Brandery Storytime: FlightCar


Quick Facts

Company: FlightCar
Brandery Class: 2012
Launched: 2013
Total Raised: Over $6M
Locations: 3, SFO, BOS, and LAX
Cars Rented Out: Over 5,000

It’s just another day in 2012. Rujul Zaparde and Kevin Petrovic are sitting at Panera Bread, enjoying their last few months of high school. It’s March, and Rujul and Kevin already have their acceptance letters to Harvard and Princeton, respectively. Rujul mentions to the well-traveled Kevin that he’d recently read an article about a startup called Airbnb. They start discussing, and an idea emerges.

“If people are willing to share their most valuable asset, their house, why wouldn’t they be willling to share their second most valuable asset, their car?” Rujul asks Kevin. People could drop off their cars at the airport with them instead of parking in long-term parking at the airport, and visitors that needed to rent cars could just use the bank of cars they already had. It would save everyone involved money.

The story would be great if they instantly started drawing up plans for their startup, building their business, and raising capital. But that’s not how it goes.

“We thought it was a terrible idea and ignored it for about a month.”

Kevin and Rujul had known each other for about ten years through school, and had already started a non-profit together, called Drinking Water for India, that brings safe drinking water to rural areas of India.
A month or so later, the idea came up again. It didn’t seem so terrible anymore. Rujul and Kevin decided to investigate its potential. At this point, they didn’t know what an accelerator was, let alone think they would be at one in two months.
They began doing some research and, as Rujul puts it, “began asking dumb questions.” Some of this research led them to learn that accelerators exist, and The Brandery seemed like a good option for them. The application deadline was the next day.

They applied, and after picking up their developer, Shri, from MIT, the guys flew to Cincinnati for their interview. “We saw their application and that they were three guys from Harvard, Princeton, MIT, and thought, ‘okay, well that is interesting,’” explained GM Mike Bott. “So we invited them to come interview as a finalist. We offered Google Hangout as an option, but they said they would rather come in person. They asked if they could come interview on a Friday for some reason, and on the way back from the airport— obviously at this point we had realized they were a lot younger than their application had alluded— we asked them why they needed to interview on a Friday. Rujul said, ‘Well, Kevin’s high school graduation is tomorrow. We thought you would take us more seriously if we showed up in person.’ They knew they really had to sell themselves.”

Ultimately, FlightCar was accepted to The Brandery’s 2012 class, making them the youngest co-founders in any class, at 17. In June, they ditched their plans for an Ivy League education, poached their developer from MIT, and moved to Cincinnati to tap their idea.

“We were just excited to meet mentors and be around people that thought we deserved $20k.”

Rujul, Kevin, and Shri showed up to The Brandery with the idea, the name, FlightCar, and a logo that “looked like a car with a shark fin on top of it— it was bad.” Right away, they got to work trying to find parking lots to use for the launch of their car sharing service. It was hard. To add to that, they were beginning to tackle the critical issue of acquiring insurance for the vehicles they would be renting out. About five weeks into the program at The Brandery, they were told that it couldn’t be done. Insurance would be impossible. Should they just shut down? Why would anyone lend their car to a stranger without insurance?

Meanwhile, FlightCar’s agency partner, Landor, was hard at work on their brand.

“They could not have done a better job. Landor was excellent in helping us figure out how to present ourselves. It wasn’t just a logo and a color scheme, which they did give us, but it’s a lot more than that. The concrete stuff was great, but what they really helped us out with was actually creating a brand. We didn’t understand A) what a brand was or B) what our brand was. The tagline, the tone of voice we use, that is all attributed directly to Landor.”

By the end of the program, Rujul, Kevin, and Shri had built a working prototype, established viable markets, acquired early investors, and done the impossible right before Demo Day, had insurance committed. They were prepped to launch.

What happened next?

After FlightCar graduated from The Brandery, they faced more challenges. Investors wanted to see traction, and they didn’t have it yet. They had all the tools to launch, but didn’t have the capital to secure parking lots. This was FlightCar’s “trough of sorrow.” They went from October to December trying to fundraise with no traction. They had the connections from The Brandery, but nothing was lining up. After four tedious months, they raised their first round and were able to launch in their first city, San Francisco.

A few months later, FlightCar applied (again on the last day that applications were open) to Y Combinator and was accepted. They were still scaling, still finding the numbers, and YC helped them through that process while they kept fundraising. FlightCar began to take off— they received tons of press and raised their series A in 14 days. And then they got sued.

The City of San Francisco filed a lawsuit against FlightCar that suggested they be subject to the same fees that the rental car companies have to pay the airport for being on airport property. FlightCar is not located on airport property, but the city argues that they should pay since they are using their customers. They handled the lawsuit with class and kept pressing on.

Today, FlightCar is in San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles, with other cities coming very soon.

How did The Brandery help FlightCar?

“If we hadn’t gone to The Brandery, I don’t think we could have gone through with any of this. I 100% wouldn’t have changed our decision to go through the program. You’re in one location with [GM Mike Bott] and all the other companies who get to know you so well. You can walk 25 feet and get any question you have answered and walk back to your desk and think about their answer. We just had so many questions and it is the absolute best way to get all of those questions answered. That was the number one thing for us. That, and everyone was there all the time, which is unlike other accelerators. Most people even work on Saturdays, which helps you stay on track with the other companies. You saw everyone every day. The Brandery holds your hand a lot more that other accelerators, which is a good thing. We needed that.”

Rujul’s advice to future Brandery companies?

“Use the program as much as you can. Work seven days a week. Take things in stride and focus on what you need to get done.”

Apply to The Brandery now.

Some Accelerator History

Accelerators are now a staple in the tech startup scene. Want to know where it all started and what the ecosystem looks like now? Below outlines some key dates and statistics from the big accelerator programs. stats pulled from ">http://www.seed-db.com/accelerators

 2005: Y Combinator was founded in Silicon Valley by Paul Graham. They have graduated over 466 companies and the average raise is $2,072,978 per company. Some of Y Combinators notable graduate companies include Airbnb, Dropbox, OMGPOP, and Reddit.

2006: Modeled off Y Combinator, Techstars was founded in Boulder, CO by David Cohen, Brad Feld, David Brown, and Jared Polis. Over the next 8 years, Techstars expands it’s programming to include accelerators in Boston, Seattle, NYC and San Antonio. Techstars Boulder (the first TechStars) has graduated 65 companies with an average raise of $1,715,846 per company.

2007: To kickstart the entrepreneurial scene in Europre, Seedcamp founded in London. In total seedcamp has graudated 72 companies with an average raise of $634,156 per company. Seedcamp has stepped forward as the “international accelerator” program and mentored companies from over 35 countries.

2010: As one of the first thematically based accelerators, Brandery founded in Cincinnati, OH with an emphasis on utilizing the marketing and branding talent of the region to accelerate startups. The co-founders included JB Kropp, Rob McDonald, Dave Knox and Brian Radke. The Brandery has graduated 26 companies with an average raise of $442,307 per company.

January 2011: As a way to bring together the accelerator programs across the country, Tech Stars launched the Global Accelerator Network in conjunction with Obama’s Startup America Partnership, linking 22 accelerator programs internationally. The GAN network has expanded to over 50 accelerators

May 2011/August 2012: DFJ Mercury, Tech Cocktail, The Kauffman Fellows and the Kellog School of Business ranked accelerators based off a variety of quantiative and qualitative program results. In their two studies, the aforementioned programs ranked in the Top 15, as well as i/o ventures, Kicklabs, Excelerate, AngelPad San Fran, AngelPad LA, 500 startups, DreamIt Ventures, NYC Seedstart, and Accelerator. Out of the 15 programs, only Excelerate Labs (Chicago) and The Brandery are midwest based programs.