RideScout and Austin’s Growing Transportation Startup Ecosystem

9/4/14Follow @angelashah

Perhaps it makes sense that a hub of transportation innovation takes shape in car-crazy Texas.

A booming economy has brought droves of new migrants seeking work and clogging the roads. And while Texas’s metro centers are attracting urban pioneers to revitalized inner-city communities close to work, most still make ever-longer commutes. And that’s prompting Texans to embrace new transit options, creating an environment ripe for entrepreneurial spark.

“It’s not a coincidence that RideScout and Car2Go emerged in Austin,” RideScout founder Joseph Kopser told me in an interview Wednesday. “The Texas economy is made of pioneers who love to create new things.”

RideScout, which Kopser describes as “Kayak for ground transportation,” is being bought by Car2Go North America, a fellow Austin transportation technology company operating in the Texas capital. RideScout’s app—which gives users real-time information on transit options, including bus and rail service, taxis, and car-sharing services such as Car2Go—will become a subsidiary of Germany-based Daimler AG, which owns Car2Go and is better known as the maker of Mercedes-Benz.

“Now, we have the resources of Car2Go, moovel, and, ultimately, Daimler behind us,” Kopser said. “It’s really powerful.”

Terms of the deals were not disclosed. Separately, Daimler also announced that its moovel subsidiary—which owns the Car2Go brand—bought myTaxi, a taxi-booking app started in 2009 in Germany, in which the automaker already had a 15 percent stake.

The acquisition is the next step in a partnership that began two years ago, Kopser said. “They were in our beta; they had an open [application programming interface] that allowed booking and reservations of their cars through our app.”

Kopser said he had first met moovel chief Robert Henrich 18 months ago in RideScout’s early days. “This was when he was building moovel, which is like RideScout in Europe,” Kopser said. “We weren’t much of anything. We were only in Austin, with just a few options.” But Kopser added that Henrich was intrigued, asking his staff to “keep an eye on RideScout.”

RideScout has now launched its app in 69 cities in the United States and Canada and features more than 300 transport options from car rentals and bike programs to taxis, trains, and buses. Kopser and Henrich reconnected earlier this summer. “We just saw that our passions are so closely aligned,” Kopser said. “They made an offer: Let’s work together as partners to change the face of transportation in the future.”

With the Daimler resources, Kopser says, RideScout plans to more than quadruple its engineering corps to 30 people from 6 in the next four months, and get to work on a “giant laundry list” of features integrating RideScout with users’ calendars and contacts, among other things.

Long term, Kopser said he is focused on “creating the operating system that will power the evolution of autonomous vehicles and driverless vehicles.” It’s a bold vision, but it could well be where transportation-focused technology is headed.

“These are the Car2Gos of the future,” he said. “They are there when you need them; they drive away when you’re done and pick someone else up.”

RideScout, he added, would connect users to services like this.

The company will continue to be headquartered in Austin and will operate as a subsidiary of Car2Go. Kopser will remain at his current position at RideScout, which currently has 16 employees and previously raised $2.5 million in funding. The startup was in the middle of raising a Series A round when he began negotiating with Car2Go.

In the three years since he founded RideScout in 2011, Kopser, who previously served in the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, has become a transportation evangelist. When the startup kicked off operations, Kopser sold his car and his Twitter feed is a transit travelogue of the planes, buses, car-shares and other modes of transport he uses traveling across the country to promote RideScout.

In particular, Kopser used his blog “Road Scholar” to raise awareness of how the lack of transit options in car-centric cities like Austin contributed to the rash of drunken-driving deaths during South By Southwest this past spring.

With Texas roads and highways getting increasingly jammed and a limited public transit sector, alternative taxi services like Lyft and Uber have come to the state, battling local regulators to offer their services. It all adds up to fertile ground, not only for RideScout, but other transportation startups as well, Kopser said.

“With this partnership, we have a chance to attract innovators in ride-share, paratransit, and other transit-oriented companies to Texas,” he said.

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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