From Army Beginnings to National Recognition and Acquisition, RideScout Flourishes
Sometimes the best startups are born out of necessity. When transportation app RideScout’s CEO and cofounder Joseph Kopser was commuting to and from the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, he knew there were cars whizzing by him that were going to the same destination. He thought there would be a tool that could compare different transportation options using time and costs.
He was wrong. And so RideScout was born.
“We’re surrounded by all these options. We just can’t see the options,” Kopser says. “What was just an idea is now pretty darn exciting that so many people are involved with it.”
His idea really did take off. Less than a year after its official launch, the mobile app that compares different ground transportation options for users boasts tens of thousands of users, operates in more than 60 cities and made a successful exit earlier this week. Moovel, Car2Go’s parent company and a Daimler subsidiary, recently acquired the company.
“Our timing couldn’t have been better,” says Kopser, referring to the rise in popularity of transportation apps, such as Uber and Lyft, and alternative modes of transportation, like Car2Go and Capital Bikeshare. Although RideScout doesn’t compete with those companies, the apps lets users compare different options—Lyft versus Uber versus a taxi versus public transit—and decide which option would be best for them.
Yet, the path to success wasn’t overnight, and the RideScout team found its early legs at Washington, D.C.-based startup incubator 1776.
“As we look back, you’re not going to be able to tell the RideScout story without an entire chapter devoted to 1776,” says Kopser. After touring different offices in D.C.—and even a few offers for gratis office space from strategic partners—Kopser and company settled on 1776, thanks to its vibrant community.
From networking to physical space and connecting RideScout employees with key Washington, D.C. contacts, incubator 1776 sought to provide a plethora of resources.
Evan Burfield, cofounder of 1776, says RideScout was a company 1776 wanted to partner with right from the get-go.
“RideScout from the beginning was intriguing for us because they fit square into our broad focus of startups that are tackling really important problems in complex regulated industries,” Burfield says of the company.
In addition to providing RideScout with physical space, 1776 also helps foster the startups’ growth. Part of RideScout’s partnership with Georgetown grew out of a relationship with 1776. President Barack Obama even used the app when he visited the offices of 1776 in July.
Cofounder of 1776 Donna Harris says she immediately took to RideScout’s founders.
“There’s so much to love about them. They’re veterans, so they have great personal stories,” she said. “They’re the kinds of people where I want to find ways to help them because I like how they are as people. They’re very passionate about the problems they’re trying to solve.”
In addition to being a great team, Harris says she also was impressed with their ability to follow through.
“We’ve been really impressed with their ability to execute,” she said. “When they say they’re going to do something, they get out there and they do it.”
However, executing the idea wasn’t always a breeze. Vice President of Business Development John Gossart says the app’s two-sided market presented its own set of challenges.
“Our idea is great. Our engineers have built a great product, but in order to convince ride providers, especially the big national brands, to be carried on the app, they’re more interested a large, broad user base,” Gossart explains. “At the same time, we try to recruit users. People that download and become active users of the app (are) most interested in those big brand names, those ride providers. We have to convince both sides that the other side will come along if they do.”
And it appears that both sides did catch on. When it comes to RideScout’s exponential growth, Gossart advises other startups that there is no cookie cutter model to success. Although he realizes, just as Harris does, the fact that the entire core of the RideScout is made up of veterans was the strength of its team and contributed to the company’s growth.
“One thing that made this particular group succeed is all of our common backgrounds,” Gossart says. “(We’re) coming from the military, where you’re used to working in sometimes austere conditions with not enough resources and big problems to solve. And that’s just like a day at the office where we come from. Some of the problems we’ve had along the way with RideScout seem imminently solvable.”
Craig Cummings, RideScout cofounder and chief strategy officer, says he also believes his company’s similar backgrounds played a role in the company’s acquisition this week, less than a year after its official launch in November of 2013.
“I’ve always thought it was important to our success. I’m beginning to see more and more why it was important in shaping our success,” says Cummings. “You’ve got to solve a problem. The idea matters, but it’s all about execution and our military training is all about execution.”
Military connections also helped RideScout nab an investor. Brad Bloodworth, a managing partner of early-stage investment company Woodside O’Brien, says he knew RideScout’s cofounder Cummings from the West Point alumni network.
“The idea made a lot of sense, and Craig and Joseph are just such impressive people,” Bloodworth says. “[Woodside O’Brien] seeks companies that improve efficiency, transparency and connectivity in whatever market they operate in. And RideScout improves all three in the transportation marketplace.”
But Woodside O’Brien’s relationship with RideScout extends beyond the traditional partnership: In addition to swapping key contacts, Cummings also utilized Bloodworth’s law background and consulted Bloodworth on decisions that involved legal issues.
“I felt more involved in the company than many companies in which I sit on the board or as an advisor,” Bloodworth says.
That intertwined relationship with strategic partners is by design—and is part of the reason why RideScout partnered with Moovel.
“I’m always looking for the opportunity to align our vision with partners,” Kopser says. “Our partner [Moovel] has the shared vision with amazing resources. They want us to continue to be us and in the process of doing that, we end up all coming out better and stronger in the end.”
But even before the recent acquisition, RideScout had already received national attention. The company was invited to be part of a White House Task Force dealing with transportation. Kopser says that during the meeting, a White House representative commented that is was such an honor to work with companies like RideScout and Uber.
“Moments like that, when what we’re doing is actually working and making and a difference,” Kosper says, “you just can’t beat that.”
Teresa Tobat is a freelance writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C. area. View her website at teresaktobat.com.