This is another in an occasional series on small-business owners operating in San Luis Obispo County. If you have operated a small business for at least three to five years, please contact Julie Lynem at email@example.com or call 781-7932. Businesses will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Mark Shaffer is driven by a passion to help others get behind the wheel of a green car. As chief executive officer of FunRide, a car sharing service, Shaffer gives commuters, business owners and visitors an opportunity to rent an alternative fuel vehicle by the hour or day.
The idea for the car-sharing service was the result of Shaffer’s work with Ride-On Transportation, a nonprofit organization he founded in 1993 to improve transportation services in San Luis Obispo County. Ride-On was intended to help move people, many of them seniors or people with disabilities, around San Luis Obispo County.
When Shaffer went to conferences to learn about car sharing, he realized that even in a place where lots of people have their own cars and trucks, there’s still a benefit from such a service.
“People are not only saving money, but they’re using greener vehicles,” he said.
Shaffer recently shared his thoughts on FunRide and its future.
Q: What were the three most important ingredients to starting your business and why?
A: Researching the car-sharing industry and developing a new model that features exclusively green vehicles. Securing funding through an SBA loan and investors before beginning operations in July 2009, and a passion for promoting alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles to the members of FunRide.
Q: Explain the toughest challenge that you faced when you started. How did you overcome it?
A: The biggest challenge was to educate the public of the cost savings they can experience through car sharing. (I overcame it) through publicity and people seeing the vehicles driving around town; even people with cars are using FunRide.
Q: What is the single biggest priority for your company now?
A: Now that FunRide is a success in San Luis Obispo County, we are seeking investors and loans to expand into other communities in California to bring them car-sharing services. Usually car-sharing services are only available in large cities. FunRide is a car-sharing service that works in small- and medium-sized markets.
Q: What was your — or an employee’s — best idea that has increased sales, profitability or both? Explain why.
A: We received many calls from people who wanted to rent a vehicle on a one-time basis and did not want to join FunRide for regular use of the eight vehicles. We created a “Visitors” membership that is free for the first rental. We have people whose car is in the shop for a week using FunRide until their car is repaired.
Q: Where would you like to see your business in the next five to 10 years?
A: Over the past five years, we have learned how to make car-sharing a popular service with car rental by the hour or day. Members reserve the vehicles online and their fob lets them into the car. A fob is a plastic device with a computer chip inside that can go on a keychain. When you hold it over a pad on the windshield, it recognizes the driver and whether that driver has a reservation and records when he or she gets in and out of the vehicle. The vehicles are located throughout the community for easy 24-hour-a-day access. We want to bring FunRide to communities across the United States.
Q: How are you taking advantage of social media?
A: We are using social media with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Yelp. There are certain situations where we’ll have a vehicle in Morro Bay for the weekend, so we put that on Facebook, and a bunch of members are following and can see which are available. Sometimes we do special deals where you can rent for a whole day for $40 instead of the usual $69. The major thing is to let people know the specials we have and availability of vehicles.