For Drummond Gilbert, it all started with Richard Branson. Gilbert, the founder and CEO of GoCarShare, a website that hooks car owners up with passengers to share rides with, was just 18 when he read the serial British entrepreneur’s biography. He remembers feeling inspired and excited by Branson’s tales of making money. “It was the thing about creating something out of nothing and having a huge impact,” says the 34-year-old former accountant, who has hitched a ride on the sharing economy via two of the the British tycoon’s business interests: music and travel.
Before GoCarShare, however, Gilbert’s first foray into the music business wasn’t so auspicious. “I remember buying lots of Oasis albums and selling them to people at school,” he says. “My idea was to buy them from the wholesaler and sell them cheaper to my friends, but I didn’t realize you had to pay VAT on top of the wholesale price. The album was a complete flop [and] I ended up either flogging the ones I didn’t sell to an online auction site or exchanging them at a record store.”
Launched in 2010 as a website, (the business really took off during 2011 festival season) GoCarShare is now used by students, and sports and music fans–one of its superusers is a 60-something woman who uses it to get to the remote theaters up in the Scottish Highlands. The firm even has its first corporate client, mobile provider O2, which uses a closed version of the site to organize car sharing for its 3,000 head office employees. The idea had come to Gilbert as he audited his way through his accountancy firm’s small- and medium-sized clients. “It wasn’t originally GoCarShare,” he says, “it was just an idea about matching people to cars and reducing waste and creating something out of nothing. Creating connections, and using online to create offline connections.”
This is the first year that the company is focusing on mobile, and Gilbert and his team of four, plus a tech team based in Slovenia, are using location tech and third-party prediction software to send users push notifications based on their journey patterns. “The problem for us is that lots of car journeys are quite spontaneous, so what we’re looking at is how people will be traveling, seeing trends and then trying to make recommendations. That gives us the basis to take it to a much bigger level.” At the Transportation for Future Generations conference in London last week, Gilbert cited German website Moovel, which incorporates car-share and bike-hire options into its pan-European travel planner, as a direction in which the online travel industry could be moving.
Gilbert’s creativity–he attributes that to the influence of his artist mother–gets full rein on GoCarShare’s marketing ideas. Last year several bands used the car share to get to their festivals: The results were put on YouTube. And this year, the idea is GoKaraoke. Each week, car sharers will be urged to share videos of them singing a song chosen by GoCarShare in the hope of winning festival tickets and goodies, and a weekly edit will be made of all the versions.
The message that the 34-year-old wants to get out is simple: Using the service is fun. “Everyone who can do GoCarShare has got to be interested in it, but our biggest problem is awareness—most people don’t know what car sharing is. It’s persuading people that it’s not a stupid and ridiculous thing to do, so if you can make it fun and humanize it, and show potential users the people who are using it.” Last year, Gilbert hitched a ride down to Glastonbury with the makeup artist for Downton Abbey.
Despite the social side to it, GoCarShare is, essentially, a logistics business–and in order for that to run smoothly, a lot of grunt work is needed, which Gilbert says can be a “nightmare.” At many of the festivals, GoCarShare drivers get preferential parking–a no-brainer perk that is good for the festival organizers (less on-site vehicles), good for the planet (less fuel emissions) and the festivalgoers (less distance to struggle with a heavy pack). “It’s a bit more time-consuming than it sounds, and there is quite a lot of manual work. We physically send out bumper stickers in the post and manually generated codes to eligible people,” although he adds that at one festival a few years back the car-park marshals hadn’t been briefed as to where the priority car park actually was.
Gilbert’s professional background may be the polar opposite to his startup, but those three years of auditing have stood him in good stead to following his dream. “A senior guy at eBay said to me that a lot of people who do well at things like this are quite disruptive, they want to kind of change things, change the world, then they start doing it and what they realize they need are processes, so that was what I learnt.”
Finally, as a hobbyist, what would Gilbert’s advice be to someone who is following their passion? “It’s probably different advice to what I’ve actually done,” he laughs. “I spent too much time planning what I was going to do and writing a business plan. The key thing is to find other people with complementary skill sets to you who you trust and it’s easier to do that at the beginning. Also, it’s more exciting for the other people if they’re involved right from the beginning.”