Sidecar was one of the first startups out of the gate in the world of ridesharing, but it never really managed to carve out a niche. It had a unique system for picking up riders, but overall offered a similar experience as its competitors–and most riders would just as soon grab a ride from Lyft and its pink fuzzy car-staches or Uber, which is probably the most well-known of the services.
This week, Sidecar announced that it’s making a big move to distinguish itself from the pack, with a new marketplace model that allows drivers to set their own prices and riders to select nearby drivers based on price, user ratings, and their distance. Both Uber and Lyft (and formerly Sidecar) make the choice of a driver on behalf of riders, based on distance alone. Now, armed with $10 million in a funding round led by Union Square Ventures, Sidecar has rolled out the new model to all of its customers.
Fred Wilson, a principal at Union Square, explained the investment on his blog:
When Sunil Paul, Sidecar’s founder and CEO, laid this out for me and my partners last summer, I immediately thought of Etsy vs Amazon. I use Amazon all the time. It’s a great service. I get the lowest price, quick delivery, and confidence. That’s the Uber model. But I also use Etsy all the time. At Etsy, I get something unique and personal. I get to buy directly from the seller. I get to have a conversation with them. I can favorite/follow them and get notified whenever they post new stuff.
Amazon is efficient and Etsy is personal. There is room for both of them to build big businesses in e-commerce. Uber is efficient and Sidecar is personal. And we believe that there is room for both of them to build big businesses in mobile transportation.
It’s true: nobody uses Uber because it’s friendly and personal. Now the question becomes whether people want so much micro-control of their drivers. I did a search on the new Sidecar for drivers who could take me from my home to downtown San Francisco and came up with 11 options, many of whom were extremely close by, charged similar amounts of money, and had top-notch ratings. The selection process could quickly get complicated, offering a little too much choice for drivers who want to get from A to B. On the other hand, people do sometimes have specific preferences (women might prefer to ride with female drivers, for example), and in places where Sidecar has tested the new service, it has seen a 50% uptick in both the number of riders asking for rides and drivers offering their services.
Sidecar may never overtake Uber, but at least it may have found a new, distinct niche.