The Sharing Economy was a big story in 2014 (and 2013, for that matter), with companies like AirBnB and Uber building fast-growing businesses, in partnerships with homeowners with an extra bedroom and car owners with empty seats. The Green-Sports world is moving slowly but surely into this space. English startup/early growth stage company GoCarShare is pioneering ride sharing to sports events along with music festivals in Britain. GreenSportsBlog spoke with Alaistair Thompson, GoCarShare’s COO, about the company’s beginnings and where it plans to go in 2015 and beyond:
GreenSportsBlog: Welcome, Alastair, to “The GSB Interview”…The GoCarShare story is an exciting one. How did it all get started?
Alastair Thompson: Thanks for having me! Well, for quite awhile, I’ve wanted to get involved in a green entrepreneurial venture. Back in 2011, while working as a management consultant, I looked to start a solar biodiversity development business but the funding went dry. At around that time, I was introduced to Drummond Gilbert, who, in 2010, had started GoCarShare as a way to make use of something incredibly wasteful–the millions and millions of empty seats in British cars. Drummond was in need of financial expertise and so we were a match.
GSB: How did you and Drummond hit on the sports market as a niche for GoCarShare?
AT: Well, there already were competitors in the corporate car share market (i.e. working with corporations to find workers to share rides to-from the office), but no one in England seemed to be going direct-to-consumer. So that’s where we targeted GoCarShare. And, we figured that the biggest numbers of consumers with empty seats in cars would be those going to music festivals and to sports events.
GSB: Makes sense! How did you get started?
AT: Music Festivals (i.e. Blood Stock, Glastonbury, Bestival, Creamfields etc.) made lots of sense to us—attracting over 6.5 million attendees in the UK, and they’re often held in remote areas and on farms. Public transit availability is minimal and/or expensive. Tickets are also expensive (the average festival ticket goes for about £105, or about $160). Since festival-goers are, for the most part, of a young demographic, they’re more likely to be concerned with sustainability than their older counterparts, and have lower incomes. Thus car share would appeal to them on green, financial and convenience metrics. At the start, in 2012-2013, we didn’t charge anything because we wanted to get our numbers up, test the infrastructure…
GSB: …Riders and drivers find each other online and on mobile, I take it…
AT: …That’s right. So, we went free at first. As of 2014, we started charging a 15% commission to the passenger of what he/she pays as a contribution to the driver(s).
Alastair Thompson, COO of GoCarShare, an English ride-share company that has targeted the sports market. (Photo Credit: Alastair Thompson)
GSB: How did the Music Festivals react?
AT: Festival organizers got on board almost right away. And they pushed out the word about GoCarShare via Facebook, Twitter and email blasts. This was huge for us.
GSB: And so did drivers and riders buy in?
AT: Yes! At some of our early festivals, we found that 10% of attendees got there by GoCarShare…
GSB:…that sounds like a big number…Congratulations! Could you thus track your environmental impact?
AT: We’re including a Carbon Footprint calculator on the site so, going forward, yes.
GSB: Is there interest from Music Festivals in other countries?
AT: Festivals in Spain and South Africa have reached out to us. And, we’re in early discussions with some events in the US, including Burning Man.
GSB: Burning Man would be a huge deal! So where do sports come in?
AT: We added sports early this year. For starters, both Drummond (tennis, cricket) and I (Norwich City football club and Saracens rugby club of London) are big sports fans. And, per the F.A.*, over 50% of football fans drive to matches, more than 650,000 fans travel to matches every week in the Premier League alone. So, we launched the sports segment of GoCarShare this October with my club, Saracens, of the Aviva Premiership, the top flight of rugby union in England.
GSB: Was that on the free model?
AT: No, we went with commissions–it was time to test that portion of the business model.
GSB: Why Saracens?
AT: Well, they’re a big club in rugby–their home stadium holds 15,000 fans—they have a clear sustainability program and they are very willing to work with us.
GSB: Why do you think that is?
AT: It’s a great service for their fans. And, a little known fact is that the clubs often don’t own their parking facilities, they rent them. So, less need for parking means less paid out in rent.
GSB: So it’s a dollars and cents or, in this case, pounds and pence issue!
AT: For sure. In fact Saracens has introduced us to officials at other clubs in the Premiership.
GSB: That’s great! Are you only offering the services to home matches? I could see that away travel would be compelling.
AT: At first, we’re concentrating on the home matches only as the numbers are much greater. But away travel is on the way as this improves the support for the clubs. And we also are having discussions with the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which will take place in England. That would increase our profile and awareness tremendously.
GSB: Good luck there! Yet, aside from the World Cup, with a big rugby stadium in London holding 15,000, it would seem to me that football would be the bigger “get” since stadiums like Old Trafford (Manchester United, cap. 75,000) and The Emirates in (Arsenal in London, cap. 60,000+) are 4-5X bigger than their rugby counterparts. Where do you stand with football?
AT: Football is a tougher, longer sales cycle for us as they will want to make a cut (a stronger focus on revenue than rugby.) That said, we’re having conversations with several clubs, especially those around London.
GSB: How are things going there?
AT: In London, Chelsea in West London is a good prospect as a high percentage of fans drive to Stamford Bridge (cap. 40,000). Arsenal encourages fans to not drive and the Emirates is well-served by the Underground. Still, we are in early conversations there.
GSB: How about Tottenham Hotspur, another big London club?
AT: Well, Spurs are going for a new stadium so that might not happen quickly. But at some point it will. White Hart Lane is in North London, a good hike from the city center, so many people drive. “The Lane” holds 35,000 so that’s good size already, and the new stadium, whenever it’s built, will hold more.
GSB: How about outside of London?
AT: For sure–more and more, the clubs are getting pressure from fans and other stakeholders to go green. We’re in conversation with both Liverpool clubs, Liverpool FC and Everton. Also Manchester United and Manchester City. And Birmingham City in England’s 2nd largest city.
GSB: Good luck! What’s the landscape look like in other sports like cricket?
AT: We have just partnered with our first cricket club, Glamorgan Cricket in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, which is great news!
AT: Thanks! Now, cricket crowds are much smaller than football, especially in terms of club matches, which might draw 1,200 to 1,500 fans. But the potential with international cricket is very interesting; international test matches at Hampshire will draw 20,000, so that’s an exciting possibility. The biggest Cricket Ground in England, Lords, will see crowds of 28,000 but many people take mass transit there so that may not be a prime prospect. The Jockey Club, which organizes horse racing at 15 sites throughout England, on the other hand, is a legit and exciting prospect.
GSB: Sounds like you have no shortage of prospects. That said, where is GoCarShare as a business now?
AT: Right now we have about 35,000 users. And while we’re happy with that, considering we’re a bootstrapped business established through crowd funding, we really want to focus on hitting 1 million UK users. And to get that, we’ll need to go for angel and venture capital funding. So we are out there pitching to both. We’re also looking at US expansion on the sports side in the next 1-2 years.
GoCarShare promotional message, encouraging English sports fans to share rides to and from their favorite team’s sports ground.
GSB: That’s very exciting–good luck! As you move from startup to early growth phase, do you see sports or music festivals as more crucial to GoCarShare’s long term sustainability?
AT: Both–95% of our business is sports and festivals. Of the two, sports has the greater ceiling. I mean you’ll get 30,000-70,000 at a football match but most music festivals draw in the 18,000-30,000 range. So sports just have a greater potential for us.
GSB: Good to hear! I hope GoCarShare gets to that 1 million target soon so we can see car share at US sports events soon.
* The F.A., or English Football Association, is the governing body of football (soccer) in England.
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