Disruption Drives Modern Life

October 4, 2013

A funny thing happened yesterday morning when I walked out my front door: There was a blue and white Smart Car with the name Car2Go emblazoned on the side.

Wonderful, I thought. This was the first time I had seen one of the tiny cars — now nearly ubiquitous on Minneapolis’ major roads — on one of the city’s side streets. I’d been wanting to give the new car sharing service a try, but was too embarrassed at the thought of not figuring it out in the plain view of everyone Lake Street or Hennepin Avenue.

A Car2Go parked next to the stump of the tree that came 30 seconds from crushing me when it fell in June.

A Car2Go parked next to the stump of the tree that came 30 seconds from crushing me when it fell in June.

I’m unlike most of the ponies here, in that I typically take a bus instead of driving to work. In fact, I haven’t even owned a car since my last one threw a rod, delaying me in Waterloo, on a trip to take photos in Iowa City for a college class. No gas, no parking tickets, no insurance payments and no fear of a sudden catastrophic engine failure — not owning a car definitely has its perks.

It also comes with an inconvenience though, but that might be a thing of the past with the new disruptive Car2Go service.

Disruption seems to be all around us in the professional services world. Pick up an issue of Ad Age or read Tech Crunch and you’ll surely read about some ambitious new upstart trying to change how an entire industry works.

As a web developer, I see this first hand in the world of web hosting. Services with funny names like Heroku and Open Shift provide me free hosting for small experimental projects. Yes, production websites and applications still need to pay for their hosting, but the undisputed heavyweight of the world, Amazon AWS, is famous for sending announcements about how they have cut their costs yet again.

So back to the curb outside my home. I walked across the street, made sure there was no damage on the car as the instructional video had told me to do, and placed my member card to the window. A few seconds later the door unlocked. As I opened the door, a voice welcomed me and the touch screen in the center console led me through the rest of the trip. Seventeen minutes later I had arrived outside the office, parked the Smart Car at a city parking meter, locked the door and touched my card to the window again. I was done. No difficulties or embarrassment at all.

The Smart Car maybe isn’t the smoothest ride. There’s a noticeable lag as it shift gears, reminiscent of someone learning to drive stick (a skill this country boy moved to the city never really mastered, so I guess it was fitting).

The trip cost about $6 (free actually, because membership came with 30 free minutes), which is less than half the price of taking a cab. But Car2Go isn’t trying to disrupt the cab industry (look to Uber and Lyft for that) so much as the existing car-sharing industry. The existing players in that industry all require you to get to one of their parking lots to get a car and then return it to said parking lot — arguably less convenient than driving to the airport and renting a car for a whole day from one of the traditional rental car agencies.

An even funnier thing happened this morning: I walked out my front door and there were two Car2Gos parked across the street.

Car2Go has this disruption thing down, and hopefully it can enable more people like me to decide they can live without a full-time car.

(Shameless plug: As a member of the committee in charge of booking speakers for the annual MIMA Summit, I’d be remiss to not mention there is a panel speaking on the very topic of ridesharing at the upcoming summit.)