Car-sharing start-up wins investment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 April, 2013, 10:47am

Christopher Yeung and his team said last Friday that they needed investment of HK$620,000 to help get their start-up, off the ground. On Saturday, they made a small dent in that when they were handed a cheque for HK$20,000. Their sales pitch was voted the best of three by guests at a start-ups conference in Tin Hau organised by CoCoon.

Yeung came across the car-sharing concept while studying in Britain. After returning to Hong Kong two years ago, he worked briefly at a bank, but he wanted to do something more challenging. So he decided to set up his own car-sharing service here. After toiling alone on the project and realising his limitations, he joined CoCoon.

The social enterprise provides a space where budding entrepreneurs can meet potential start-up co-founders with a range of technology-related skills. It also organises activities for members to meet investors and learn from seasoned entrepreneurs.

Yeung acknowledges that car-sharing might be a radical concept in Hong Kong, but says: "We believe sharing is the future. We think lifestyles should be more affordable and flexible."

Seventy-nine per cent of potential renters surveyed by the team wanted a car to go out with family and friends, he says; 42 per cent wanted to take a trip out of the city. The average owner surveyed would be happy to earn about HK$2,000 a month by renting their car, while the average renter would consider paying about HK$1,300 for a full day. Hourly and half-day rentals are also an option.

"How it works is simple. A renter checks out the details and availability of cars on the website, makes a request and, minutes later, gets an approval," Yeung says. "Renters can get a car instantly from their neighbours; owners can earn thousands of dollars a month by sharing their cars."

The business will take a management fee and commissions. "As a platform, we take care of insurance and all of the hassle," Yeung says. A former school friend who studied law, Alfred Lau, is a co-founder and looks after the legal aspects of the business.

Yeung says the plan is to initially target a few housing estates and expand gradually. He cites Lohas Park, with 12,000 households but only about 2,000 cars, as an example of the potential demand for Some would-be car buyers are put off because there are not enough parking spaces. "We are targeting around 600 housing estates with around 250 cars in each. If we can confirm 1 per cent in each of the housing estates, it's 1,500 shared cars," Yeung says.

"Within two months [of putting the word out], we have now got 10 potential car owners and 42 potential car renters. So it's a good indicator, and it's encouraging."

Yeung says to create hype for the service, they have partnered with a carmaker to offer an electric vehicle free of charge for a month at a time. "All you have to do is share it with your neighbour and talk about it."

He admits it's a business built on trust. So renters' and owners' profiles are on the website so users can check reputations that can be verified by social media and other means.

"The idea is to create a community where trust exists between strangers," Yeung says, adding that he has plans to expand the idea to a broader peer-to-peer marketplace where other assets can be rented. "If we can somehow translate reputation from one platform onto a unified platform so that reputation becomes like a currency ... that's one thing we want to do as the next step."

The website will go open beta in July, and the team is seeking help in front-end development and digital marketing - as well as acquiring that other HK$600,000.