To strike it rich, all you need is a great idea and maybe a couple of brilliant minds. Three teens who only made it to their campus preview weekend, decided not to attend their Ivy League schools, and instead, start a risky business called FlightCar. The concept is relatively simple: Instead of leaving your car in an airport parking lot, you can drop it off at FlightCar, a place that you can rent your car out, and have someone else drive it while you are away. A concept that seems shaky, may just be the next biggest thing. After all, the sharing economy is becoming more popular thanks to companies like Vayala and Airbnb where people rent their homes to strangers when they are away for long periods of time.
Rujul Zaparde, 18, is a classics scholar who got accepted to Harvard. But why pay $40,000 a year for a BA, when you have a genius business idea Along with Zaparde, Kevin Petrovic and Shri Ganeshram, both 19, helped launch the promising company. Petrovic is an acclaimed pianist who turned down Princeton, and Ganeshram didn’t even graduate high school before heading off to the Missouri Institute of Technology.
Zaparde saw Cincinnati as the city to launch FlightCar. He said that the Brandery in the Queen City helped the company tremendously. “They’re very hands-on, and if it weren’t for their help, I don’t think we would have started FlightCar, or would have done well,” says Zaparde. Even though the service isn’t yet available in Cincinnati, the city has helped Zaparde and his partners with their logo and brand. “Before coming to The Brandery,” says Zaparde, “we literally had no brand. Even our logo looked like a car with a shark fin sticking out of it. It was terrible.”
So how did they come up with an idea? Well, at the top 30 airports in the country, 360,000 cars were just sitting in their parking lot while 120,000 cars were being rented at these same airports. This doesn’t seem very efficient, which is why Zaparde, Petrovic and Ganeshram came up with an incredible solution.
These three teenagers officially launched the first FlightCar out of a small, green shack in the parking lot of the San Francisco International Airport. When the company rents out people’s cars while they are traveling, they give them a free car wash, free airport parking and a share of the proceeds. Starting at just $24 a day, FlightCar is already half the price of most airport parking lots. The question becomes, why pay for airport parking when you can make a profit by someone else renting your car while you are gone? When you return from your trip, there is a number for you to call. A black car will come pick you up to take you to your car, and if your car was rented, they will even hand you a check.
With 150 cars on the road at any given time, FlightCar is also in Boston’s Logan Airport. In a year’s time these three teens have come a long way, but Ganeshram isn’t concerned about how fast the company gets profitable. “It’s more about how fast we can make this company big,” says Ganeshram.
But money doesn’t seem to be of concern to them when they have already raised $6 million in venture money from Andreessen Horowitz, First Round Capital, General Catalyst Partners and Airbnb co-founder, Brian Chesky. American Idol host, Ryan Seacrest has also cashed in on the business idea. “He just loved the concept and we’re very obviously happy to have him on board,” says Zaparde.
But with every booming business, there are bumps to get over. San Francisco city and airport officials say the company is undercutting rental car companies at the airport. FlightCar operates as a rental company, but seems to ignore the regulations that govern them. The airport is trying to shut down their business if they don’t comply with regulations that include, conducting pick-ups and drop-offs at a special area, paying 10 percent of gross profits to the airport and paying a $20 per rental transaction.
Zaparde doesn’t seem too concerned by this lawsuit and is hopeful for the future of his company. “There are three companies — Enterprise Global, Avis Budget Group, and Hertz — that control the vast majority of this market, and they’ve been doing it the same way for decades. We have a new, more efficient model that’s disrupting this industry … so we only expect to face opposition,” Zaparde says.
Regardless of the conflict, FlightCar seems extremely promising, and is expected to make profits by next year. All cars are fully insured for mechanical damage, dents or dings caused by the renter.
Walter French, an Oakland resident, has used FlightCar half a dozen times and is quite impressed. French says he’s not worried about the damage of his car and trusts the company. After all, all rentals are insured with a comprehensive $1 million policy that protects both owners and renters. The owner is also protected with collision and theft coverage.
With free airport parking, a car wash, free insurance and the opportunity to make a profit, it’s a no brainer that FlightCar will expand to cities across the nation in the next couple of years. Only time will tell, but we will be watching as the company continues to succeed.
Watch their pitch below. It’s engaging, informative and full of confidence.