How this app is providing community mobility solutions and personal parenting options
This 12-part series highlights women-led ventures in the green economy.
It’s 7 a.m., and you have to get ready for work, get the kids ready for school and drive them there. You had wished that your school-goers simply could take the bus, but their school is one of over 50,000 in the United States that does not offer bus services. The daily drive to and from school takes you over 45 minutes — that’s 30 hours a month. And you’re not alone: With more than 30 million parents driving their kids to school every day, an estimated $90 billion is lost in productivity time for parents in the United States alone. Numbers vary, but it is assumed that at least 20 percent of road traffic during the morning hours is caused by parents driving their kids to school.
But one company is on a mission to change this — GoKid.
Stefanie Lemcke, a media executive turned technology innovation consultant, used to walk her kids to school. But when she moved to the suburbs of New York City with her family, she joined the unenviable ranks of driving (and full-time working) parents. She was often in meetings when her kids required a pick-up from activities, and she found the coordination with other parents for carpooling stressful. Lemcke thought, "Why has no one created a carpooling app that worked similar to Lyft, but for parents to share the rides?" So, like so many founders, she started to build an app on the side. When GoKid was accepted into Techstars, Lemcke decided to dedicate all of her time to GoKid’s success.
GoKid is a mobile application and software as a service (SaaS) solution that serves both parents and schools. The sign-up process involves four basics steps: setting up a family account including parents, children and residential details; creating a carpool with location and time specifications; inviting families to join the carpool; and signing up to drive carpools. GoKid employs a multi-sided market model. On the direct to customer side, there is a freemium model where parents receive free access to a base package and pay for premium features such as messaging, notification settings and calendar integration. On the school side, there is a partner channel model, where schools and organizations use GoKid as a SaaS for an annual subscription fee. Currently, GoKid mostly works with independent and charter schools without bus services.
To date, GoKid has scheduled over 200,000 rides, saved over 3 million miles of driving and reduced over 1,450 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. GoKid also helps to reduce urban air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds. According to Project Drawdown, if ridesharing rises from 10 percent of car commuters in 2015 to 15 percent by 2050, and from an average of 2.3 to 2.5 people per carpool, ridesharing can reduce emissions by 0.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide at zero implementation cost by 2050.
I met Lemcke in Boston, where she walked through the challenges of building a company. "I have two kids and tested the product in my own life as the user," Lemcke noted. She lamented about how most venture capital firms that she spoke with were mostly run by men who did not understand the problem. "They just hadn’t experienced this carpooling problem of the 99 percent," Lemcke explained, "and that was an initial barrier to fundraising."
Women tend to disproportionately share the load of driving kids to school. And many tech investors in their 20s or even 30’s do not have kids. Lemcke received over 60 nos before she met the first investor who believed in her business, but she didn’t let that deter her. She persevered, bootstrapped and went after the "parent market" that she knew well from her home experience and her time working in media at Disney.
Today, GoKid’s investors include Jaguar Land Rovers’ investment arm InMotion, Deutsche Bahn Digital Venturs, Techstars, KI Group, Village Capital and a number of family offices and angel investors.
Composed of a team of 10, GoKid’s staff is focused on product development, coding and partnership development. In the future, it will become more of a sales and marketing company, and will need to hire for that skill set. "We are highly organized since we work as a distributed team," Lemcke explained. "We hold our daily standups at 8 a.m. Eastern Time to accommodate various time zones, and we always communicate on Slack and Skype." GoKid uses Angel List, its investor network and its monthly company newsletter to find new talent. Lemcke describes the company culture as "very open and inclusive," where over-communication is a value and everyone is excited about the impact on the planet and on families.
GoKid’s next challenge is to keep up with the growth and launch the technology in cars. Without any paid marketing campaigns, GoKid is already in use in 25 countries across 650 cities. As Lemcke puts it, "We fit into many categories — we are a productivity tool for parents; we are a mobility solution reducing carbon emissions." This dual-angle to their value is attractive to investors, who see different paths to uptake depending on the preferences of the customers. I also see this duality as helpful for implementing and scaling environmental solutions; planetary health never exists in isolation, and the more sustainability entrepreneurs can make the connections to social and economic health, the more adoption will take place of their solution.
When asked about her leadership approach, Lemcke describes herself as "trusting, open to criticism and a little impatient." That impatience when coupled with perseverance is what I’ve observed to be important strengths on any entrepreneurial journey. And GoKid is well on its way.