This post marks the beginning of our “Startup Sit Down” series. We will be interviewing different entrepreneurs about their projects and their experiences in the start-up world. Our first interview is with Jonathan Mckinney, co-founder and CEO of CabCorner, a company that allows cab riders headed in the same direction to link-up and split rides (anybody who lives in an outer-borough and parties in Manhattan can immediately see the value in this “cab-sharing” idea). In order to ensure a predictable and high-quality passenger experience, CabCorner maintains relationships with different livery cab companies, most recently Skyline Credit Rides. A New York native, Jon founded the company with Jesse Sommer, a friend from college and has been building the enterprise since 2008. We are excited to see how CabCorner grows in New York and other cities around the globe.
How would you describe the service that CabCorner provides?
It’s basically a transportation logistics platform designed to make getting a ride in urban environments easier and more efficient. It is a cost saving mechanism as well as an environmentally conscious mechanism. Essentially, CabCorner is a good example of how the mobile web will fundamentally reshape basic activities, such as how we travel. We see the logistics of transportation as necessarily having to move onto the web, and the mobile web, in particular, to keep pace with the demands of the future.
How was the idea for CabCorner born?
It stems from experiences I had growing up in the city, where cabs are really part of the culture. I initially thought of the idea on a late night back in 2008, I was at a party in Manhattan and knew a bunch of people would be going home to Brooklyn like me, but I didn’t know them personally. I wanted a way to combine our trips, something like a ride-board, so that we didn’t all have to pay full fare for individual cab rides back across the bridge.
How has your product changed from how you first envisioned it, what type of reassessments have you been forced to make?
The word pivot is right here – we did a decent amount of that. It was tough to get people to consider actually sharing a cab, although they were very interested in the concept. We realized that the idea wasn’t enough, we needed to guarantee fair paying systems, or pre-payment, which meant that it wasn’t going to start with yellow cabs. We needed the ability to predetermine the experience, which is how the service became oriented around livery cab services. We don’t have enough critical mass yet. There will still be more single rides than matched rides, but that is changing. The chance of someone being able to join a ride and thus creating a “matched/shared ride”, as opposed to simply posting one, increases as we seed the database with single riders who are themselves guaranteed a reserved car and thus a way to still arrive on time at their intended destination, regardless of a match or not.
So you started CabCorner with a friend from college, could you speak to how that has affected your work experience and more generally about starting a company with friends?
The idea to work with Jesse was born from the fact that he was in my network. We were friends at college. Initially, it was about convenience and who I knew, but I think out of this reality, we have developed a stronger sense of camaraderie, precisely because we do share a background that is separate from the business. It’s not just about who has what share of the company, or what our titles are, we have this shared desire, and shared personal experience. There is an inherent sense of team unity that comes from the fact that we went to the same institution.
What are your daily responsibilities?
I do everything from overseeing the development of the platform, marketing concepts, reaching out to people with whom we should talk, all the way down to managing contacts that have found us on the web, who may be interested in looking for ways they can benefit from, or leverage our platform. Basically, between myself, Jesse and Lou Carpino, and a few others, we handle any number of issues depending on who has time. Even though I am CEO, it means nothing in terms of what I am willing to touch. I do whatever requires my attention so that it gets done.
What is the best part of running a startup?
The most fun part is to look back on the structure you have built. Anything from the connections you have made, to raising money, to a tangible product. Things that would simply not exist without the work you have done, a business trail that has been left behind by my actions is very rewarding. Even if it’s not ultimately successful, I do have new connections and experience that can be leveraged and these may provide me with new opportunities later in life.
What is the worst part of running a startup?
The worst part is managing disappointment. You invest a lot of time and effort, and it’s sometimes impossible for a business related disappointment not to feel personal, even when it’s really just business. Even if you have never personally met a partner with whom you are dealing with, if something doesn’t work out, the disappointment is always personal, because it’s your baby. The hardest part is to take that personal element out, compartmentalize it, and realize it’s just business.
What tips might you give to someone thinking of starting a company? What are some things to avoid?
It’s like when you set out to build something. You set aside 10hours, but the truth is, you should always multiply that number by at least a factor of 2 before endeavoring to take on this given project. The most fundamental thing is that however much time, money and energy you think it’ll take to realize your idea, multiply it by 2, if not by 4, or even 10. If you can stomach whatever that multiplied number is, then you can move forward.