“In the Studio,” Why Zimride’s John Zimmer Left Wall Street to Start a Company

Editor’s Note: TechCrunch columnist Semil Shah currently works at Votizen and is based in Palo Alto. You can follow him on Twitter @semil

“In the Studio” has a special segment this week, hosting a Valley entrepreneur who grew up on the East Coast, studied at an Ivy League school, was lured to Wall Street, and eventually decided to leave the pinstriped suits behind to start building his own startup, eventually finding his cofounder via Facebook, moonlighting as an entrepreneur after the markets closed in NYC, and is now helping run a venture-backed startup that’s making a real difference in the world.

John Zimmer grew up in a Connecticut suburb outside of New York City, worked hard and made his way to Cornell in upstate New York. In college, he was part of the University’s storied “Hotel Management School,” taking a specific interest in real estate finance which eventually led him to the real estate finance group of a major New York investment bank. Zimmer felt that the culture around his high school and in parts of college put the lure of investment banking in his sights, but after some time, he developed an itch to try something new despite the chorus around him.

Ultimately, he was connected to his current co-founder, Logan Green, on Facebook through a mutual friend, and they bonded over a love for transportation and a desire to use technology to help provide more efficient means of getting around. While working on Wall Street during the day, Zimmer retired to his Manhattan apartment at night and starting communicating with Green about what would eventually become Zimride, a car-sharing startup based in San Francisco that recently raised $6m in Series A funding and is growing quite nicely, with over 350,000 users and partnerships with companies like Zipcar.

Zimmer decided to leave his job, used Zimride to drive cross-country to California, and continued working on the company, now full-time. Today, Zimride has built a network of 125 universities and colleges nationwide, as well as two public routes (SF to LA, SF to Tahoe) where the public often wonders why there isn’t high-speed rail already. Zimmer points out that high-speed rail is many years off, and in the meantime, Zimride provides a much needed service by using social graphs to help correct inefficiencies in open-seats along popular routes. The service has also had interesting network effects, as a few couples have met by sharing rides and two people who met each other through a shared Zimride actually founded a company together — of course!

I invited Zimmer into the studio to talk about the founding and future of Zimride, as I have an interest in how social technologies can be leveraged to augment the transportation options we have before us, but also because his experience of pursuing a path in investment banking on Wall Street is one that many college-aged kids consider at some point. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with taking that route,  as its far too easy  to pile on these days. For some, it’s a great path. But for others, their choices are, in part, molded by what they see around them, either in school or culturally from an early age. My hope in taping and broadcasting this segment is that Zimmer’s story will reach others at universities nationwide currently facing this choice or who are already in another industry, but want to try their hands at something more entrepreneurial. Zimmer’s transition wasn’t entirely smooth, but he did start noodling on his idea while keeping his day job, and when the time was right, he made his move.