Big bus companies better watch out, because the tech industry now seems to have them squarely in their sights.

It was only a matter of time before the same forces that brought competition to the taxi industry turned their attention to the bus business. And now, what Uber and Lyft have done for ride-sharing inside cities and towns across America, startups like Skedaddle want to do for ride-sharing across America.

Launched by a clutch of east coast entrepreneurs led by Adam Nestler, his brother Craig, Brad Werntz and Lou Harwood, Skedaddle began two years ago as a way to bring millennials onto the festival express.

The idea initially was to tap into the demand from folks looking for a way out of their blasted urban hellscapes and out into the world of the weekender.

It’s a world filled with music festivals, art festivals, ski weekends, beach weekends and all the other thousand pleasures that kids packed five-a-person into one-bedroom lofts in posh (or not-so-posh)  or hipster (and not-so-hipster) neighborhoods dotting the Eastern seaboard can never experience in their commuter train/bus/light-rail and Lyft-or-Uber bound existence.

“Every time we wanted to leave the city, it was expensive,” said Adam Nestler. “We had to rent a car and it was a pain in the butt or it was expensive. We wanted to touch a button on our phone and ride with others traveling in the same direction.”

And so Skedaddle was born. Initially begun as a website, the company is transitioning to an app-only business (aided with a new $2.1 million round of funding from investors led by Arena Ventures).

Users can think of Skedaddle as a Lyft line or Uber pool for either a public or private weekend getaway.

Initially someone planning a public trip can post their route on the app (in a bid to encourage user adoption, the person who plans the trip rides for free), and then enlists at least 9 other people to come along (at a discounted rate). Once a group of 10 is booked, the ride will happen and anyone else can come along. The chartered rides max out at 54 seats per trip.

Private trips can be scheduled for any number of people, and Nestler says the bulk of the company’s business is coming from public trips.

“As we grow density and users in each city… this becomes as reliable as a schedule without a schedule,” Nestler said.

Idle Buses Are An Entrepreneurs Plaything

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Jeremy Noble

According to Nestler, there are roughly 4,000 charter bus companies in the U.S. that own between two and ten buses each. These companies tend to book one-off engagements in an incredibly fragmented market, which means there’s a lot of downtime and stranded buses.

Each bus asset sits idle 75% of its life.

— Adam Nestler, Skedaddle co-founder

“Each bus asset sits idle 75% of its life,” Nestler said.

From its experience building out a database of all of these private charter companies, Skedaddle now has a nationwide network it can pull from. The company is also trying to find ways to upgrade these fleets and look at making these buses electrified and autonomous or semi-autonomous, Nestler said.

“What’s interesting is that self-driving technology in cars is the most complicated because you’re dealing with the most variables,” according to Nestler. Meanwhile, his short-haul bus trips (or even longer haul bus trips) are akin to a truck route — primarily a single lane on a highway. That means fewer roadblocks to making semi-autonomous or autonomous bus fleets a potentiality.

“We’re trying to lead that charge,” Nestler said.

Car ownership is declining and with the advent of autonomous vehicles, Nestler and his team believe that there will be a generation that grows up not owning cars. That same generation will still be looking for a way to get out of the increasingly urban environments where they’re choosing to live (at least… that’s their theory too).

The Wheel for Different Event Hubs

Music-Festival (1)

Skedaddle began its business with the short-haul trips from cities to the far flung venues where summer concerts, festivals and sporting events tend to live.

“We want the app to become a place for new events and new destinations,” said Nestler. “Uber was you’re in the black car you feel cool and you have this premium nightlife experience. [Skedaddle] becomes this amazing human experience where people are connecting on the bus and after the bus and we can create a big consumer brand around that.”

This is all part of a phenomenon first put forward by Harvard Professors in a book nearly as old as Nestler himself. It’s based on the idea of the “experience economy” that has superseded the service economy of late American capitalism. It even garnered the attention of the punditocracy in a spectacularly tone-deaf piece by David Brooks for The New York Times.

Nestler agrees that the experience economy is central to what people privilege these days. “The majority of travel. Most people are moving to the same places at the same time. Especially when you’re talking about going to big events [like] going to Burning Man,” he said.  “And no one wants to drive.”

Most people are moving to the same places at the same time.

— Adam Nestler, Skeddadle co-founder

The thesis of tapping into the experience economy, and giving folks an easier way to get there was what initially struck Paige Craig, an early investor in Lyft, about the company.

“Consumers are going to get on bus rides,” said Craig. Venues, he added, are going to be happy to give over their lists for a company like Skedaddle, because it can be used as marketing to drive people to their event spaces.



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