Empower founder and CEO Joshua Sear is the kind of ride-share passenger who likes to talk to his drivers.
It was through those casual conversations that he came up with an idea in 2018 for an app that would offer a viable alternative to the country’s top ride-hailing services — Uber and Lyft — by letting drivers keep all the money they make in exchange for a subscription fee.
“Consistently, they were saying how they weren’t able to make a living, particularly full-time or near full-time drivers, and then, also…they felt voiceless, like they weren’t heard, that they didn’t feel like they were a customer,” Sear told FFXnow in a recent interview. “…The rider is the customer for Uber and Lyft, and the more I thought about, I started to wonder, ‘Well, what would it look like if drivers were customers?'”
Since launching service in the D.C. region two years ago, the McLean-based startup has supported over 2.5 million rides given by about 10,000 drivers, who have collectively earned more than $40 million, Sear says.
Once touted as better-paying options than taxis, both Uber and Lyft have been dogged by questions about driver pay for years, even after the former paid $20 million to settle federal claims that it was misleading drivers in 2017.
Reports indicate that drivers only receive about half of what riders pay and that the companies take a bigger chunk of fares than the 20 to 25% advertised, discrepancies that have persisted despite soaring prices and led drivers in Denver to strike last month.
Where those ride-sharing companies take a portion of each fare, which is calculated based on trip length and duration, demand and other factors, Empower charges drivers a flat subscription rate for use of its app and other services, including customer support for both driver and rider complaints, according to Sear.
Though the company provides recommended rates, drivers set their own fares and keep everything that riders pay, an approach that Sear says has proven appealing to both parties.
“We do a lot of surveys and get feedback from both riders and drivers, and our surveys as to why do you use Empower for riders, the second most prevalent answer is because drivers get 100% of the fare,” Sear said, adding that the top answer is that the rides are generally less expensive.
He says Empower also aims to provide more transparency to drivers, who can see pick-up and drop-off locations and the rate for each ride before they choose to accept it, and more options for riders, who can “favorite” drivers and limit matches to drivers of the same gender. Read More
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Tysons is now home to a technology startup that enables drivers to automatically pay for parking, gas and other vehicle-related expenses.
The startup also added an office in the Detroit, Michigan, area, drawn by the automobile industry’s major presence in that region.
“The decision to expand our office presence in Northern Virginia and Detroit regions was a logical next step for us,” Sheeva.AI founder and CEO Evgeny Klochikhin said in the press release.
Founded in March 2016, Sheeva.AI has been developing a cloud-based platform to provide real-time location data that can be used for vehicle-related services, from guiding drivers to empty parking spaces to enabling automatic toll, gas and curbside pick-up payments.
The company had been operating remotely, with its leadership team primarily based in Alexandria, but it experienced growth last year that suggested a physical base would be needed to better meet employees and customers’ needs, according to Randy Brown, Sheeva.AI’s director of communications.
“With a majority of our executive leadership already located in northern Virginia, as well as the region’s excellent pool of talent — especially in the technology industry — it made sense for the area to be the home base for our operations,” Brown said by email. “Tysons is the epicenter of the Dulles technology corridor, and that was an important factor for us as we grow our company and advance our vehicle location based solutions.”
There are currently six employees working out of the new headquarters, but the startup anticipates expanding its workforce in both Tysons and the Detroit area throughout this year.
Brown says Sheeva.AI plans to spend 2022 “ramping up our capabilities to scale” and connecting with the vehicle and service industries “to identify the right opportunities to bring our product to market.”
Though it lost out on Amazon’s new headquarters to neighboring Arlington County, Fairfax County has become a popular destination for the technology industry, with about 8,800 companies and roughly one in every four jobs related to that sector, according to the county’s Economic Development Authority.
The EDA reported that the information technology services sector accounted for 29.5% of the new jobs added in the county in 2021.
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