What's the hardest part about going downtown on a Friday night in Austin? Nine times out of 10, the answer involves some combination of finding parking and getting home safely after a long night of partying.
Capitalizing on the very real demand for more safe, fun transportation options in the city, a new homegrown iPhone app hit the Austin market last weekend. Heyride is ready to revolutionize the way you get around town.
Unlike a typical Yellow Cab ride where a dispatch station is called and an anonymous driver is sent to your location, Heyride users are given the choice of which driver and vehicle they would like to be picked up in, based on availability. Most uniquely, the vehicles they can choose from are the actual cars belonging to the trained Heyride drivers.
In each ride scenario, users put out a call to all registered Heyride drivers in their area via the app. Once drivers signal their availability, the potential riders may choose which driver they want based on the bios, past rider ratings, pictures and descriptions of their vehicles.
When a price is agreed upon (based initially on a complicated Google algorithm of time, traffic and current gas prices), payment is made electronically through the app. Users register their payment credit cards beforehand, so there's no need for that elusive cash or confusing tipping procedure anymore.
Heyride drivers clear 80 percent of every ride price accumulated into their paycheck to pay for gas, vehicle maintenance, car registration and service hours. The other 20 percent goes to the team over at Heyride to keep doing the work they do, expanding and improving their product.
As for the drivers themselves, we met a couple of them on our first Heyride this week. Heyride's highest rated driver so far, Blade McGunn (yes, that's his real name) picked us up in his Hyundai Elantra and took us from The Ginger Man to Dog and Duck during the worst part of traffic.
McGunn answered the initial call for potential Heyride drivers to help him learn the city as he recently moved to Austin and is studying to become a real estate agent in town. In addition to the verification of his license, registration and vehicle reliability, his app profile shows he's also earned badges due to an overwhelming amount of positive reviews from his previous passengers.
"Austin is a city with a lot of cars but also a lot of people without them," explains Josh Huck, the grinning CEO of Heyride. "Austin has a problem with drunk driving. I know too many people who have made bad decisions, and I'm passionate about giving them another option to get home, to live longer."
The UT alumnus saw the need and devised the solution while traveling abroad after enjoying social apps like CouchSurfing, which connects folks in need of a temporary sleeping solution to those with an available couch. "I have had nothing but great experiences through those sites, and I appreciate how the emphasis is always about safety and knowing who is in your network," Huck says.
A freelance public relations and music writer, Huck pitched the idea that would later be known as Heyride to the tech-savvy officemates at the freelance office space they all shared. "I literally walked downstairs and proposed the idea to them, to see what they thought," he laughs. "I bought a pizza and we came up with the idea that afternoon."
The full details materialized over the course of the next year, and the app became a reality right around SXSW 2012. Venture capital firm Silverton Partners funded the majority of the operations and has allowed the team of five guys to stick together through the launch last week, just in time for this weekend's Fun Fun Fun Fest.
"We've already got about 200 users signed up for the app and about 50 drivers all over Austin," reports Huck. "It's only in Austin right now, but it could, I suppose, work anywhere in the United States. We'd like to expand to Android and test it out more before heading out to other markets. . . make the necessary changes that come up."
Also in the works for the app's future, Huck mentions expanding the software to hire movers who own pickup trucks and won't mind transporting your belongings. He also arrived at the possibility of a courier service that, rather than transporting people from location to location, transports important documents. In both instances, having the choice of who your driver is can make a world of difference.
Huck says that Heyride would especially like to recruit drivers with vehicles that accommodate mobility impairments to guarantee a more pleasant ride for passengers in wheelchairs for example. And they are also researching avenues for how best to facilitate transportation for Austinites on fixed incomes who could really use a service like this.
"The base price for typical Heyride is cheaper than a cab ride by about 20 percent," Huck points out. "And being able to choose your driver is also a premium deal."
As for the future of taxis in our town, Huck is confident there is plenty of business to go around for everyone. "We definitely do not want to be dissing on taxi services," he says, "but there are not enough of them to meet the demands of the city. We've come up with a more social and fun way to meet those demands."
Heyride has alerted its core set of drivers that Auditorium Shores will be in need of some specific attention this weekend for Fun Fun Fun Fest. Instead of trying to coordinate schedules with friends and risking missing the last bus of the night, maybe it's time to open up that new app on your iPhone and make a new friend with a car.