When it comes to big ideas, timing is everything. Sidecar Founder, Sunil Paul, explains how you'll know when the time is right to run with your idea...
A few years ago my co-founder, Jahan, was out late at a New Year’s Eve party in the Marina District of San Francisco. Jahan needed a ride home but whilst the Marina is a vibrant area for nightlife, transportation options are limited. Trains don’t run there, buses are few and far between and it’s pretty much impossible to find a cab. Pizza deliveries, however, are out in full force. Jahan flagged down a delivery driver, offered him twenty bucks and shared his ride home with a stranger and a pizza.
That night, we knew it was time to execute on our idea to transform transportation. Two years and millions of rides later, we know this was the right decision. But had we executed on our idea a decade or even a few years earlier, the outcome would’ve been very different.
When it comes to big ideas, timing is everything. So, how will you know when the time is right for your idea? Here are three key things to reflect on before moving forward.
1. Listen to your customers
In order for your product or service to succeed, there must be demand for it. An idea will not succeed if you launch before the market is ready, regardless of how innovative or clever it is. I came up with the concept for Sidecar years before we decided to launch the business.
I was standing in front of Mission Cliffs, in what was then an isolated part of the city with no easy bus option or chance of finding a cab. I had to call my then wife to pick me up and whilst I was waiting for her to arrive, it hit me - what if we could use our phones to make a better, more coordinated transportation system?
For years I couldn’t get this idea out of my head. I told everyone who would listen, "one day your phone will replace your car". The problem was people weren’t buying it! The market conditions weren’t right and demand for Sidecar’s services was too low for us to launch. Over time demand has increased with the growing discontent with the taxi system, more people moving into cities and a growing desire to live car-free.
Even the best ideas will fail if the technology isn’t there to support it.
2. Listen to technology
Even the best ideas will fail if the technology isn’t there to support it. In 2002, I was awarded a patent for using a smartphone to coordinate transportation. This patent involves the use of GPS-tracking to plot routes and connect drivers with riders at various pickup locations. But the timing wasn’t right - the technology just wasn’t there. The proliferation of GPS-enabled smartphones hadn’t happened yet but the relatively recent explosion in smartphone adoption was a signal that Sidecar was an idea whose time had finally come.
3. Listen to competitors
What is currently working in the marketplace? Jahan and I chased a lot of ideas in the early months of Sidecar. We tested shared rides using black cars and taxis, but the user experience was too complicated. The long line of riders waiting outside our office for the 38 bus inspired us to test an on-demand shuttle service called 38 Air. But guess what - people like taking that bus. So we didn’t go that route.
The convenience of Uber Black and the sharing of resources that powers Airbnb inspired us. In 2012 Uber Black and Airbnb were taking off in a big way. We drew on these success stories to do something that had never been done before in transportation. We knew we wanted this transportation system to be fast and powered by everyday people, but our biggest worry was that drivers wouldn’t accept rides using this method, and a rider wouldn’t get into a car with a stranger. But that fateful night in the Marina disproved this worry, and everything clicked.
What if you could use your smartphone to summon a ride from someone who was already out on the road, possibly going the same direction? In exchange, you’d give them a few bucks for their time and gas. We called the company Sidecar, coined the phrase "instant rideshare" and a new transportation category was born.
Today we’ve come full circle, by combining people and packages to offer the fastest, most affordable same-day delivery service available. We’ve been testing Sidecar Deliveries with e-commerce, hot food, flowers and grocery services and it’s clear this is an idea whose time has come. We’ve had amazing traction. The next time you order a pizza it might be delivered in a Sidecar.