A small startup based out of WeWork South Station is quickly racing after Uber and Lyft in the billion-dollar ridesharing industry. Boston-based Fasten has set out to shake up the market by offering better service to drivers and charging passengers less.
Since launching in September 2015, thousands have signed up to drive with Fasten. As a result, the company has seen ridership increase 300 percent over the past two months. Fasten is also currently the top ride-hailing app in its second operating city, Austin, Texas.
I recently had the chance to speak with Fasten CEO and co-founder, Kirill Evdakov, about what makes Fasten different from other ridesharing apps, why anyone would launch this type of business when Uber and Lyft are dominating the industry, and why he believes ridesharing is the future of transportation.
FROM RUSSIA TO BOSTON
Evdakov is from Russia, where there is no formal term for ridesharing. In Russia, all taxi services are unregulated and act similarly to ridesharing. As the new market began to take off in the U.S., Evdakov and the other three members of the Fasten founding team set out to use their knowledge and experience to create a better business model for ridesharing—one that would make them, the middle-man, as invisible as possible.
“We noticed that these large ridesharing companies were taking a huge percentage of fares from the very beginning,” Evdakov said. “We knew that this was not the right model or way to price services, so we set out to make this convenient thing affordable to everyone.”
The Fasten team chose Boston as its headquarters, hoping to take advantage of what they saw as a prime market for these types of apps.
“Boston weather changes a lot, which really benefits ridesharing,” Evdakov said. “Plus, there are 300K college students here who are early adopters of new technology. What’s not to like?”
A FOCUS ON THE DRIVER
Wirbin Vasquez began driving for Fasten in January after hearing about the company from a friend. He was instantly drawn to Fasten because of its driver-first mentality and great customer service.
“I like this company because it treats the drivers well,” Vasquez said. “We get to be paid a little bit more, and they’re more friendly than the other two companies that operate pretty competitively here.”
Though Vasquez was tempted to drive for other ridesharing companies, he decided to exclusively drive for Fasten because he liked the upfront service he got from the startup. Fasten essentially created a customer service center for drivers, where they can voice thoughts or concerns about the experience to the Fasten team.
“I love that I can just go into their office if I have a problem,” he said. “I just let the front desk know and one minute later someone is down talking to me. They get to the point super fast and then I’m back out on the road again. You can’t beat that.”
Fasten differentiates itself from other ridesharing apps by focusing on treating drivers as customers, not commodities. Services like Uber and Lyft split the profit earned from a ride with the driver. Both competitors will take anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of each ride.
Fasten has a different model: It’s the only service that charges drivers a flat rate of $0.99 per ride, allowing drivers to keep the rest of the fare. For its drivers working more frequently, Fasten also offers a $15 Daily Unlimited plan or $80 Weekly Unlimited option, instead of the $0.99 fare.
“This entire experience depends on the driver,” Evdakov said. “We realize that we’re in the business of serving drivers to help them deliver great experiences to riders—not in the business of serving riders by utilizing drivers.”
NO SURGE PRICING
Fasten doesn’t implement a surge charge, the fee sometimes added to fares from other ridesharing services during peak hours. Surge pricing is intended to encourage drivers to work during times of high demand, which offers a larger commission to both the drivers and company. But Evdakov explained that surge pricing doesn’t give riders a choice—forcing them to pay more, while companies earn more for the same service.
Instead of automatically increasing prices for users in high-demand areas, Fasten riders can choose to opt into paying more. For those in a hurry, they can use a “boost” option to pay drivers slightly more to pick them up before others who pay the regular fare.
“With boost, it’s always up to you,” Evdakov said. “The Fasten cut always stays the same, but drivers understand that premiums or higher rates go directly to them.”
Beyond its boost feature, Fasten differentiates itself from other ridesharing apps by allowing riders to estimate fares ahead of time and view their fares in real-time. Additionally, Fasten utilizes a thumbs-up, thumbs-down rating system for its drivers—as well as a comment option—so the company and drivers can receive specific recommendations on how to improve the experience.
RACING AHEAD IN AUSTIN
Fasten hit the streets in Austin, Texas on June 1, following the departures of Uber and Lyft—both of which were unwilling to comply with city regulations related to driver background checks. Seeing a potential growth opportunity, Fasten received approval from the city and has been battling a number of smaller startups for the new market.
Over the past month, Fasten has recruited thousands of drivers in Austin. More than 80 percent of customers have returned to complete multiple rides. Evdakov explained that Fasten is currently the top ridesharing app in the region, based on data released from competitors.
Looking forward, Evdakov hopes the increased competition will benefit riders and improve the overall industry across the country. The company has no plans to expand to other markets in the near future, but instead is hoping to establish itself in the two current cities.
Fasten is set to open a new office across the street from its home on Atlantic Ave. in the next few weeks, and Evdakov hopes his startup will offer riders and drivers a new and improved ridesharing experience.
“We came to Boston and Austin to give people a choice,” he said. “I think we all have to embrace this increased competition because it will ultimately benefit everyone. If riders or drivers are not happy, they can switch to a different company. That is what pushes us all to be better.”