RelayRides, Out to Be the Community-Powered Zipcar, Hits the Ground With Pilot Rental Program

6/22/10Follow @xconomy

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to getting the service off the ground was finding an insurance policy that covered the cars, he says. “We basically had to invent a new insurance product,” Clark says. “Insurance companies aren’t the most innovative people out there—by definition, they are risk-averse.”

Clark wouldn’t reveal which insurance company ventured into this new market, but he said each car is covered with $1 million per-incident in theft, collision, and liability insurance while driven by RelayRides renters. That also includes providing car owners with rental cars while their ride is in the shop, or reimbursing them if their cars get completely totaled by a RelayRides customer.

This summer’s ongoing pilot phase in Cambridge is mainly intended to explore how the community responds to the user-powered car-sharing model, but there are improvements planned for down the road. For example, the company can only work with cars that have designated, off-street parking spots at present, but future advances could enable the system to use GPS technology to capture the location of vehicles parked on the street and text it to the next user. RelayRides, which works out of Polaris Venture Partners’ Dogpatch Labs, also plans to raise its next round of financing once the pilot concludes. (Clark didn’t say how much seed funding the startup has drummed up, just that it was enough to fund the pilot.)

Ultimately, Clark sees his service as a way to carry out his social entrepreneurship ambition that he first got a taste of at Kiva.org. “I like the concept of a relay—someone is passing something from one person to the next,” says Clark. He notes that relay races were his favorite events while on a swimming scholarship at Northwestern University. “People are working together for something. It’s for the community, by the community.”

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