Accelerating Value
Accelerating Value

Episode · 1 year ago

Double Bottom Line: Purpose & Revenue Can Coexist

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

For many startups, it seems like you have a choice:

Revenue or doing good in the world? 

This binary is an illusion — if you take a Double Bottom Line approach, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Today, I’m joined by someone who proves it. Norbert Sygdziak, Chief Executive Officer and President at RideAlong, was convinced he would do better than the 120-year-old yellow bus system that failed his son and decided to do something about it. 

As his company saw massive growth, scaling threatened to upend the values inspiring the company, so he slowed down — and revenue never even had to take a hit.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The very personal — yet universally relatable — problem RideShare was built to solve
  • How to maximize values and revenue simultaneously
  • The challenges of being a disruptor and carving a new niche

Keep connected with Accelerating Value on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website.

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for Accelerating Value in your favorite podcast player.

Today, every budget approval is an investment deal. If you're a marketer, sales or business leader, you had to promise to deliver value and impact. Writing. The wave to get there is hard enough. Finding your way through the storm is even harder if you're looking for that path forward so that you don't wipe out. You've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. And Hey everybody, this is mar ex Douce, your host at accelerating value, weekly podcast where we talk to all kinds of people about the value, the pursuit of value right, how they how they identify opportunities for value for their company and within their company, how they go about doing that, how they go about investing in that, making it happen, proving that it ultimately did happen, that the value was in fact created. We talked to all kinds of people here, CEOS and CFOs and CMOS and crows, and then people further down in large organizations and smaller ones, and the whole goal here, of course, is to inspire you with their stories and how they did it and the epiphanies that they ran into so you can hope, translate that into your own experience. So today, we have actually a really cool and very unusual story. Right. It's a niche play, right, but I think that you will you'll actually find a lot of relevance in Norbert's comments or what you want. To introduce yourself. Thank you, mark. Absolutely. My name is norberts to Jack. I'm the CEO and Co founder of Rod alone. Now we are a community Carpool righteous service for students.

We launched the company in two thousand and nineteen and and have had a phenomenal growth since then. It's great. So this is like a almost say that it would be like ober for juveniles. Yeah, yeah, we've I'm one who tends to not like that comparison. Over for kids, you know, over and lift have just are our phenomenal you know, businesses in their own and and we we like to find our own needs. So we are a modern day transportation company that focuses on the needs of the families, of the needs of the students and kind of puts the bridge between schools, school to school transportation, and the families who need that transportation. It's something that hasn't been changed since one thousand nine hundred and two. The yellow bus system is still active and it takes kids around. We have nothing against the yellow buses, but we think there is time to modernize some of that, you know. You know, it's them a system that really just hasn't changed over a hundred years. So we came in to be able to show the communities that there's flexibility and when their kids can get home and how they can go home. So that that really seems to be the major crops of the disruption. Is that it's really flexible. Yes, absolutely so. We you know, we took a look at the communities in the schools in general and what we've realized pretty quickly is that student transportation has been a burden and as a burden for everyone across the board. For schools, it's a budget issue, it's a you know, a management issues. Most most schools are already so, you know, depleted with budgets and staff that can help manage it. From the parents perspective, it's, you know, working families who that are both out and, you know, into the field. Trying to be at a bus stop at seven, forty five am and three and fifteen and you can be two minutes late is frustrating. You know, it's it's a daily choice that families have to make between skipping an important meaning at the office or getting their kids and it's one where the kids will always win. So we look...

...at that and we took a look at what the communities need and we took a look at some of the mistakes that have been done in the Rightshire world before. Instead, how can we make it better? And and we've decided to launch something that was going to be pretty much built on safety, you know, or reliability and connection to the you know, to the to the communities. And there came in right alone. Now there there had to be like a day, one epiphany. That's right. So, you know, we're the week prior and you weren't thinking about this at all then all of a sudden you were absolutely and then I think everyone who starts a business has one of those stories. Mine happens to be I spent over nineteen years in the legal, you know, industry, and I have two kids now, two boys who are nine and six. Two years ago, my then four year old was going to school taking a yellow bus because the school was overcrowded, so they put him about a mile away from the school and and at the end of the afternoon his teacher didn't forgot to put him with his class and instead of notifying the parents that he's back in school, she placed him on another bus, assuming that this bus goes to the same location. We couldn't find him full of the four hours. It was pretty scary for us. We finally, as we reached out to school the district, no one had a way of contacting day, the bus company, to figure out where the child actually is. So, you know, as a working parent, being in, you know, in Manhattan office and you trying to figure out what you child this you're rushing home and four hours later the bus pulls up and he's in the back of the bus crying. You go home and you have two choices to make. You can either get furious and scream and send emails which we believe we're not going to do much to change things, or or I just I'm a very driven person and decided to say, you know, I've had enough. I started talking to the local families and said what is it that you're strugling would with this time, process and place right now, and the stories just kept coming, just keep coming. About two weeks...

...after that I received a letter from my son school saying that his busman alone will be available because the bus driver was operating it was going to spend the license and the frustration boil over. So I said, you know, I told our local families I was starting a service that was supposed to be intended to be for local, you know, a local, you know, community in and we had about a hundred families was signed up prior to the launching and two years later, as of September, two thousand and twenty one, we're now in thirty six states and growing. That's extraordinary. I would imagine that, even though this was pretty covid just by probably limit right that codd or gasoline on them. Absolutely and and you know, I hate to say it in this way, but covid was a blessing for our company in many ways, because when you're a new company and grow really fast, having a post button sometime helps you evaluate where you're going and what's next. You know, we're very driven to making sure we never lose the mission by connecting to, you know, to the communities. But it also allowed us to pivot and you know, schools obviously shut down. Our revenue from schools was almost near to zero, but we were able to take our drivers, who are really the heart of our business, and said let's onto your our efforts locally through those communities that we work with. So we volunteered through hospitals, you know, providing rights for the doctors nurses, we provided meals for those in need. We partner with local hospitals and, you know, Food Pantries and and at that point we we had a chance to pivot into sports, you know major league soccer or you know the sports industry. We're trying to figure out how to proceed forward in the summer of two thousand and twenty and everybody was pretty much shut down for about three four months. And major league soccer has they have, you know, a youth academies, and we had a...

...chance to partner with certain teams and providing transportation for their youth come in and go into practice every single day. And we realize pretty quickly that because of Covid the demand for service group, because we don't provide busing, we don't group twenty kids into one vehicle. We create very functional routes that go anywhere from for students up to twelve students and a fifteen passenger van, and we had ability to space the students out and then the demand at school started to reopen, at least part time. In September the demand just the floodgates open and we knew we had something special. And so he's it's so this is a is this like a hybrid where you can do one kid and one vehicle going wherever they need to go, but we also kind of operate these small group that your dive routs. Yeah, so we don't. We took, you know, we debated with providing on demand service, you know, but we realized pretty quickly as parents ourselves, that on demand service and the world of a child, of a student and a parent just doesn't work. You know it it, you know it. You very rarely, even though you wake up a seven, eight am and you might be late for work. You wish someone would drive them, but you're not going to go in and APP and ask for a stranger to drive them. We don't believe that model is, you know, sustainable enough and if it's going to be something that you're going to use, it's going to be once in a while. So when you the challenges and going a business with that was that much harder and needed volume. So we decided quickly to very, very early on. We never tested the you know, the on the man model. We went into a manage structured service where we work with you as parents or schools and we set up rides for you child Monday through Friday, to school, from school, after school, you know, soccers, teams or sports, you know. You know, we were there with you through the nine months of the year to make sure you have someone dependable for service for those days. Now you don't have to stay with us for the year, but ninety nine point eight percent of our families right now stay with us with the entire school year,...

...even past the school year, for the summer camps as well. The only people who really leave is those who move the int an area where we can you know where we currently don't have the service, but by providing a community carpool where the students are riding with friends that they play with on the streets anyways, you know, in the parks, famous feel safer to make sure that they're not there by themselves. So we knew the value was really in creating car pools instead of just want student to want to vehicle. This is I mean, what I love about this is that you saw the need, you explored the need, you saw that it was widely felt, you saw the opportunity step into the opportunity. But even with all that, there had to be some really important decisions. You just mentioned one of them, right, about your fundamental model. Right, yeah, you're having some great, big decisions about how you're going to continue to build and extend the value model here, and I would imagine that some of them were fairly clear to you and other ones Werend you give me an example of something you had to kind of struggle through? The absolutely, you know, the best way that I described as to people is, you know, we didn't invent car pooling. Right, car pooling has been something that's been around for generations parents those same families and that we help would now have been car pooling for years. We simply took car pulling, combined it with the idea of a ride share and have been able to provide something a lot easier for the you know, for the communities to grow with them. What's hard to convince in a gray area when you first start something that's, you know, disrupted to the industry, but yet you're one of the only players or one of the few players that are done. Are doing it is convincing this. You know your clientele, you're you know, you know the community why there is benefit and not putting your Chiler on a yellow school bus. And those benefits are greater than just that ride. Right. Those greaters are because are, you know, vehicles are smaller. Kid. There's less chaos on those buses. You know,...

...there's less, you know, chaos on those routes. So students get to school more focus. They're focusing more on your, you know, your first period. There's also this base for covid. Covid created a concept where we didn't want forty kids on one bus anymore. But additionally, we also needed to convince people that we were going to, you know, optimize this every step of the way through a, you know, technology, by being able to show them how we're safer, were greener. We know, we we know our cars get from point to be. In that said, we don't, you know, keep the buses. You know we don't call them buses, but you know, we don't keep the routes running per se. You know, the cause are are off and also we bring the students through the door. There is no rushing to get to that first location and just like with any new business, there is that you know you have something that's valuable, but you have to convince the public that there is value in it. Right. So our biggest challenge were to convene not to convince but to show people. To say, your kids, if they're walking to school because they lift in blocks away, they're walking with a group of friends that they play with in school anyways. They all going to you know, meet up on the way and maybe walking there in the summer or spring is fine. That winter time they're just not going to do that. So it was more educating the community the importance of reliable, safe, you know. You know ride for you students was crucial. And the more we started digging into that, we learned ourselves that transportation is right on top of the food chain and what's needed for the communities. You know, you have food is number one, but number two is housing and transportation. You know, transportation effects not only how our students get to school but also how they get to the doctors. You know, how to get to the hospital. How are some of these families getting to the grocery store? And what we've learned pretty quickly is we had change and you effect of the community from top to bottom and, you know, we had a chance to help those in need. And the...

...way that we look at it is, you know, we provide transportation to students across the country, but to us, a safe transportation for students should never be defined from where they're from or whether they can, you know, afford it. So our entire motto is built on that ride calls being split between the families in that vehicle. So that way, you know, it's going to cost you what a cup of coffee will cost you for your child to get to school. You know, it's interesting because I think that that you're right, the value that you're creating or parents probably pretty obvious to them. The thing that they had to be convinced about is the safety and security. Yeah, that's that's that was one of the key, you know, the key issues, which is we pride ourselves our drivers are, you know, background checked, drug tested, you know, dmv record ten, you know, checked. We do it multiple times a year because, as parents ourselves, we understand that who you are as a driver in January might not be the same driver and in April May. So we do it multiple times a year. Random. We let parents know when they're, you know, refreshed. But because we pride ourselves and providing the same driver for the same route every single day, it means that those student, those and those parents get to know that driver Monday through Friday for nine months. So that person, in a very odd way, becomes an extension of their family. Right, even though you sharing that Carpool with six, seven other students, that's your personal driver for that time, for your child. So if we drop, you know, if our drivers drop seven students in school and two of them forget their, you know, their lunchboxes, our driver goes back and gets the launch box. There is no extra fee for that. Right. It's not a taxi, it's not an Uber, it is more personal. That connects to your family. Yeah, I tell you what, I can see why it's scaling the way it is. So let's let's talk about that for a second. Structurally, right, there's a number of different ways in this power. How did you choose to sale into all these different states?...

Yeah, that's a great question. So I view this, as you know, when I look at marketing general and value of using marketing, whether it's, you know, online or you know, the some of the you know, the you know, old ways of you know, doing it. I think it really breaks down into two categories. I think there are the ones and the needs. Right, the wants are the one when marketing place a huge role. But the needs for our, you know, communities, your marketing is important, but that needs spreads pretty quickly. So what we pride ourselves on is for the first nineteen months of our existence, we spend absolutely zero dollars on marketing and spreading the word. It was all families telling families, schools telling schools, checking out the website. We just two months ago start investing more and, you know, Google and using that to gage more business out there, just to really not gage more business, but to tell the story that we're here, that we you know, that we do this. That, you know, combination together with the idea that we focus on the community. We went where the demand was. So we cost us nothing to get into a market as long as there is, you know, the demand for our service. So we talk to the parents, we talked to schools. If there is, you know, the demand, we make sure we follow all the rules that we need to. You know that we, you know, comply with and then we get our drivers. We hire our drivers from those same communities. So we not only want to provide the service, we also want to provide jobs for your communities. And if you're stay home parent and you're looking to make extra you know, thirty five per you know, you know per, you know, you know our you can come work with us from for, you know, four hours a day. That's significant income. First you know, you know, you know for someone. So we were able to hire from those munities and what we realized quickly is the word would spreading. Of course, you know. Fast forward a bid to this summer, two thousand and twenty one. We're also dealing with a market where sixty five, seventy percent of school districts across the country have shortages of drivers for the for busing or buses in general. You know yellow bus.

You know companies got really hit by Covid, but also what happened post covid is those workers decided to go work higher paying jobs such as truck driving. They have the cdal backgrounds and everything else. So seventy five percent of the districts have significant amount of drivers that that left. Well, of course, you know that gap has to be filled. Somehow. So we've started getting colds from all over the country whether we can work with school districts to help them in a smarter way, and I think that what we're starting to see is that, you know, legislation which was really closed for the Yellow School Bus Industry and making sure that that's all schools can use, it's starting to change. And then we started to hear in the news about states are starting to look at, you know, how this whole process works. And then we started getting to the man and we go where the demand is. You know it where were no rush to try to capture a hundred percent of the market. We think there was. It's a huge market, you know. We know what our numbers are and we know that if we capture just a tiny percentage, we're going to be a very successful, you know business. So we go where the demand this and then the man. Right now it's extremely high. and Are you doing this through? I mean, are least? I'm going to use a slightly different reference here, but we'll get the point. Are these all company owned stores, or are you franchising this? Or how are you get problem now? There's no franchising. These are not necessarily stories. We have our you know, headquarters. We at every market that we're in. We put a team of people who manage those drivers in that market. You know, the the world has change a bit now. So, you know, sixty percent of our staff can work from home. You know, we don't necessarily have to go get at least somewhere and be stuck for ten years in that place, which helps tremendously, you know. But we have our regional people who manage to, you know, drivers on the road. Our drivers are all W two. We were not. Not that we don't appreciate and support to ninety nine workers. We have some,...

...but we believe there is more investment into your staff when you make com you know, W two, whether it's through training, through helping them. We would some, you know, certain benefits, things that make them feel like they're part of your growth, and we've been able to do that with our nil force. So, you know, we go through different markets and we try to provide jobs for people to help us run in to help us, you know, manage this. We're growing in pretty much every state at this point. It's been fun. What is your what was the thing that you went through that you definitely did not expect. Yeah, that's a that's a good point. So, when I'm when I launched the company in two thousand and nineteen, when I didn't expect was the fact that the need for the service or so much greater than just my own, you know community, right. We get so caught up in living our lives from day to day, going to work, taking our kids from school, we don't take time out and think outside of our own sort of little, you know, twomile area that we live in. And what quickly hit me in the face and kind of made me stop is there wasn't a corner that I would turn in this country, in these you know communities were the need for this service was not needed, you know, and that's when what I realized pretty quickly, we have something really special here that's going to grow really fast, and right now the demand for the service is even much greater than we're able to grow it, which is a scary point to, you know, a business that's trying to get its own you know, you know mission statement, and make sure we follow that statement, because too many companies grow really fast and lose what they really stand for. Yeah, you know, it's a high class problem, but as my father used to say. It's still a problem. Absolutely, absolutely, but, you know, we it's a you know, we have to make, you know, tough decisions every day because we hear from communities extending as far as, you know, Alaska. You know, we have families call us from, you know, from there and say, you know, who are, you know, emotional on the phone? Are, you know, three email and say I need your service here. And we just have to realize we can't help everyone at the same time because at...

...some point we will sacrifice the you know, how good the service is for the sake of being in every corner and we will never want to lose that mission in this business. So what is the biggest or most surprising obstacle? At the biggest obstacle in our business is, you know, not being labeled a certain way. Right we were kind of in this area where we're not a ride share, you know, we're not an uber for kids. You're getting a new category and that exactly. You know, we're not a yellow bus, you know we're not, but we're a community carpool transportation company. We're creating a new market and when you create a new market, their challenges and everything across the board. How do you get defined by the cities? How to get defined by the states? How to get defined by insurance, you know, how to get defined by everything? So trying to walk a person through what we do every single day, it seems pretty simple. Community car pools is get ten kids from your, you know, community. Let's get a hundred kids from, you know, from your community. But when it comes to identifying the market that you're in, it's challenging right, because I do strongly, strongly believe there's a lot of issues with the yellow bus market. I strongly believe there's a lot of issues with their you know, with the you know, you know, with the right show market. That doesn't mean, though, are good issues as well. But trying to define your own niche and your own market is a lot harder than you thing, because people are quick, the industries are quick, to put labels on you and when you grow into that label, you start, you know, you know, really trying to fit in more into the label than be, you know, than be yourself, and that's the biggest challenge. Yeah, I could really see where that would be the case, because you pridiculous. That's a lot of them. The groups that you're talking about haven't have either real or implied regulatory power. That would be that would deal absolutely, you know, honestly, you know, we do believe that. Look, you know, I mean we have taken leaps and this world, in this country, you know, oper's lifts, you know, solved a lot of issues and...

...and you know, we have made leaps and they you know, medical industries with different things, but that category of student transportation kind of continued the same for a hundred, twenty years and we just believe there was a better way, that parents needed something different and and you know where. You know, we're here to keep it safe, we're here to make it even safer, we're here to you know, we find ways daily how to get kids there quicker, safer, you know, more focused. We're working with schools to get data points of, you know, how kids are in school. There was no bullying on our vehicles. You know, these are people, these are kids who know each other. You know, we work with special needs kids. So, you know, as we started to grow, we also realize, as we're starting to get you know, as we started getting calls, that there is similar need for the elderly. You know, world to Randy you know, retirement homes have these old systems of this bus coming up one day and taking them where they need to go, but that translates pretty much here. They're very limited to using you know, you know technologies or getting an Uber and lift. And yes, that's available to them, but it scares them. So we get calls every day to say can you come do this for our town and you know, we try, we try, you know, we we can't be everywhere at that, you know, at the same time, but we definitely want to and I assume, yeah, you and I did this and are recalled, but you're still closely held. You probably have a few investors that more or less the end. Yeah, yeah, we we do. You know, we have you know, you know, you know investors that are what we like to call our you know, we like to follow the double bottom line, you know model, which is it's not abouttom only revenue. Right, you have to make a, you know, change and make some sort of change, you know, to the you know, to you know, to the families that you work with. But we also I come from a world where I did securities, you know, litigation, and I had a chance to see kind of the nitty gritting and be part of a world that exposed me to what's happening at top...

...one hundred businesses, all, you know, across the world, and what I've always when I started this business, what I said is I want to be everything that Wall Street isn't right now. What does that mean? It means we don't believe we have to sacrifice safety reliability for the sake of revenue. We think there is space for doing both. You know, we are very proud to say, and we are a profitable company of you know, high double digit profit margins. We built our routes with those, you know, margins built in. And yet we will never sacrifice the safety for the sake of putting volume to get more, to get revenue in. We we're on a path to, you know, we were supposed to have a really good year. We you know, we are on a path to, you know, quadruple that amount because you know, because you know, that need is there, and we don't think we have to sacrifice the safety that we provide in order to make profit. We think there are space for both. We think you can be a solution for the communities and still make money without feeling like you have to be one or the other. Amen bringing as a parent with two sons, I totally appreciate that point. You Right, and I think that that is as clear as that message is clear, that message should be. For a lot of people. It's amazing out we still fall into one ditch or the right. Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. It's you know, what I want to like to teach my kids, and I say this to them, you know, multiple times each week, is we can't forget about others in need just because we don't have a need of our own. Right there are those around us who, for example, never took an overlive before because they don't have a smartphone, that can't even get the APP right. We don't think about that. We as still it's available for everyone, you know, and I think that as much as the world in the country is going into, you know, APPs, you know phones, Ai. There was an element to that talking to someone, to making sure you set up for a ride or setting up a service for the whole school year...

...for someone. As much as we use the technology to help us make our jobs better, will never replace that technology with the human, you know, interaction, because that's what's starting to be missing more and more in the in the world, period, and we want to make sure that as we we drive, you know the world's most important. You know commodity kids, right. We're never going to tell ai how that should be done. Hey, I shouldn't be telling you as a parent, how that should be done. We want to hear from you what you know, what you think, and we will make your service and your schedule as flexible and as as close to what you're looking for as possible. Any way, guys like you know and listening to Norberg right, this is a really awesome story of seeing an opportunity, seeing the need and meeting the need and creating value as a result. Part of that value is obviously for your customers, but there's no law against grating value for yourself, and that as well, right, and that is that, that's the essence actually of what I call capital, real capital, right, not not unfettered, unrestricted capitalism without a conscience. This is the real stuff right here, norber if anyone wants to reach you, how do they do that? Absolutely, check out our website. I'm wwwright alone nowcom you know, there's a lot of great info on there. How you can reach us, how you can see you know where we are currently, where we're, you know, looking to be, and where you know we're here for you. If you guys have the need, whether it's one family or ten families, don't feel like you can't reach us because we're a Carpool. We will help you find a Carpool. We don't expect you to bring it to us. So check us out. We're here for you and we're going to continue growing to help everyone we can. Thank your very inspirational conversation. Really enjoyed it. Appreciate Mark. Thank you for having me. All Right,...

...guys, comments below. Let us know what you need and we'll see you again next week. The sooner you can optimize your marketing spend, the quicker you can start delivering clear, measurable value to Your Business. That's exactly where business GPS from. Proof analytics can help. Learn more at proof analytics DOT AI. You've been listening to accelerating value, where raw conversations about the journey to business impact help you weather the storm ahead. To make sure you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. Until next time,.

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