An Uber for the school run

gokid, uber for kids, sharing economy
Say goodbye to carpool scheduling stress. Source: GoKid

Stefanie Lemcke experienced culture shock when she and her family moved from New York City to Connecticut. Suddenly her two daughters had to be driven everywhere: to school, to soccer practice, to horse riding. The working parents were overwhelmed with the coordination it took to arrange carpooling.

Then she got a message while in a meeting that a ride her daughter was counting on wouldn’t happen. The German-expat-turned-suburban-mom panicked, but in that moment came the kernel for the idea of GoKid, in essence an Uber for children. “It can’t be that in the age of Uber and Lyft we still coordinate who’s picking up who via email and text,” she said in her co-working office in the Flatiron District of New York.

GoKid has helped users organize more than 140,000 rides in 25 countries in the past year. The business model is simple: Parents who use the app pay $4.99 a month to connect with other families going to the same destinations to arrange carpooling. Parents can also follow their children’s locations live on a map.

There’s no per-ride cost, making it much more cost-effective than Uber, a frequent solution for well-to-do New York families. Ms. Lemcke, who was born in Düsseldorf, has signed contracts with 20 school districts so far, and more than 200 districts have expressed interest in shortening the pick-up lines in front of their schools.

Uber the top?

Ms. Lemcke invested $100,000 of her own money in GoKid while she was still working as a consultant, and the startup was admitted to the prestigious Techstars Mobility incubator in 2016. As of June 2018, GoKid is valued at $10 million, and she has raised a total of $1.5 million in venture capital from investors including DB Digital Ventures, a fund of Deutsche Bahn.

DB Digital Ventures wants to be a partner, not just an investor, though plans are not yet concrete. It’s interested in helping parents bridge the “last mile” between public transportation and home. “New ride-sharing services are getting more specific in their target audiences,” a spokesperson for DB Digital Ventures said. Acknowledging that helps them shape their portfolio to fulfill consumer demand, and it’s likely Deutsche Bahn will consider adding GoKid to its offerings.

Ms. Lemcke is talking with automakers including Jaguar Land Rover about integrating the apps with their navigation systems. Primarily used on the coasts of the United States, GoKid has also established user bases in Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain, though it has yet to make inroads in Germany.

One has to wonder whether there’s a need for an Uber for kids in Germany, where schoolchildren are encouraged to independently get themselves to and from school. Statistics show German children are more likely to use public transportation than any other method, especially in rural areas:

  • Public transportation: 47.0%
  • Walking: 28.3%
  • Biking: 14.5%
  • Parents’ car: 6.3%
  • Motorbike: 3.9%

In the United States, going to school by car and school bus is much more common:

  • Passenger car: 44.2%
  • School bus: 40.7%
  • Walking/biking: 9.4%
  • Other: 5.7%

“Parent taxis” are considered a nuisance in Germany, a sign of helicopter parenting. With that in mind, GoKid may find its path to success trapped in a teutonic traffic jam.

Katharina Kort is a Handelsblatt correspondent in New York. Grace Dobush is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the authors: kort@handelsblatt.com and grace.dobush@gmail.com

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