Graeme Risby’s first car lost him £8,000 in three years.
Bought for £11,000 and sold for £3,000 just three years later, he was understandably frustrated with the loss – he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t turn his car into an asset.
Constant requests to lend to his friends left him wondering why there wasn’t a better way to borrow others cars when they weren’t being used, and make them into assets at the same time.
And the idea of HiyaCar began. HiyaCar simply removed the business at the middle of the car hire transaction, meaning people were lending their cars to other people, and charging a fee. Car owners set their prices, and their vehicle’s availability, and they match it with people who need them.
It would be a good few years before the idea came to fruition; insurers simply wouldn’t consider the idea for a long time.
Graeme’s partner in the firm is former co-worker Robert Larmour, who told me: "We both worked in Waitrose on the very glamourous delicatessen counter at weekends, where we became friends, but when we went to University we went our separate ways.
"Several years later we bumped into each other at a summer fete, in a small village just outside Maidstone, where we’d both ended up living. We decided to catch up… and it went from there!"
Insurance dilemma finally resolved in 2015, they chose crowdfunding to raise funds to launch. Using the Seedrs platform they hit their first target in five days, and were fully funded to their stretch target in 11 days – Seedrs expect most projects to take 60 days to mature. The idea was a hit.
November 2016 sees the firm with 13,000 users on board and having just raised a third round of funding to power on with their blueprint for London: they have positioned the first keyless entry and remote start technology for people to people car hire, in line with the ‘on demand’ needs their customers have.
2,000 of those boxes will be in place next year – the technology means "they can open the car and start the car without having any kind of key at all. It’s one step further than the current keyless entry systems – and it’s really exciting."
Sitting in their Moorgate office whilst a colleague in Hounslow opened up, and drove, a car using their keyless entry system is what the guys describe as their ‘man on the moon moment’. "Usually when you start to install something there are glitches," Rob says, "but we’ve seen this work perfectly from the first day.
"There were 61 billion journeys in the UK last year, with 86% of them being less than an hour in duration," Graeme says, as he discusses the fact that they actually want to see less cars on the road, and a reduction in overall car ownership. "If you could borrow a car for £5 to do your weekly shop, rather than own a second car, it’s a game changer."
The service isn’t exclusive to London, though it’s where the bulk of their customers are. New ‘renters’, who want to rent their cars, are given promotional materials to help them promote the service locally – it’s in their best interests to drive interests, and that’s helped spark awareness amongst neighbours through word-of-mouth.
And member events definitely help. "It’s quite a weird thing, hiring out your own car, handing over the keys to somebody," Graeme admits, but their numbers are growing steadily as they develop the service, and their team is growing with it – from six employees currently to ten early next year, but with a wider team of approaching 30 working on the product overall.
The firm has been bolstered with the arrival of George Hazel OBE as the director of strategy. George has been responsible for transport and mobility in Scotland for decades, and he brings priceless expertise to the team as they continue developing the business.
HiyaCar is spawning its own businesses too; they have a user with 20 cars listed on the app, competitively priced, and that user is essentially running his own car hire business through their platform. Clever, no?
They’ve had cars hired out to be used as wedding cars, they have convertibles and Porsches listed on the site for those who fancy a change, and every weekend they see a glut of requests for 7-seaters. Slowly, they’re seeing repeat business occur between customers on the platform, as people start to build genuine relationships with one another.
"We are car hire between people, and people like to help each other out," Rob says as he describes a user who gave his renters a (free) lift home in the rain.
And if that’s not the heart of the sharing economy, then I don’t know what is.
Atom Bank's MD for Business Banking, Craig Iley, told us: "Hiyacar is a great idea, whose time has come. With today’s customers continuing to integrate self-service into their life, this is tapping straight into that behaviour, as well as Graeme and the guys showing the drive to continually improve, innovate and just not sit still. The hallmarks of a great business".
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