Photo courtesy of Brian Schiff

RedRoute, founded by three Cornell students, aims to help connect college students with local cab companies.

March 17, 2016

Cornell University Students Create Ride-Hailing App for College Towns

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After a year of development, Brian Schiff ’18, Karl Reis ’18 and Leor Alon ’18 have launched RedRoute, a smartphone-enabled ride-hailing app for college students.

“College towns are very unique in that they are generally smaller cities where a huge proportion of the population is students who are under 21 and aren’t insured to drive [commercially],” Schiff said.

Schiff explained that Uber struggles in these smaller cities due to a lack of drivers.

RedRoute uses GPS and smartphone technology similar to that used by Uber and Lyft. The service connects its users with drivers from partner taxi companies to reach their destinations, Schiff said.

Schiff and his friends developed the idea for RedRoute in March  of 2015, drawing upon a business model involving students driving students.

“We had free time and thought it would be a cool idea to start a business,” Schiff said. “We thought, ‘Uber is out there but we don’t have it here.’ We wanted to bring that technology to Cornell.”

Because Schiff and his team — which later included Samuel Krut, a student at UC Davis — began the project without any business experience he said they had to learn the necessary skills along the way. “A year ago, if you had asked me what entrepreneurship was, I would have said ‘no idea,’” Schiff said. “The first thing I did [after we came up with the idea] was type in ‘How do you start a business?’ into Google.”

The group applied to eLab, a Cornell-based startup accelerator, in April 2015, which disapproved strongly of the innovation, according to Schiff.

“We went for our first interview and barely made it off the title slide,” he said. “They were all over us. The biggest issue was that you can’t insure the business model of students driving students. There were all kinds of legal issues.”

Schiff, Reis, and Alon restructured their business model and decided to partner with local taxi companies.

“It made our business so much easier to scale,” Schiff said. “We don’t need to do any of the driver vetting, or build the infrastructure of the company. All we had to do was develop the technology.”

The RedRoute team is currently adding a social media component similar to Venmo’s newsfeed, which will allow users to see popular destinations and users who have taken rides recently, according to Schiff. This feature will be integrated into the app as soon as it completes beta testing.

“Everything’s grown so much over time,” Schiff said. “It’s a huge market opportunity that we had no idea existed and just stumbled upon. … For all of us, it has 100 percent been learning as we go.”