Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wonderful Conversation with Robin Chase, Cofounder of Zipcar, Thanks to the Isenberg School

The Isenberg School of Management started this year a great speaker series, which takes place at the UMass Club in downtown Boston.

Last Fall, the inaugural lecture was given by Steve Wozniak, the cofounder of Apple, and I blogged after this event.

This evening, the speaker was Robin Chase, an entrepreneur and cofounder of Zipcar, who, as she said, has become a real transportation wonk. Given that I teach a course on Transportation and Logistics and have also done a lot of research in this field, it was a fantastic opportunity to hear from her.

She was introduced by our Associate Dean, Professor Tom Moliterno, and Asma Khalid from Boston's NPR station, WBUR,  was the interviewer.

Robin has a degree from Wellesley College and an MBA from Stanford.

She took us back to 2000, when she cofounded Zipcar, and knew very soon that it would be very successful, so her husband left his day job and became a full-time parent for their three children, ages 6, 9, and 12 then.

Zipcar, according to her, was the third consumer product with wireless.

She emphasized the importance of origins and destinations  for trips as well as the types of different trips that people take in cars. She believes that Uber and Lyft could not have raised a penny if we didn't have Zipcar. Although there may be some cannibalization, Zipcar users use this service for different trips than those who utilize Uber and Lyft. She called them taxis and finds them to be complementary to Zipcar.

She also talked about Buzzcar, which she founded and which has been successful in France. It is a peer to peer car sharing service. She tried to get insurance for it in the US without any success and after 5 years gave up but managed to secure insurance in France within a year. I appreciated very much that she advised that one should not break rules on health and safety as a company. Four years ago she co-founded Venium, which provides low cost, reliable connectivity in vehicles and uses radio technology. She believes that Venium will be bigger than Zipcar.

Some of the conversation focused on whether  there is a place for car ownership in the US in the future. She believes that private cars will be excluded in dense cities in the US by 2030 and that this will happen in Europe and parts of Asia much sooner. She envisions the increase in land as providing space for bicycles, more greenspace, more low income housing, and cleaner air as well. Why spend $9K per year for a car if transport can cost you only $3K.

I liked her statement that "people will follow the economics."

She was very honest and sincere and spoke of the failure of her startup Goloco, which received $2 million in funding in 2009 and then she had to give back half of the funding two years later. People in the US just did not like sharing rides. She also emphasized the importance of a critical mass and mentioned that BlaBlaCar has been successful.

She believes that we will have use of self-driving cars by 2020-2021 because of automation in the car sector. Of course, there will be impact on truck drivers and bus drivers as well as insurance companies. With 35,000 people dying in traffic accidents last year in the US autonomous vehicles can improve safety.

She also noted that the single biggest barrier to alleviating poverty is access to quality transportation Clearly, car ownership of the future will differ for those residing in dense urban areas and those living in suburbia.

We are now in a platform economy and there is a political opportunity to do better than we have done in the past.

The Q&A were excellent an I especially appreciate the question about cybersecurity and autonomous vehicles since we have published several papers on cybersecurity and cybersecurity investments and network vulnerability.

The Isenberg School livestreamed this event, which had not been done for the Wozniak evening.

Many thanks to Robin Chase for a fascinating conversation and to Asma Khalid for keeping the conversation flowing so well.