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Rujul Zaparde of FlightCar

FlightCar, a startup launched as part of The Brandery business accelerator, is an innovative way to save money while traveling. The service allows users to list their cars to be used by other registered FlightCar participants.

Rujul Zaparde, the founder and CEO of FlightCar, saw Cincinnati as the perfect place to launch his new business. While the service isn't yet available in the Queen City, any Cincinnatians traveling to San Fransisco can help test the burgeoning service.  

According to the company's website, "FlightCar lets people parking at the airport rent their vehicles out to other travelers. Every rental is insured up to $1 million, and every renter is pre-screened. Depending on the size and model year of the vehicle, you'll also make up to $10/day in gas credits!"
How did you come up with the idea for your business and how did it get started?

It was actually pretty random. Last February, I read an article on Airbnb. That was the first time I'd heard about Airbnb.

The next day, I happened to meet Kevin (Petrovic), a good friend of eight years, and told him about the sharing economy. He thought it was a pretty cool concept. Kevin does a lot of traveling, and as we discussed, he put two and two together and realized how inefficient the car rental market at airports was.

We looped Shri (Ganeshram) into the conversation shortly after. It took us a few months to realize we could start a company out of this and that the economics were viable. The Brandery was the first startup accelerator we applied to, and the first to accept us. At that point, we knew we had to come to Cincinnati and get cracking full-time on FlightCar in July.
What Cincinnati resources did you take advantage of and how did they help?

Of course The Brandery. They're very hands-on, and if it weren't for their help, I don't think we would have started FlightCar, or would have done well. Mike Bott, who's the GM of the program, was involved with us on a day-to-day basis, and we'd take his feedback and implement it. We could not have been happier that we went through the program and would for sure do it again.
How is Cincinnati a unique city for entrepreneurs?

I think the presence of P&G really drives the emphasis on "branding" in Cincinnati. That definitely helped us out a lot. Before coming to The Brandery, we literally had no brand. Even our logo looked like a car with a shark fin sticking out of it. It was terrible.

We learned that a brand is much more than just a good logo, but more a manifesto of what a company stands for. We were paired up with Landor, a design firm in Cincinnati, and they helped us through all our design and branding. This emphasis is definitely not present in Silicon Valley.
What would you do differently if you started your business again?

Launch much sooner! We did launch relatively fast, but we really started learning only after we'd done so. We could have avoided wasting multiple months trying to set up infrastructure for a model we wouldn't even end up implementing. We changed our model quite a bit, and if we'd just launched, we would've learned much more quickly instead of just preparing.
What’s next for you and your company?

Right now, we're at the expansion phase. We've executed our model in one market—San Francisco—and will be launching in more markets soon. Boston is slated for next month, and there will be more markets after that. We're still streamlining operations in San Francisco, but at the same time, expanding, hiring engineers, etc., and coming up with more ways to acquire users.

Interview by Sean Peters

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