If you're a parent with children of a certain age, you likely live in your car, shuttling them to school and activities like soccer, advanced Mandarin, coding workshops, or ballet. But you can't just call an Uber or Lyft to whisk junior off to piano lessons, as both services require passengers to be 18 or older.
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In Los Angeles, three working moms were all too aware of these issues. Joanna McFarland, Carolyn Yashari Becher, and Janelle McGlothlin—who had eight children ages 5 to 14 who participated in 17 extracurricular activities between them—created HopSkipDrive, an on-demand ride service staffed by vetted "CareDrivers" who will take your kids home from school, to tutoring sessions, and more.
The offices have a typical startup vibe: lots of bright light pouring in through high windows, primary color signage, branded mugs in the kitchen, stickers and T-shirts in the supply rooms, and young people staring intently at large, shiny screens.
Then you spot the Live Ops team on the Madonna headsets at the far end of the main room. They look like improv actors (this is L.A.—many of them are), but they sound like air traffic controllers.
Check in CareDriver 80, Dora. We have a route clarification due to traffic on the I-405.
Please confirm Celeste has her school bag.
You're good to go.
HopSkipDrive dates back to 2013 when McFarland was at a kid's birthday party.
"All the moms were talking about how we were all really struggling to make it work—getting our children to their different schools and numerous after-school activities, and I joked that we should all pitch in, buy a van, and hire our various babysitters, stay-at-home moms, and nannies in the neighborhood to drive everyone around," she said.
"That's when we, along with our third co-founder Carolyn, started meeting on Sunday mornings to map out how this would work, while our kids played in the other room," McFarland said.
The trio weren't exactly amateurs; between them, they have a Stanford MBA, a BSC from Wharton, and a law degree from UCLA. They raised almost $4 million in seed funding and closed a $10 million Series A round earlier this year, with investment from several VCs including FirstMark Capital, Upfront Ventures, Greycroft, and Pritzker Group Venture Capital.
"Most of the VCs who funded us are parents themselves, and immediately saw not only the importance and value of this business, but its potential for scale," McFarland pointed out.
HopSkipDrive calls its drivers "CareDrivers"—they're all cleared to drive children and must have over five years of caregiving experience, which can include being a parent, not just professionals in the field. They also need to pass a rigorous 15-point certification, including fingerprinting, background criminal checks, a clean driving record, references, and inclusion on the TrustLine Registry.
HopSkipDrive has special insurance to cover children ages six and up. Parents can schedule rides on an as-needed basis and even book regular journeys a year in advance—like every Monday at 6 p.m. for a ride to the math tutor. Parents get a picture and profile of the confirmed CareDriver and can provide a secret codeword to their child.
"For example, with my son Jackson," said McFarland, "I can show him the profile of the driver and say, 'Hey, Jackson, your driver is Margie, she's an au pair, speaks French, and your codeword today is Pokemon.' Then, when Margie picks up Jackson from school, the administration know she's the authorized driver, she's wearing a HopSkipDrive orange T-shirt, her car has a decal, she reads the note from me inside the app with extra instructions, and she says, 'Hey, Jackson, I'm Margie and your codeword is Pokemon.'"
HopSkipDrive is currently operational in Los Angeles County, Orange County, and the San Francisco Bay Area, with plans for expansion outside of California in 2017.
Book a ride via the Android or iOS app. Fares are based on time and estimated mileage. In Los Angeles/Orange County, for example, a single family ride is $16 minimum. Prices go down if you carpool and add more families to the mix ($10 minimum for two families, $8 for three, and $7 for four). In the Bay Area, the single family minimum is $18 and it's $9 for three families.
Overseeing the operation is CTO and Harvard grad Sophy Lee. When she relocated to Silicon Valley, Lee did freelance back-end Web development for several tech companies before becoming VP of Engineering at a company similar to HopSkipDrive—Shuddle—which shut down last year due to lack of funds.
"Our most advanced algorithms are still all about serving safe, dependable rides for families and serving our mission to make the lives of busy families easier," Lee told PCMag. "For example, we're experimenting with identifying carpool patterns in certain areas and figuring out the best routes. We're also using predictive analysis, and tracking CareDriver performance in terms of safety, their Zendrive score, their ratings, and so on."
The company isn't releasing exact numbers yet, but McFarland said the firm has "thousands of families using HopSkipDrive now, [while] CareDrivers are doing tens of thousands of rides a month."
As we left the office, it was all quiet back on the Live Ops desk. It seemed everyone was safely picked up from after-school activities and finishing their vegetables before screen time. But you can be sure their school bags were packed, ready for HopSkipDrive's fleet of CareDrivers to do the school run in the morning.