Founders & Friends with Scott Orn

A Startup Podcast by Kruze Consulting

Startup Podcast by Scott Orn

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Posted on: 01/08/2018

Rob Sadow of Scoop - Improve your Commute with Co-Worker Carpools

Rob Sadow

Rob Sadow

Co-Founder & CEO - Scoop Technologies


Rob Sadow of Scoop Technologies - Podcast Summary

Rob Sadow of Scoop talks about how Scoop makes commuting fun and easy. Scoop allows company team members to share rides to and from work through an easy-to-operate app. Scoop has become a widely offered perq in the Bay Area and Seattle.

Rob Sadow of Scoop Technologies - Podcast Transcript

Scott: Welcome to Founders and Friends podcast with Scott Orn at Kruze Consulting and my very special guest today is Rob Sadow of Scoop. Welcome, Rob.
Rob: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Scott: Scoop’s interest in building client. Coolest clients. I’ve been watching this company for a very long time and it’s a pleasure to have Rob on the podcast. Thanks for coming by. Maybe tell everyone how you had the idea for the company in the first place.
Rob: Sure. Scoop is a technology company that’s making carpooling work at scale. We’re really focused on the commute and how do you take what, for most people can the worst part of their day and something depletes you before you even get into the office, and actually turn that into meaningful time or something that feels like adds value or adds energy to your day. In some ways, it started back with my brother and I growing up. My brother is my co-founder and we grew up in Atlanta. When I was in high school, my high school was 25 miles away from where I lived and so when I was 16, I found myself driving 250 miles a week back and forth to school. For us, it was always more energy-related than financial actually in nature, what does it feel like to sit in traffic each way every day, stress about whether you’re gonna be where you need to be on time, energy level at the end of the day was a big part of our experience growing up. For quite a while I went to college in Philadelphia, never really thought about commuting. Lived in Manhattan for a while, would talk or take the subway, never really thought about it. I came to the Bay area in late 2013 and my brother, John, had already been out here. He was working at Google at the time and in this funny way it was like this reconnection with the experience of commuting growing up, where everybody I knew was driving an hour, or an hour and a half, or two hours each way. It was started as something that was familiar to us and then it became a real passion area as we learned about how it impacts peoples lives. That passion led to us starting to tinker a little bit and play with ideas that eventually became Scoop.
Scott: Yeah. I used to work … I mean that’s an amazing idea and I can totally relate to the passion or the energy suck that comes with commuting. I used to work at a venture capital fund and commuted down to Sand Hill road for nine years, from San Francisco to Menlo Park every day and it just absolutely killed me. You also don’t realize sometimes the toll it takes on you both physically and mentally, so it’s really cool that you’re addressing this. It’s probably also the only great thing that’s ever come from Atlanta traffic. Atlanta traffic is legendary, right? Like it’s really bad?
Rob: It gets worse every time I go back. I was just there for Thanksgiving and it’s worse. I think the Bay area probably gives it a run for its money, though.
Scott: Oh, really? Oh, God. So every time you back for Thanksgiving now, you can look at the traffic and be like this helped me start an awesome company.
Rob: Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you a funny story. When I was at Bain, I used to work with a company that was based in Herald Square in New York, a retail company and what the executives would say is anytime they were trying to think through a problem or their experience, they would go down and walk the floor because they would see customers interacting, shoppers and it would help them be inspired or give them ideas. It’s the same thing I tell my teams, any time you think about how important what we do is, go drive over the Bay Bridge at rush hour and tell me how you feel.
Scott: I’ve been stuck in that traffic a million times. I totally relate. Maybe talk a little bit more about the service and kind of … Cause there’s a corporate aspect to this that I think is super fascinating and a way for corporations to give back to their employee base that I love what you guys are doing there.
Rob: Sure. We partner, as a go-to-market, we partner with enterprises to bring Scoop to their employee base with the idea being that we really solve, quite often, two core challenges that enterprises are struggling with. One is on the real estate and facilities side and quite often relates to parking so if you are running out of parking spots, you’re thinking about making a massive investment in a new parking structure, you’re gonna have to move sites. That can be incredibly disruptive or expensive and so we’ll partner with large organizations to reduce vehicle trips back and forth. The other is all around employee base and experience, so how do you recruit folks that are coming from far away, how do you retain employees that have tough commutes, how do you move the needle on the fundamental energy level and productivity of your employee base on a day to day basis, those are the types of challenges or opportunities that we quite often will partner with large organizations on. What that looks like in practice is Scoop offers a manage carpool program for enterprises. You can think of it really in three pieces. One, how do you engage your employee base to get excited about carpooling, download the Scoop app, start scheduling trips? Two is how do you actually get people to take trips? Right? So facilitating matching people into carpools, the customer support, making sure nobody gets stuck, all of the things that are required to deliver a really great carpool experience. The third is an impact. How do you understand how many of your people are participating? How many trips do they take? What does that mean in terms of cars out of your parking lot, or carbon emissions reduced, or connections made across? We bundle those three things together into our manage carpool program and partner with enterprises on it.
Scott: Yeah. There’s so much in there. That’s amazing. One of the things we’ve … When we’ve experienced churn in the past it’s almost always … And we’re small. Your companies are like, what, Fortune 500? You have huge clients.
Rob: Generally they’re the largest employers within any given area.
Scott: Yeah so that’s a whole different bundle of wax but for us, a lot of the churn in our employee base is actually because of the commute cause people … I’m the one that’s sitting in these interviews, where I’ll be like “Are you sure you can do an hour commute? Are you sure you can do a 45 commute?” When it’s fresh and new, and they’re hungry to get a job, the answer’s always yes and they have this very determined look in their eye and in the back of my head I’m like “This is gonna be tough. This is gonna be really hard.” Three months later, they just can’t do the commute. I don’t blame them. It’s a huge impact on your quality of life. Have you guys put together studies or how do you articulate that to the corporate … Do they already know it’s a problem?
Rob: I think they implicitly know it’s a problem but we’ve started to be able to bring some data that I think really helps dimensionalize it. There’s some work that’s been done by organizations like Glass Door and for a long time it’s been known that the commute is one of the top five drivers of what will cause someone to take or to ultimately leave a job, so it’s already kind of understanding in that way. But we’ve done quite a bit of research, actually, with our enterprise partners on what Scoop does, how it impacts the commute. One of the crazy statistics that came out of it is that a third of commuters that were using Scoop said they were actually staying at their company longer because they were using Scoop and carpooling, cause it was fundamentally changing the experience they were having on a day to day basis.
Scott: That’s amazing. That’s so nice. Another thing you were talking about was educating the employee base and how to spread usage throughout the company. It seems like it would be a pretty viral thing internally in these companies but how do you encourage that or are you seeing that kind of virality where people are sitting at the lunch table together and they start talking about Scoop?
Rob: Sure. There’s a couple of pieces to it. I always think about it in two parts. One is you have to launch well. It’s important that day one people have a good carpooling experience cause what you don’t want to have happened is that some people will try and take a trip, they won’t be able to, they’ll leave the system, other people will then sign up and you never can quite get out of gravity, if that makes sense.
Scott: Yeah or they’re bad mouthing you even though they were the first one.
Rob: Right, that’s exactly right.
Scott: And not everyone’s as open-minded working with startups as we are. Anyone in the startup ecosystem knows how hard it is to be a startup so they’re very forgiving, whereas maybe the people at a Fortune 500 are maybe less forgiving.
Rob: I don’t think they’re less forgiving. I think it’s more that people have high expectations of what a first time user experience or first time customer experience should look like and so regardless of whether you’re a startup or you’re a large, established company delivering a product or a service, I think there’s a certain expectation that goes along with that. We invest quite aggressively against that. How do you create the right cadence of physical collateral and digital investment and people on the ground, so that day one you’ve got enough people signed up and excited, you can deliver a good experience? Then we’ll refresh that over time with different types of exciting marketing events. For example, quite often in the new year, we’ll do new year new commute type of events-
Scott: That’s cool.
Rob: Cause it’s a good time for people to think about it. Then it starts to take over quite a bit word of mouth. One of the interesting things about what we do is you know that there are a lot of people at your company, coworkers of yours that are commuting, obviously, but you don’t know who lives where. Right? It’s not so easy to refer somebody who’s on your exact route but once you get to enough penetration through an employer, it doesn’t really matter. You know that people are using it from all over the place, it just takes a little bit of work to get here.
Scott: And the app does the work for you because it’s being very optimized in who’s picking up who and things like that. Right?
Rob: That’s right. Think about Scoop from a product or an app experience, it’s trying to take all the things historically that made carpooling difficult and distill them down to the most basic, intuitive experience possible so people can take trips.
Scott: Yeah.
Rob: That includes each trip is booked one way at a time. Quite often people will go home with a different person they came to work with cause people’s schedule is changed day to day or changed during the day. When you want to take a trip with Scoop, you give us really basic inputs about a trip, so where are you coming from, where are you going to, what time do you want to go, you can be really specific like 7:00 AM or give a range, like 7:00-8:00 AM if you have more flexibility, and do you want to drive or ride. All you have to do is give us those inputs, it probably takes about two seconds to put it in. We run an algorithm that looks at the entire system and says what’s the most efficient way to get everyone from home to work, or work to home, on that particular trip and matches people up.
Scott: Yeah. I love that so much. I don’t want to be coming across overly enthusiastic but I love the idea. Before I joined Kruze consulting, I worked at a company I invested in, called media for six months and I was commuting from San Francisco to Oakland, or Berkeley, and I actually signed for like. I think it just validates everything you’re doing cause I didn’t care about the money, I just thought it would be cool to ride to work with a different person every day and get to know someone and not have just this boring 30 minutes of like dead time. And didn’t work. It doesn’t work for anything like that. I’m so glad that you guys actually built a dedicated app to actually do this. I mean, we have the benefit of knowing it’s working. We can see what’s going on with Scoop and it’s totally working. You guys have really good momentum. It’s almost like a testimonial here but you invented something that was in the back of my mind that I could never really articulate but you’re making it happen.
Rob: Well thank you. I think for us it’s really important to understand who do we focus on. Right?
Scott: Yeah.
Rob: What does the commuter look like? If you think about companies, you’re talking about Lyft and others, they were pioneers in this broader mobility space in terms of what does it mean for someone to get place to place but really focused on short distances. Right? If you’re going a mile within a city, for example, what does that look like? But to your point, especially experientially, if you’re going ten miles, or 20 miles, or 50 miles each way every day and you don’t live on a transit line, those are folks that drive alone cause that’s a tough commute and it’s a little bit different from a dynamic perspective. That’s really where we focus. How do you bring co-workers and neighbors together to share trips over that distance? And not hiring or contracting any drivers. We don’t own or lease any vehicles. It’s really a very community oriented experience anchored by employers.
Scott: That’s awesome. This is a crazy idea but have you done anything where you let people put their interests into the app? Cause it would be kind of fun for me to be able to ride with someone who was like a Golden State Warrior fan, cause I’m a Golden State Warrior fan, and talk about Kevin Durant and Steph Curry for half an hour. Is that too crazy or do people do stuff like that?
Rob: It’s not crazy at all. It’s something we’re investing quite heavily against right now. The way we’ve handled historically is people can pick favorites. So you can say “I really love going with this person. Whenever our schedule is matched, can you match us together?” You also can do the opposite, by the way, which is blocked somebody and we won’t tell that person you blocked them but you’ll never get matched with them in the future. There are interesting stories that emerge from that. We heard a story recently where there is a LinkedIn person who was involved with Sales Navigator, one of their tools, and actually got matched together with a customer of Sales Navigator and spent 45 minutes in the car basically doing an interview.
Scott: That’s awesome.
Rob: An experience. Right? And came back super energized with all of these ideas on product or sales and experience. That idea of that magic that you can create in the car, where you take this time that used to feel like wasted time and actually turn it into meaning because you make a friend, or because you can mentor at work, or a random experience, is actually super exciting to us and something that we’re gonna try and be more deliberate about from a product perspective as we grow over time.
Scott: That’s so cool. You talk about launching well, which I really like that. It’s always stuck with me, I had Lynn Perkins from UrbanSitter on this a long time ago and she always talked about they had a playbook. And this is something, by the way, UrbanSitter was in like 15 markets at the time, so they had … You guys, I think, are in two markets so maybe you can talk about the markets you’re in and the unique challenges but have you guys developed that sense of a playbook or how to go into a new market and how to launch well? Cause I think that’s … You’re opening my eyes to something. You only get one chance to make a first impression and it’s so important.
Rob: Yeah. That’s right. I think for us, and it’s obviously something that we are consistently refining and improving over time, everything always starts with our enterprise relationships. We always look for anchor or large employers within a new market that will help us launch well or have enough people, for example. If you take a step back, what are large enterprises and what does that go to market strategy provide? It really provides two things. Right? One is scale. They’re responsible or they have a lot of people going back and forth from the same area, which is foundationally important for carpooling to work. But the other half is trust. Right? You’re hearing about a solution through your employer and so you’re either going with a coworker or if it’s not a coworker it’s probably someone who lives in your neighborhood and works at a company like yours and so you see the fundamentally higher uptake. That’s important because if we’re launching in a new area and people aren’t familiar with Scoop or the brand, then that trust matters a lot. So always start with large employers and then have very clear math around the way we think about it, which is “Okay, how large does the employer or our initial launch partners need to be? If we do our marketing correctly, what do we do in terms of signups? From signups, how many of those people actually schedule trips, therefore how many can we fulfill?” We continue to refine that playbook over time and have a team at Scoop within market operations that are specifically dedicated just to executing that well.
Scott: Yeah. You probably have metrics now, where you’ve launched with enough big companies where you know that … I have no idea what the numbers are but on average it’s some percentage of uptake in the first six months and then it builds slowly, kind of like how internet service builds at word of mouth and people have good experience with it. Then there’s probably some … In past, I worked with companies like Angie’s List that was doing this is many different markets and they’d always talk about liquidity and getting that critical mass moment. Is there like a … Maybe this is like a celebratory moment. Was there a moment in the San Francisco market where you’re like “We nailed it. We got to liquidity. We got to critical mass.” Do you feel that?
Rob: For us, it really happens piece by piece. Right? I think one of the mistakes that is easy to make when you think about markets is for us, the Bay area is not one market. Right? The Bay area is actually a collection of different places where people work.
Scott: And that’s why the commuting is so severe here. Right?
Rob: That’s right.
Scott: Yeah.
Rob: If you take a step back, this is part of the challenge, I think, with carpooling and people who have tried to solve historically is that if you’re driving down the highway and you look to your left and there’s one person in the car, you look to your right, there’s one person in the car. Everybody with two eyes basically says “Oh, if I can put these people together, I’ll reduce the number of trips on this corridor, fewer people on the highway and life will be better.” But in reality is, we were talking about is the Bay area is a collection from the place people work, every place that people work. Take, for example, there are people driving in from all over the place. On each of those routes you have to balance interest in driving and riding and that’s just the math of putting people in a car, let alone the experiential elements we were talking about before, and so when you talk about how do you know it really works, we focus on how do you get to an ability to fulfill trips, that people can rely on Scoop in a consistent way. We feel like you have to build that employment area by employment area, piece by piece, to get here. As you do, you get to really exciting developments. One of the things that we’ve seen in the Bay area that supports that, for example, is we don’t just work with enterprises and office parks but we’ve even had whole cities and counties that are investing behind Scoop to reduce congestion or trips into and out of their areas.
Scott: That’s awesome.
Rob: San Mateo County, for example, has a million dollar through an organization called CCAG, the city and county association of governments, actually has a million dollar carpool fund where they actually invest to reduce the cost of all carpool rides and increase reimbursement to drivers to make it more attractive. When you combine those couple of pieces together, enterprises that help anchor different employment areas or office parks and then adding to that public support cause you’re solving core issues for them or improving core experiences, that’s when we know things are working and it gets really exciting.
Scott: Yeah. Have you had any of these big companies come to you and be like “Oh, Rob? We were gonna spend $500 million on a giant parking garage but we’re not going to anymore.”
Rob: Sure.
Scott: That must feel so good.
Rob: It feels great. You are delivering a better quality of life, a better fundamental experience for their employee base but by doing that, you are actually moving the needle significantly from an ROI perspective on their real estate and human capital investments and that feels really good. The equivalent of that on the commuter side is when you hear people say “We used to have two cars in our household but actually were able to move down to one because one of us drives with Scoop and the other is a rider and that works.” Right? Or “I didn’t end up buying a car.” Which is a huge investment for a household, right? “But I didn’t feel the need to do that because I actually could use Scoop to get back and forth.” When we can move the needle not just experientially but actually move something that comes from a financial perspective, it feels really good.
Scott: You’ve gotta feel so good about that cause it’s like allocation of assets if you worked at Bay and you probably think this way, like how to allocate assets more efficiently and get the best bang for your buck for people. They’re not buying a $20,000 to $40,000 car. That might enable them to put money in their kids’ college education account and all of sudden their kid can go to Stanford or Harvard, Yale, whatever it is because you’re getting compounding over 20 years instead of just investing it in these depreciating assets, which are cars.
Rob: Or live where you want to live. Right?
Scott: That’s a great point too. Yeah.
Rob: Which is another piece because if you think about the Bay area, one of the things that I’m personally very passionate about is that not just in the Bay area but across the United States historically, physical mobility is an incredibly huge indicator or driver of economic opportunity, which means the number of jobs you actually can access within your metro area has a huge impact on what your economic mobility is. In some ways it kind of links to the American dream in its’ core. Right?
Scott: Yeah.
Rob: If actually deferring that kind of investment means that you can live in a different place that gives you better access to different types of jobs that you might want, you’re changing the entire prospects for that person, and their life, and their family, and I think, for us, that’s something that we’re really passionate about.
Scott: 100% believe that because … And I hope this doesn’t come across like I know what we’re doing is very special and Rob you work with our team here and they’re all usually very young. We hire for very young, hungry people. Right? They go through this amazing metamorphosis over a couple of years where they just really learn accounting really well and we spend a ton of time training them. Right? It breaks my heart when some of the people who churned out are young and hungry and want to learn and they’re the exact kind of person that we wanted to but just kind of physically and emotionally, the commute was just too much for them. And to your point, maybe they couldn’t, for whatever reason, couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco because it’s so darn expensive or they couldn’t afford to live even in South San Francisco because that’s so expensive. You’re really freeing these people up to pursue the exact job they want and making where they live not a key ingredient in their decision making, which I totally respect that. That makes me really happy and excited for you. You’re in San Francisco and you’re in Seattle, any learnings from those markets or any high fives or like “Oh, man. Those Seattle people really love to do this.” Any friendly competition between the two markets?
Rob: Not really friendly competition. So the Bay area, and I say the Bay area versus San Francisco because in reality we actually invest and probably put a lot less emphasis into and out of San Francisco because there’s actually a better public transit access on a number of those corridors. A lot more of what we do is suburb to suburb or smaller city to smaller city, and so Bay area and the greater Seattle area both are big markets and we started Bay area, moved to Seattle. I think for us, one of the most interesting things, when we were younger as a company, was okay, well the second market’s a big deal. What does that look like?
Scott: Yeah. How’d you choose?
Rob: Well it was a combination of a couple things and I think this is not just a Scoop thing, this is probably applicable to a lot of different companies, there’s the math of what makes a good market and then there’s the practical opportunity that’s available to you. Right?
Scott: Yes.
Rob: For us, if you think about the math of it, you can kind of imagine what makes a good market for what we do in terms of size of employment, types of employers, people with dependency on driving versus transit, things like that but then the rubber hits the road with actual enterprise opportunities and so there were a few companies in the greater Seattle area that were really struggling with the commute or looking for opportunities to really differentiate from an employee experience perspective. We took a shot at it and made that our second market and it’s worked beautifully so far.
Scott: Wow. That’s awesome. The obvious, most car culture economy in the country has gotta be LA, so you guys gotta be looking at that, skirting that out.
Rob: We are certainly exploring.
Scott: Yeah. Yeah. I’m sure your boards asking you that every board meeting. There’s something you said early on, which I thought was really interesting, it kind of touches my personal life, which is you co-found this company with your brother. Of course, I work with Vanessa, my wife and it’s been this incredible journey for us. How has co-founding it … I feel like we have this extra level of understanding and even love and just friendship from doing this together and going to work every day, there’s definitely times when it’s hard but 99% of the time it’s way better. How has the experience gone with your brother and have you gotten to that point? What’s it like working with your brother?
Rob: Sure. Look, I think the most important thing in starting any company or venture, whatever it might be is that whoever you found the company with, you better believe that if the going gets tough, at the end of the day they’re always gonna act in your mutual best interest cause a lot of companies fail when there’s falling out between founders or some type of issue. Knowing my brother, obviously, quite a long time, I think our parents would probably kill us if anything we let business wise came between our personal relationship. At the end of the day, I just have deep implicit trust in him and that he’ll act in our best interest and I’ll act in our best interest and I think that’s foundationally important. The other half for us is that our backgrounds are so different.
Scott: Oh, good point.
Rob: I was at Bain & Company doing strategy consulting for a long time, was much more tuned toward concepts around the business model, and capital and things like that. My brother was a product manager at Google and so much more product oriented, engineering oriented, and so it created some natural splits. It also hurt that my brother is probably the smartest person I know and has the highest motor of anybody that I know and so he’s a pretty good person to team up with but all of those things together make it a lot easier.
Scott: We kind of found … I think this what you’re saying is, it took us a little while but we found our lanes to go into and it sounds like you guys have done that, maybe he’s more on the product and you’re more on the sales.
Rob: It’s ever evolving. Right?
Scott: Yeah.
Rob: I think what it means to have “Lanes” When you’re three people is different than ten people, is different than fifty people. You know? Will be different as you move forward and so if you can’t rest in that pursuit, you have to constantly be reevaluating, thinking about what’s best for the company as a scale and as long as you can have an open dialogue about that, it’s helpful. If that shuts down then you’ve got a whole bunch of other problems. Right? But I think it becomes important to continuously revisit.
Scott: Yeah. I totally agree. What may feel like a lane actually becomes so important to the company that you both need to work on it or maybe one of your lanes you start delegating to someone else because it’s less important and it’s less-
Rob: One of the things that we learned candidly along the way was that there are very few things that we should both work on. Right? And if both of us are working on it, it better be so important that if you get it wrong it’s gonna kill the company. Right? Versus otherwise it probably makes more sense for us to split energies and so we would keep track of how many meetings or types of things that we were both involved in because it was a pretty good barometer for whether we were using our time efficiently or not.
Scott: That’s an incredibly wise statement. We’re actually learning that right now. The last three months we’ve really started making a conscious effort but I think that’s applicable not just to family members running a company but the co-founders, even executive teams, if a task is requiring two people on your executive team, it better be important or someone’s not optimizing the way they should be optimized, so that’s an awesome statement. I’m the hugest fan. I’m glad to have finally met you. Maybe you can just kind of reiterate Scoop’s value and then I think there’s a lot of people who work at big companies, like Google, Apple, those kinds of places, if they want to get their company involved in Scoop, can you tell them where to reach out to you, how to find more information on Scoop?
Rob: Sure. Just to reiterate what we do, our focus is really on offering a dramatically improved commute experience for carpoolers or for commuters rather, by carpooling. We partner with large enterprises, office parks, even some cities and counties to bring Scoop as a mange carpool program to those employee populations, so if your employer is struggling with parking or wants to differentiate on employee experience, Scoop is pretty a pretty good fit for those types of organizations. You can find out more information about us on our website takescoop.com. The apps are also both available, both in the app store and the play stores, so download Scoop and check it out.
Scott: Awesome. It’s a fantastic service. Tons of momentum. Can’t wait to see where you guys go over the next couple of years. Thank you for coming on. Rob Sadow from Scoop. Check it out at takescoop.com. Alright man, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Rob: Thanks for having me

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