Imagine someone you don’t know pulling up in front of your house in his car, taking you on a 1,400 mile road trip to Michigan, and then staying there to do Michigan things with you until you’re both ready to leave. Sound good?
Your mom might say fuck that (she cusses, by the way), but Gordon Taylor, a Houston tech entrepreneur in the long-distance ride share business, is hoping you’re into it.
Taylor owns a startup called Croozen, which gives its users the chance to have fun experiences and intimate conversations about life and what each other’s names are on long car rides back and forth from college, concerts, and wherever else two people who don’t know each other might both want to go. Round trip and one way options are available, and depending on what your travel plans are you’ll either never see your driver again after they drop you off at your friend’s house or you’ll end up sharing a tent and arguing at Coachella all weekend about who discovered Mumford & Sons first.
The Houston-based company’s idea is that people who are open to “an experience,” as Taylor described it, would be down to travel together to a common destination. It’s a road trip service basically, but you don’t need to have friends first (even though they can come, too).
“People are connecting on the ride,” he said. “They’re stopping at stores for snacks, listening to music and eventually going to an event or a city of their choice that they enjoy. You’re making a friend for life, you’re in the family, and you’re sharing a great time together while allowing people to get places more efficiently.”
If you’re imagining the longest Uber ride of all time with a driver who won’t stop trying to chat you up about your day while Mambo No. 5 shrieks at you from blown out speakers, Taylor said you have it wrong. Croozen isn’t a long-distance ride hailing platform like Uber or Lyft. With those services, drivers are getting paid to take passengers where they want to go and then they leave you there to go do it again for someone else. No one is making any money with Croozen, and everyone in the car is going to the same place, sometimes to do the same thing.
“We don’t want to be thought of as a ride sharing app,” he said. “We see ourselves more like AirBnB or Kayak. We’re trying to build a community of people who like being together.”
And if it turns out the people don’t end up liking being together? There isn’t currently an in-app option to cancel a trip and abandon someone at a convenience store in Illinois, but ideally there won’t need to be. Taylor said the kind of people who use Croozen are open minded and into “the lifestyle” of meeting new folks and having interesting experiences. Users are choosing to go on their trip together, after all, and there’s also the cost benefit of splitting gas and road trip food.
“If you don’t like people, this probably isn’t the platform for you,” he said, noting that a Croozen trip from Houston to Austin costs around 20 dollars — about the price of a Greyhound bus trip minus the stained seats and growling vagrants.
Also, stop worrying, Mom. There are safety features that make sure users don’t end up on a road trip with a murderer. Background checks are an obvious one, but Croozen also has check-in points along the journey so people can signal they’ve made it to certain places, as well an emergency contact system for anyone who feels unsafe. A Croozen chat service even means you don’t have to give your phone number to the person who’s hauling your ass to Chicago for free if you don’t want to.
Taylor’s company, which has grown to nine employees and now operates in 10 states, is only available to college students at the moment (Rice and University of Houston students can take each other on round trip journeys to New Orleans or Chicago tonight if they want to). But he said the app will be available to the general public soon, and algorithms that match users based on shared interests are in development.
“We want to help individuals connect with people who they get along with,” he said. “We realize that people want to be around people they like and be stuck on a road trip with them — someone interesting. There’s a social experiment side that we want to build in.”