Zimride: The Silicon Valley Start-up inspired by Zimbabwe

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ZimrideIn 2005 Zimbabwe was halfway through it’s nearly decade long economic crunch. Hyper inflation was well on its way to breaking records in an experience few would want to relive. If the timely adage that necessity is the mother of all invention holds true, then the following story is a perfect indicator of the ‘greatness’ that can be found in or through Zimbabwe.

Logan Green and couple of friends decided to make the most of their college break by visiting Southern Africa. They had chosen to do so because his best friend’s father worked in Cape Town. Upon descending on the southern tip of Africa they planned to tour the region. In doing so they soon found themselves in Zimbabwe-no tour could be complete without visiting the majestic Victoria Falls. Upon arrival in Victoria Falls Town, they hired a taxi and delved into active discussion, while the driver supposedly did his job…however they soon found themselves heading towards a ‘mysterious’ direction and parked outside what appeared to be the driver’s homestead.

The tourists; expectedly concerned by their predicament-then witnessed the driver dashing out with a plastic bottle and communicating with what appeared to be his neighbour. To further add to their confusion the neighbour received money and the plastic bottle from the driver…disappeared… and in no time came back with what appeared to be petroleum in the container. Logan had never ever witnessed such a scene in his life and possibly struggled to ‘decipher’ the incident. As soon as the driver hopped back in the tourists sought answers. Firstly why the driver had led them to the place instead of their destination? And also why on earth he had received petroleum in a container from the supposed neighbour?

The driver (who Logan and l agreed to having the PR skills of a diplomat), then explained that the location they had travelled to was his home and that fuel in Zimbabwe was subsidised once a week –and thus storing it was a sure way to go around the expensive pricing on every other day. This of course was a creative tale of a crafty taxi man as fuel had become expensive and mainly available on the black market. The tourists (still baffled), eventually reached their destination and proceeded with their tour. This fascinating experience never left Logan’s mind and he remembered how there were very few cars in Victoria Falls Town-a far cry from the mad traffic jams of Santa Barbara where he lived. He also remembered how amidst the difficult times Zimbabwe appeared to be in; an organic and grassroots commuter network existed to transport people. Albeit not perfect, it worked and responded to the needs of the market.

In Santa Barbara, Logan served on the board of the Metropolitan Transit District as its youngest member and noticed that although the bus system was incentivised by the central government, it still lost money and struggled to address demand.  He continued to ponder over his Zimbabwean experience while he finished off college and began working on a sideline idea of a carpooling service. After college, Logan spent a year looking for a job and thinking more and more about the idea.  While carpooling was not new, it was perceived as boring and yet to gain mainstream adoption.  Logan saw an opportunity to create a business model that was sustainable and empowering. This business model would allow people to sell empty seats in their cars to registered members within a network. People travelling along the same routes could share a ride…

In coming up with a name he remembered how locals in Zimbabwe referred to the currency as the ‘Zim dollar’ and how cool it had sounded, subsequently running through a number of potential names an settling on Zimride. At just about the same time, John Zimmer; a young and successful Wall Street banker was working on a similar idea. A mutual friend introduced the two and they started exploring the concept’s commercial viability.

 

A screenshot of the Zimride interface.

After fine-tuning the idea and raising angel investment, a move to Silicon Valley was pursued, John Zimmer also left his job with Lehman Brothers and headed to the Valley-this was a wise decision in hindsight as Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy a few months after.

The idea was launched as a Facebook application. Zimride was then able to grow organically and raise a seed funding round of $US300 000 from Facebook (through the Facebook Fund) in 2009. The Facebook app expanded into a fully fledged online platform running through a dedicated website.

It continued to grow and attracted another seed funding round ($US 1.2 million) from Keith Rabois (a US Venture Capitalist), Floodgate, and K9 Ventures. Zimride’s carpooling marketplace works with universities and companies to ensure a closed and functional network.

On the second of July the company announced that it had reached a milestone of 100 million miles (62.5 million kilometres) served and 100 clients. This translates to a compound saving of $US 50 million in cash and a priceless contribution towards the fight against global warming. The following infographic from the company provides more insight:

zimride-100-infographic

Zimride is an example of the evolving trends of globalisation as it was able to apply a developing market experience to a developed market context. The growth and proliferation of ICT around the world has resulted in a gradual flattening of barriers as challenges like global warming, economic recession, and a bourgeoning population are universal.

This possibility of open innovation and knowledge transfer is leading to an era in which sustainable enterprises and solutions can emerge from both developing and developed markets to serve a global audience. Startups, private organisations, policy makers and enterprises that recognise and promote this new order will ultimately rise to the top of the value chain.

More information can be found on Zimride’s website and in a story Techcrunch recently did on the start-up.



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6 Comments

  1. Art (The Idea Factory)

    My style of rapid innovation. In addition we need to apply the benefits of the innovation to the demand of the locals where the idea was perceived. Challenge anyone?

    Reply
  2. Art (The Idea Factory)

    I think this will become a major company and also a major case study in business schools, in the context of “how can we apply African experiences and solutions ” to western problems.

    Reply

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