Once, on a brisk autumn night months and months ago, I went for a run around a park and promptly lost my car keys in the dark. The next hour was spent Googling local tow services and hoping that my phone’s battery wouldn’t die. The hour after that was spent sitting at a picnic table under an ancient oak tree trying to keep warm.
If only Tow Choice existed back then. I met with co-founders Dave Kozuki and Robert Cheng at Disrupt SF’s Startup Alley, where the jovial pair expressed their desire to build an Uber for tow trucks to better serve motorists in need.
Despite invoking Uber’s name, there are a few thoughtful differences that make plenty of sense given the sorts of situations users are likely to find themselves in. There’s no native app to download for one, since it’s sort of silly to force stranded drivers to deal with some protracted onboarding process. Instead, everything runs in an HTML5 web app that lets users plot there positions on a map and send out a distress signal to tow drivers within a pre-determined radius.
Those tow drivers do have to download and install a native mobile app, but once they’re within range of a stranded driver they’ll respond to that and provide two things — their ETA to the car’s location and a quick price quote. They’ve only got a limited amount of time to get their offers in, and once that window is closed, users can choose the offer that best suits them. To keep the process as simple (and as uncontentious as possible), all payments are handled right up front and Tow Choice takes a 20 percent cut from each of those transactions.
To be completely honest, I’m getting to be really tired of the whole “[startup name] is the [more established startup name] of [industry]” schtick but I won’t begrudge these guys since I’m basically smitten with this idea. While popular services like AAA serve over 50 million customers in the United States and Canada, that still leaves a considerable chunk of people who could stand to benefit from a simpler, more consumer-friendly way of flagging down nearby tow trucks.
Of course, a clever idea does not an overnight hit make. Tow Choice has already facilitated more than 500 tow referrals in the team’s native Oahu, but the big money will come when the team manages to build out local networks of tow operators as it expands into new markets. For now though, the team is taking the slow and steady approach — Kozuki and Cheng plan to bring the service to Portland, Ore., in the coming weeks, and we’ll have to see how things proceed from there.