Airbnb. Airwhat? It was fascinating that for 50 years or so our lawyers and insurance brokers had been requesting very similar travel requirements, but all of a sudden Airbnb popped up and was becoming increasingly favourable. It was like the moment that Henry Ford started to sell his cars. I imagine most people have seen the picture of 5th Avenue in 1900 – horses and carts were everywhere – but there was one oddity. A motor car. By 1913, however, if you could spot a horse and cart on 5th Avenue, it was a rarity. Horses and carts had been around since the 1700s but in just 13 years they had almost become obsolete and replaced by the motor car.
So, in 2014, I did some more research and discovered that Airbnb was already selling more room nights globally than the entire Hilton hotel group. How was this possible considering the business was built on individuals sharing a room or their house with strangers??
My interest peaked and I embarked on a trip researching the success of Airbnb in America. To get around, I hired a car. What followed was a terrible experience with queues, hidden costs and not even getting the car I thought I had originally booked. It wasn’t a great start to my trip – but after 3 days of meetings, I was in no doubt that Airbnb was already well on their way to redefining how people travel and stay “home from home”. After dropping my car back at the airport (more charges levied) I found myself waiting for my flight, contemplating the woeful car rental experience and marvelling at the success of Airbnb. I stood there, staring out of the window over a sea of 10,000 parked cars and then it hit me: Why can’t we share our cars just like we share our homes? Instead of having all these cars sat here gathering dust, they could be earning cash for their owners! From working in travel (and my own experience hiring cars), I knew people were frustrated with the existing experience of renting cars and realised that this could be the next Henry Ford moment.
On my return to the UK, I quickly established that it wasn’t just airports where cars were parked up. On average, wherever you are in the world, cars are only used for 4% of their life. During the other 96%, they are parked on our streets and driveways, simply collecting dust. It costs each owner up to £5,000 a year for the privilege. This seemed bonkers. We were wallpapering our planet with more and more unused cars.
It was at that point that I decided I really wanted to do something to change this. 1 billion privately owned cars on our planet only used 4% of the time. Writing this statistic again makes me realise just how pointless and harmful our waste of resources is. Something needed to be done to help support car ownership in a different way. Studies had already shown that sharing a car through a “car club” could take 14 other cars off the street. In 2019, Zipcar had 19,000 cars in their fleet globally. Why continue to add more cars to the roads to be shared when there are 1 billion privately owned cars already sitting unused every day? Creating a system whereby private owners could share their cars with others nearby seemed to be the solution.
Then I reflected back on my own car rental experience. I am not trying to single out any one car rental company. There are good ones and there are not so great ones. But seriously – why is it that for the majority of car rental companies, I have to join a queue, wait to get my car, and end up getting something “similar”? I rarely get the car that I thought I had booked. I have been upgraded to “bigger cars” when I never even wanted a bigger one in the first place! I have had to pay extra charges – for example adding another insured driver. I never really understood this. Only one person can drive the car at once. Why do you have to pay for other people to be insured to drive it?
If we could develop a platform that enabled privately owned cars to be shared with others nearby, the experience could be completely transformed. Get the exact car you booked – not a similar one. No queues, no counters, no extra charges. And drive off in 10 minutes, guaranteed.
The opportunity was transformative. By sharing cars, we could create a far more sustainable way to use cars and, at the same time, revolutionise the car rental experience that had been set in its way for over 50 years. To be clear – I wasn’t the first and only one to think of this. But through Car & Away and now Karshare, we have approached this in a very different way – and with the support of the Karshare team are now making big strides to make community car sharing a real and exciting positive player for our planet.