As Uber continues to extend is well-funded tentacles into ever-more categories of transportation, a startup focusing on children and elderly people has raised some money of its own to compete. Shuddle, a car service and app founded one of the co-founders of Sidecar and aiming its service on minors and seniors, is today announcing a Series A round of $9.6 million led by RRE Ventures.
Existing investors Comcast Ventures, Forerunner Ventures, Accel Partners and angels also chipped in. The total amount raised by Shuddle is now $12 million.
CEO and founder Nick Allen (who left Sidecar in 2013) tells me that the funding will be used to expand the company’s business both in the Bay Area — its only market since coming out of beta in October 2014 — as well as into new markets.
“We are at capacity for the service today,” he says. “We are adding new drivers every week and we have grown five times in ride volume since coming out of beta.” He says new cities will be announced in the next couple of months. The service now has some 200 drivers on is books.
Shuddle sets itself apart from services like Uber in a couple of different ways: In addition to specialised insurance specifically designed for minor and elderly passengers and drivers that need to drive and accompany them outside of the car (more on that below), Shuddle makes people go through extra training and two different sets of background and reference checks before they can become drivers on the platform.
Right now the “vast majority” of its 200 drivers are only women, he says. And this in itself makes Shuddle a notable and often welcome alternative.
“Women have been largely excluded as drivers by other services because the experience can be unsafe,” he says. “They don’t know who they are picking up or where they are going. Women are attracted to our value proposition. These drives are in the daytime, you know it’s someone who isn’t threatening. It really is different and women are responding to this.”
He says that people who are signing up to drive on the Shuddle service include teachers and nannies “who are doing this kind of thing anyway so this fits into the routine.”
On top of this, there are differences in how the service presents itself to customers. To use Shuddle you need to pay a $9 membership fee each month to cover things like driver training and screening. Allen says that the per-ride fee is typically 15% more expensive than UberX “to compensate drivers for extra training.”
And while services like Lyft and Uber have built their credibility on being on-demand, Shuddle typically books for rides between 24 hours and one week in advance.
No plans yet to add on-demand into the mix, he says, because of the nature of what Shuddle does, which can include not just collecting passengers, but physically going into schools or other places to sign them in or out. But one thing they are looking at is a carpooling-style service, which is handy considering this is one way that parents today typically work around endless ferrying obligations.
All the same, Shuddle competes directly with the likes of Uber to drive kids and elderly people from points A to B — services like Uber and Lyft are already used in this way, and Allen tells me in fact that he came up with the idea for Shuddle when he was still at Sidecar.
“I saw parents using sidecar in LA for the purpose of driving their kids around, but we didn’t have the right insurance and the service just wasn’t built for that,” he says. “But I started talking to parents and they really emphasized how much of a pain point this was.” Indeed, as a parent myself that has to juggle work and small kids with activities every day of the week — I can attest to this first hand.
It’s the extra attention that attracted the extra investment.
“Nearly every parent struggles with getting their kid(s) from point A to point B because they often need to be in two places at once. Shuddle solves this problem,” said Steve Schlafman, Principal at RRE Ventures, in a statement. “RRE Ventures is incredibly excited to partner with Shuddle to bring safe, reliable and trustworthy transportation to millions of families across America.” The VC has funded other e-commerce marketplaces aimed at specific verticals before, including Bark & Co.