Chinese carpooling app Didapinche aims to help passengers find friends, jobs - even lovers
What do you expect from a carpool ride? For Song Zhongjie, chief executive of China’s largest car-sharing online platform, it’s definitely not limited to simply cutting the cost of the journey.
The start-up entrepreneur plans to develop Didapinche, a popular mainland carpooling mobile phone application, into a social networking tool that can help passengers find friends, jobs – even lovers.
“Taking a half-hour carpooling ride is actually full of possibilities,” said Song, 48, a former sales manager with Google China.
“For example, if an IT manager intends to hire a software engineer for his company, he can make an order on our platform to pick up only people working in this industry.
“Maybe it’s to make a new friend or find a potential business client...
“If a male driver wants to get to know more women, he can, for example, also tell us he wants to drive single women aged between 20 and 29.
“We can match them with the right people.”
Song added: “Of course, romance is something that can start while on a carpooling ride, too.”
Several couples had met after booking a carpooling trip using the app, he said.
Didapinche, which launched in October 2014, gets its name – in part – from the Putonghua word, pinche, for carpooling.
So far it has attracted 10 million users in 18 cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, with an average of 200,000 new registered users added each day; people are using the app to make about 600,000 carpooling requests every day.
Last week the company expanded its services to 10 additional mainland cities including Dalian, Shenyang and Xiamen in the east and central provinces.
“Our goal is to get into 100 cities by the end of this year and we expect to receive three million carpooling request on our platform every day by that time,” Song said.
A recent study by iResearch, the mainland consulting company, found that carpooling is becoming an increasingly popular form of travel for office workers in big mainland cities.
The high population density in urban areas, a large number of private car owners and huge demand for short-distance travelling have made many mainland cities the ideal market for carpooling services.
At least a dozen of carpooling apps have been launched in the nation since last year, with Didapinche securing the leading market share of about 60 per cent, the study said.
Unlike other car-hailing apps like Uber and Didi, Song said Didapinche’s typical users were mainly people who would like to look for good bargains or a fun experience while taking a trip.
Currently, the standard carpooling fare set by Didapinche is half the fare of a taxi trip over the same distance.
Users must make bookings and pay the fare for the journey on its website at least 25 minutes before their time of departure. The booking information is then sent to registered private car drivers who live nearby.
If a driver accepts the order, the passenger will be sent the driver’s photograph, telephone number and basic information about the vehicle, and they will meet at an agreed time and place.
Song said at the moment about 60 per cent of passengers’ orders were accepted by drivers.
Earlier in June, Didapinche completed the Series C-round of additional venture capital financing to raise US$100 million, which is expected to be spent on boosting its drivers’ identity authentication system and improving the level of traffic insurance for passengers and drivers.
Despite an average of 200,000 new registered users each day, Song still thinks such growth is too slow.
“In the mobile internet market, you can either be a winner or a loser.
“It’s a rule that the No 1 player will end up with as much as 70 per cent of the market share by the end leaving little opportunity for those who come afterwards,” he said.
Didi, the country’s largest cab-calling service provider, plans to launch its own carpooling services on the mainland on July 1. Song believes it will be Didapinche’s most dangerous competitor.
“We must get into a position as quickly as possible that means it is impossible for our rivals to catch up with us.”
However, five years ago, Song’s thinking was quite different.
In 2010, he left Google China to set up a groupon website – a global e-commerce marketplace – selling food products at discount prices.
His company was once ranked third in terms of sales revenue among hundreds of local groupon operators.
When it started, Song and his team wanted to maintain a “small and beautiful” business, focusing more on improving operational efficiency rather than expanding the size of the business.
Yet they soon found that it was hard for them to raise funds in a highly competitive market because most capital investment had gone to the biggest businesses, which managed to survive and prosper after consolidation in the industry.
However, this business failure did not frustrate Song, who already had 17 years experience from working for multinational IT companies, such as the computer maker Hewlett-Packard and the online search engine and technology giant, Google.
“There’s no going back once you’re on the road to starting your own business,” Song said. “No matter how difficult it is, it will provide you with a big stage, that you will rarely see in other big companies. I still want to use this method to prove myself.
After studying a number of market sectors, Song and his partners decided to tap into carpooling services.
This time they believe they have a clearer goal of becoming the market leader.
In future, the company plans to offer various value-added services based on users information. For example, it could match drivers with passengers that share similar hobbies, or have the same hometowns so that it can help them to make new friends.
People could also make orders for a specific type or colour of vehicle using its platform for occasions such as weddings or business conferences, he said.
“At this stage, the biggest challenge for us remains how to encourage more people to try our services,” Song said.
“We want to help them with one more little thing, in addition to booking a low-cost, environmentally friendly trip. Maybe it’s to make a new friend or find a potential business client.
“Of course, romance is something that can start while on a carpooling ride, too,” Song said.
Several couples had met after booking a carpooling trip on Didapinche, he added.