The Carpool Project

The Carpool Project plans to partner with a transportation organization and everyone who drives in the Bay Area to create the world’s first transportation marketplace. The objectives and execution of our supply-side approach are sufficiently different from those of “taxi services” like Uber and Lyft, and are designed to avoid competing directly with them.

The marketplace will enable drivers and riders to get anywhere anytime for $0.25 per mile. While this would appear to match, or in some cases, undercut the cost of public transportation, a major strategic goal of the marketplace is to embrace and incorporate all forms of public transportation, not compete with them. By design, the marketplace’s success will be revenue-enhancing to public transportation. By structuring this in as a requirement, and by eliminating the biggest cost of a ride – the hired driver – the marketplace will be a win-win for all stakeholders. To be successful, the marketplace will achieve the following:

  1. A new conception of everyone’s mobility
  2. A supply-side focus on carpooling that replaces the demand-side focus on taxis
  3. A cost-reducing model that unlocks value
  4. A ride-matching algorithm that distributes the unlocked value
  5. A sales strategy that scales the distributed value
  6. Environmental benefits that significantly reduce GHG emissions
  7. A mobile product that integrates the above into a simple and delightful user experience.

Success will enable everyone to save money, save time and save the planet, and pave the way for an economic and social transformation.

Startup Workshops

By designing and delivering startup workshops, I hope to accomplish several things: 1) share what I learned as a startup Founder and CEO ; 2) develop an integrated series of workshops that might be one day be published; and 3) socialize my plans for launching my next startup.  Here is my initial list of workshop topics, to be continually refined and expanded:

  1. Determining a Unique Value Proposition
  2. Sizing the Market Opportunity
  3. Valuing all Human Capital
  4. Evaluating a Prospective Co-founder
  5. Creating a Milestone-Based Plan
  6. Avoiding Hangups Over Valuation
  7. Preparing to Pitch Investors
  8. Selecting The Best Investors
  9. Considering Capital Raising Options
  10. Executing the Three “M’s” Post-Funding

Truly Understanding Your Organization’s Strategy

In early 2013, I started a financial modeling exercise that, unbeknownst to me, would considerably strengthen my understanding of rBlock’s strategy, despite having run the Company for years. To appreciate just how valuable it was, consider the true meaning of “strategy” as described on the first page of All Strategy Is Local.

My exercise involved modeling the “unit economics” of our business – a term I was already using a year ago when I stumbled upon it in the second bullet of this blog entry by Andy Sack. Seeing the term in print added to the merit of my exercise. Now I’ll describe three aspects of it – integration, presentation and automation.

Integration

First, I integrated the various spreadsheets I had earlier built for rBlock and that covered many facets of our company and business:

  • Invested Amounts
  • Milestone and Valuation Timelines
  • Stock Option Grants
  • Debt and Interest Schedules
  • Capitalization Table
  • Market Sizes
  • Revenue Projection
  • Operating Budget
  • Cash Flow Projection

Each spreadsheet was in a separate excel workbook. So I put them all into separate tabs of a single workbook.  Then, since they were highly inter-dependent (through their impacts on cash flow), I used excel formulas to link them. This removed multiple instances of the same hard-input value, considered taboo when building financing or M&A models.

Presentation

Then, I re-designed the model’s structure to make its information as accessible and meaningful as possible. The front tabs now make up the analysis. They include our consolidated operating and financial performance, go-to-market strategy alternatives in the form of a base case and variants of it, tables of all financial and market inputs as well as cost/growth/timing assumptions, and finally, tables revealing the sensitivity of every key performance indicator to one or more model inputs. The middle tabs show monthly outputs and cash flows. They’re not for presentation, but they’re critical to making sure that the consolidated results at the front are always accurate. The back tabs are the glossary and notes which explain and source everything.

Automation

In parallel, I automated the model by iteratively testing and correcting its formulas until it produced results that were entirely intuitive. Automation was the most important aspect because it sharpened my understanding of every internal and external number that affects our business. In turn, this deepened my understanding of our strategy. Today the model is a dynamic budgeting, decision-making and forecasting tool that’s tailored to our strategy.

Upon completing it, I named it a Unit Economics Model (UEM) and wrote this one-pager to make the case for why every organization should build its own UEM.

Some Facts Related to Mobility and Sprawl

Below are some facts from a chapter called Mobility and Sprawl in Bowling Alone, published in 2000. While these facts are dated and national in scope, they reveal behavior trends that continue to this day, and impact local traffic and parking. Rather than draw conclusions here, I’ll post more about this soon.

Smaller Households with More Cars

  • for decades the number of single-occupancy vehicles in use has increased
  • we’ve gone from 1 car per household to nearly 2 per household in 1995
  • this is remarkable considering the household size has shrunk from 3.6 to 2.6 members
  • by 1990, America had more cars than drivers

We Invest More in Our Cars

  • between 1969 and 1995, we increased our financial and time investments in cars
  • the length of the average commute increased 26%
  • the length of the average shopping trip increased 29%
  • the number of commuting trips per household increased 24%
  • the number of shopping trips per household almost doubled
  • the number of other trips for personal or family business more than doubled

Passenger Occupancy has Declined 50%

  • during this same quarter-century, each trip was more likely to be made alone
  • the average vehicle occupancy fell from 1.9 in 1977 to 1.6 in 1995
  • for trips to and from work, the average occupancy fell from 1.3 to 1.15
  • by definition, vehicle occupancy cannot fall below 1
  • therefore this represents a 50% occupancy decline in passenger commuting

Some Commuting Data

  • commuting accounts for a little more than one-quarter of all personal trips
  • but given the structure of our lives, it is the single most important trip of the day
  • the number of people working from home has risen
  • however the proportion of home workers to total workers remains tiny (< 4% in 1997)
  • the % of people who drive to work alone has risen from 61% in 1960 to 91% in 1995
  • other modes of commuting – public transport, walking, etc. – have all declined
  • mass transit plays a small, declining role in most major metros
  • mass transit accounted for only 3.5% of all commuting trips in 1995

Some Carpooling Data

  • carpooling has also fallen steadily for more than two decades
  • the fraction of all commuters who carpool has been cut in half since the mid-1970s
  • this fraction is projected to reach only 7-8% by 2000
  • bottom line: by end of the 1990s, 80-90% of all Americans drove to work alone
  • this is a major increase over the 64% who drove to work alone as recently as 1980

We’re Commuting Farther

  • we are commuting farther than ever before
  • from 1960 to 1990, the # of workers who cross county lines more than tripled
  • between 1983 and 1995, the average commuting trip grew 37% longer in miles
  • ironically, travel time increased by only 14%

We’re Commuting Faster

  • travel time increased by < trip length because average speeds increased
  • the average speed of all modes of transport combined increased by nearly 25%
  • the switch from carpools to mass transit to SOVs was quicker for individual workers
  • however the switch has been socially inefficient
  • suburb-to-suburb commuting increased
  • work hours became more flexible

We’re Alone Longer in Our Cars

  • 68 urban areas were studied, from LA to Corpus Christie to Cleveland to Providence
  • annual congestion-related delay per driver rose steadily from 1982 to 1997
  • the delay per driver rose from 16 hours in 1982 to 45 hours in 1997
  • many see this as a time for quiet relaxation
  • this is especially true for those who came of age during this driving boom
  • according to one survey in 1997, 45% of all drivers agreed that “driving is my time to think and enjoy being alone”
    • among drivers aged 18 to 24, 61% agreed with this statement
    • among drivers aged 55 and over, 35% agreed with this statement

Another Perspective on rBlock from a Resident

Here’s another perspective on rBlock. It was written a few days ago by a resident named Barbara who has used rBlock for years.

I always knew I lived in a nice neighborhood. rBlock has helped me realize that I live in an awesome neighborhood. Using rBlock we exchange referrals, hold emergency preparedness meetings, share tools and good and bad news. In my neighborhood, we organize block events where we get to know each other. rBlock is like a modern version of the front porch, without the pressure to participate and with the ability to stay as private as one wants.

Your Platform on rBlock

rBlock now has a new platform and would like you to consider it “your platform”.  We are in no small measure indebted to every resident who has taken the time to enlighten us with respect to their needs and desires, but also their concerns and frustrations with how websites and platforms function today.  So thanks to you, we may one day be as smart as we are grateful.

Your platform is unique in several respects.  It offers you complete privacy, control and predictability, which depend upon each other.   Second, it will save you time and money during login sessions that are as short as they are valuable.  And third, we think it will delight you in so many ways that drive our passion on a daily basis.  We are highly confident about this because we view you as not only a future user but also a future partner.   You will decide how your platform evolves and is used, and who will benefit.  We look forward to sharing more about this soon.

A Perspective on rBlock from the Federal Government

At the 4:45 minute mark, I introduce rBlock to Aneesh Chopra who then offers me some great insights into how our Company might be of interest to Washington D.C.

The federal government…

1. is looking for ways to hyperlocalize its vast amount of open data – Aneesh says rBlock might distribute selected data by block so that residents could more easily sustain conversations with their neighbors about national priorities;

2. has launched a community health data initiative to promote best practices for good health – Aneesh says rBlock might work with organizations such as www.health2challenge.org to sponsor community challenges, both at the block level and within the wider community;

3. is in the API business and is always looking for creative ways to improve its customer service – Aneesh says rBlock might make it easier for residents to identify a few important federal government services that are relevant in terms of geography and timing, and to avail of such services through rBlock’s platform.

Our Perspective on Network Structure

As already mentioned, the residents who started their blocks on rBlock have taught us much of what we know.  But they’ve also inspired us to build something more valuable than what’s on the web today.   In the most abstract terms, here’s our perspective on network structure.

All networks thrive on density and uniformity.   People networks in particular thrive on proximity and commonality.   So rBlock designed its network structure to enable residents to create a network that’s at least ten times more proximate and common than a social network.  But that’s just the clinical view of what we do.   Far more exciting and valuable is what residents actually accomplish on rBlock.  We’ll post more details about this soon.  For now, and again in the most abstract terms, here’s what we’re confident residents will accomplish.

When residents use rBlock to invite other residents on their block or in their city to join rBlock, they take the first step toward scaling privacy, relevance and trust across a new kind of network.   Indeed, once residents are using rBlock citywide, we believe it will become perhaps thirty times more valuable than a social network.

rBlock looks forward to the many ways it will share this value with residents and local stakeholders who have made it what it is today, and will be tomorrow.

It’s Now Simple To Stay Connected

Every block in the United States has 3 to 5 residents who reach out to their immediate neighbors to cajole, inspire and enlist their participation in matters relating to their block’s

  • safety
  • preparedness
  • connectedness
  • beauty
  • problems

These residents have to be super-motivated since the rest of us are pre-occupied with our families, careers, friends and mortgages.  These residents are also super-valuable since without them our blocks would be less safe, less prepared, less connected, less beautiful and less fortunate.  Moreover, these residents exhibit an enlightened self-interest and recognize that however difficult it is to stay connected, for them alone, the effort is well worth it.  Finally, given how much these residents have taught rBlock, it’s now simple to stay connected.

If you’re one of these 3 to 5 residents, you’ll soon be able to start your block on rBlock and invite residents on your block and in your city to join.   If you’re not one of them, let one of them on your block know about rBlock.  You’ll be glad you did.

With Email Updates, Less is More

From the beginning, rBlock realized that our email inboxes were inundated with too much to handle, leave alone read and digest.  And this trend has only further deteriorated.

So despite the tens of thousands of block postings and comments generated by residents over the last 3 years, we have continually fine-tuned rBlock’s email update system under the principle that less is more.  As a result, during the first two years residents on rBlock received an average of two scheduled updates per week, and only one per week during the third year.

Under our current default setting, residents receive a Daily Update email if there are new postings nearby within the last 24 hours. They can change the default to receive a Weekly Update (on Fridays) if they prefer to receive updates once per week.  Most have kept the default setting and receive about two updates per week.  Recently our block participation rates (views, postings and comments) improved significantly.  This has increased the value of these updates, and is perhaps the reason for their slightly higher frequency compared to last year.

Discussions Are Even More Frequent

More frequent than alerts are the hundreds of discussions that happen each year on blocks that use rBlock.  These now aggregate into the tens of thousands since our beginning.

From the ones that residents have told us about, we’ve come to appreciate that while discussions are wide-ranging in terms of their topics, they almost always exhibit the goodwill that exists among line-of-sight neighbors.  Mostly they’re about getting something important done, or involve exchanging useful information, quickly and efficiently. And they seem to almost always succeed in the eyes of their participants.

More importantly, by adding more communication where so much goodwill already exists, residents achieve something far more tangible and valuable than any alert or discussion could possibly provide.   They create a norm of trust and reciprocity that any one resident can tap into at the push of a button, and feel really good about.

For this reason, we encourage residents who join rBlock to do “whatever it takes” to get half their block to join them, as we did when we first started rBlock. The other half will follow soon.

More About Sharing Alerts

When residents who are not yet on rBlock first hear about Alerts, they often say, “Those sorts of things hardly ever happen on our block”.

But there are many types of alerts that residents on rBlock have told us about, and most of them are not about those sorts of things.  They’re about missing pets, unrecognized cars, imminent inconveniences (a contractor or delivery), unfriendly solicitors, strange noises (outside your door?), funny tastes (inside your water?), immediate dangers (a damaged tree?) and so on.  And occasionally, those sorts of things.

Simply put, a lot more happens outside our front doors than we can possibly know about, and when it does, the residents on rBlock always appreciate being connected.  Beyond helping to create more awareness, the most gratifying stories for us are when residents on rBlock tell us about pets that were found, mysteries that were solved and risks that were perceived to have been mitigated.

Block Captains and Neighborhood Watch

We started rBlock to make it easy for block captains to form and sustain effective neighborhood watch programs.   The idea was simply that if a small enough number of residents could share immediate alerts with each other, there would not be too many of them, and each of them would be relevant.

We quickly realized that a single residential block was the perfect construct for enabling 30 residents, on average, to privately share a low volume of high-value alerts.  Today, residents share alerts on their block relating to anything they’ve just observed that may be urgent, and that every resident is grateful to know about.

The sharing of alerts did more than achieve our goal of making it easy for block captains – it effectively made everyone a block captain.   Today, block captains who have at least half their block on rBlock are always in the know and have almost nothing to do.   This is because after years of keeping their blocks informed, their blocks are now returning the favor.

Perhaps rBlock’s neighborhood functionality, which is just around the corner, will get them busy again!