Carpooling touts the greener and more sociable option for travelNewsBy Kevin May | September 29, 2011Share This article was originally published on TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring Germany-based Carpooling, a Europe-wide car-sharing service for travellers.Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?Carpooling is a ride-sharing platform that connects people who want to share their rides. It is the largest carpooling network in Europe.Stefan Weber, Matthias Siedler and Michael Reinicke are the three co-founders of carpooling.com. They met as MBA students at the University of Würzburg in Germany and established the site mitfahrgelegenheit.de in 2001 (the original carpooling platform for Germany).What began as a simple student project, however, soon became incredibly popular. The founders had to quit their “real” jobs in 2008 to maintain the system. By 2010, they were ready to expand internationally and Carpooling was born in 2011.The company is headquartered in Munich, Germany. The team is now comprised of 25 people who speak 12 different languages.What financial support did you have to launch the business?Initially, we had no financial support and had to invest our own money and spare time in the project while we had to hold down regular fulltime jobs. As the popularity of our platform grew, however, we were able to grow the profitability of our business through key partnerships, premium service and advertising.It wasn’t until 2009, when we were approached by a venture capital investment group called Earlybird, that we received any financial support.What problem are you trying to solve?Carpooling enables anyone with limited budget to go from A to B and provides a great transportation alternative in case of strikes or when trains or flights are full or cancelled.Sharing cars is an ecological way to travel, as it reduces traffic and pollution. It also promotes solidarity and social link within communities.Carpooling addresses the problems of rising transportation and petrol costs, traffic congestion and concerns about carbon emissions.Describe the business, core products and services?Carpooling is a platform available in seven languages, which enables you to travel in 5,000 cities and 45 countries in Europe.With a few clicks, drivers can offer available seats in their car and passengers can book a ride. The concept is simple: sharing a car enables both passengers and drivers to save money. Fuller cars also mean emptier streets, less traffic and less CO2 so everybody wins.Mobile applications (ie. iPhone and Android) give you access on the road so you never get stuck anywhere. You can also decide to access the service from a social network (through our Facebook app.).You can ride the way you choose to: pick the driver or passenger you want to travel with (e.g. only top rated users, non smokers, women-only), how much space and comfort you need, where you want to meet and what you are willing to pay.Rides can be booked and paid online and ratings are shown in the user’s profile to increase the security and reliability of rides.We also offer selected rides in train, bus and planes.Who are your key customers and users at launch?At first, German students were our key customers. Today carpooling is becoming a popular transportation alternative for both drivers and passengers and our users come from all countries, backgrounds and age groups.Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?Carpooling was not a new idea and was already popular in Germany. Local mitfahrzentrale agencies were matching drivers and passengers for a fee. The internet enabled us to make the service free and accessible to all. The power of the word of mouth made it an instant success.What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?Our business model is based on paid advertising, premium service, value-added services such as online booking as well as revenue sharing deals with transportation and other corporate companies.We also sell white label solutions for companies, cities and communities.SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?Strengths: Already number one in Europe, performing and secure website, technically ready to go global, balanced business model, and highly motivated International team. Every employee at Carpooling is committed to offer a new, sustainable transport alternative to all. Weaknesses: So many benefits to travel by carpooling, no significant weaknesses. Opportunities: Further expansion. Carpooling provides answers to two great challenges of today’s life: ecological (carbon is saved each time you share a car) and economical (driver and passenger can both reduce transport budget in times of crisis). Threats: Governments and local communities not promoting peer-to-peer ride sharing as an efficient public transportation.Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?We started the site as a student project and no one told us that the idea was not going to be successful.What is your success metric 12 months from now?Our success metric is always our users and the number of rides available to travellers.Are they happy, are they continuing to find the site useful, are they growing in number, are they booking rides, are they using our premium features and partner services? Twelve months from now, we hope to have even more users in even more countries. NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.