Innovator Profile: Joanna McFarland, HopSkipDrive

HopSkipDrive, a Los Angeles-based ride service for kids, was founded by Joanna McFarland, Carolyn Yashari Becher and Janelle McGlothlin, three working moms looking for a better way to get their kids from school to soccer practice, karate and more. The company launched out of beta in March 2015 and today has nearly 50 full-time employees and more than 500 drivers. Earlier this year, HopSkipDrive also raised $10 million in Series A funding.

The following is a lightly edited version of the Shared-Use Mobility Center’s conversation with Ms. McFarland.

Where did the idea for HopSkipDrive come from?

Carolyn, Janelle and I are all working moms. Between us, we have eight kids ranging in age from four to 13. The idea first came up at a birthday party. We were standing around talking about the difficulties of getting our kids to and from school and afterschool activities. I joked that we should collectively buy a van and hire the stay-at-home moms and babysitters in the neighborhood to drive our kids around. But the idea stuck. We kept thinking about it. We were trying to come up with all the reasons it wouldn’t work. But we finally just realized that it was possible, and who better to do it than us?

How does the service work?

HopSkipDrive is for children ages 6 and up. Parents request and pay for rides in advance using our mobile app or website. When you set up your ride, you get matched with a driver and can view their profile, picture and car information. You can then share the information with your child so they know who to expect, and if necessary provide your driver’s name to your school if there is a sign-out authorization requirement. Each child also has their own personalized code word their driver will confirm with them for added security. Once the ride is underway, you can track the car’s progress on your app in real time.

All “CareDrivers” have to pass our 15-point certification process, which includes background and reference checks, fingerprinting, driver training, and meeting every single driver in person at least twice. They have to have a minimum of 5 years of childcare experience, and many are moms, teachers or nannies. We have insurance specifically designed for transporting children, and have partnered with Zendrive, a software that monitors driving behavior and helps us ensure that drivers are not texting or talking while a child is in the car.

HopSkipDrive is not just about getting your kid from point A to B. There is a real safety concern, too. Trust is of the upmost importance. So we designed the service with our own kids in mind. We asked ourselves, “What would be safe enough for our own kids?  Would we put our own kids in this car?” And we each use HopSkipDrive regularly so it has to pass that test.

Who is using HopSkipDrive?

Some CareDrivers are stay-at-home moms who are looking to make some extra money. Others are empty nesters whose kids have grown up, and who miss that interaction. We also have nannies, nurses and teachers. Our demand tends to be in the morning and after school, so it would be hard to do it full time, but we definitely have drivers who also drive for other ridesharing companies.

Parents use HopSkipDrive in a number of ways, and many use us several times a week. Most of our trips are getting kids to and from school or activities like dance, soccer, tutoring and more. Many of our families have two working parents, or one parent at home with multiple kids who just can’t be in two places at once. We also have a lot of divorced families and we can really help facilitate the logistics challenges that come with a child moving between two households.

Interestingly, we also drive 16 and 17-year-olds who don’t have their drivers’ licenses, and have no intention of getting one any time soon. The whole concept of independence is changing. It used to be that a car represented freedom. Now it’s your cell phone. You’re already connected to your friends without even leaving the house.

How is HopSkipDrive different from competing services?

We don’t think of ourselves as a transportation company, we think of ourselves as caregivers on wheels. As the first rideshare service founded by moms, we have differentiated by approaching this from a parenting perspective first, and a technology perspective second.

What are your hobbies outside of work?

Between running a startup and looking after my own two kids, I don’t have much time for hobbies. I like enjoying time with my family and attending t-ball games, karate practices and more as well as sneaking in the occasional yoga class for myself.