Following a recent $25 million Series C, we sat down with HopSkipDrive CEO Joanna McFarland to discuss the growth in demand for the ride-sharing service since they kicked off a partnership with Zendrive.
As HopSkipDrive prepares to expand to 30 new markets over the next year and a half, we asked Joanna about how her day-to-day role has changed, other plans the company has beyond an impressive expansion roadmap, and how the team continues to foster a safety culture for all.
Here’s what Joanna had to say.
To start us off, tell us a bit about your background and your role as CEO at HopSkipDrive.
Joanna McFarland: I started HopSkipDrive seven years ago with two other working moms. We were desperate for a solution that would help us manage our family transportation needs, which was challenging with our busy schedules. We didn’t want to have to compromise our careers — and we also didn’t want our kids to miss out on any activities or opportunities, but we also knew we needed a solution that put the safety of our kids first and foremost.
Pretty quickly, we realized the solution we built for families was also a great solution for schools, which often have challenges managing all the individualized transportation needs they have while also dealing with bus driver shortages. HopSkipDrive currently operates in 16 major markets in nine states, contracting with 300+ schools, districts and government agencies. To date, HopSkipDrive CareDrivers have driven 20M+ miles and safely delivered 1.4M riders to over 13,000 schools.
Before co-founding HopSkipDrive in 2014, I worked for 15 years in product management, building and scaling businesses for top technology brands, including WeddingChannel, Green Dot and YP.com. Prior to that, I spent time in investment banking and private equity. I have an MBA from Stanford University and a B.S. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
You recently raised $25 million in Series C funding. Tell us a bit more about that, and where you see the company headed now.
JM: This funding will go to good use as we work hard to further our mission of creating opportunity for all through mobility, one ride at a time. Right now, we’re excited to be able to play a part in helping kids across the country get back to school, as many are being left with no guaranteed school transportation due to severe bus driver shortages.
This funding will drive some pretty ambitious plans that include the continued reinvention of school transportation. HopSkipDrive doesn’t aim to replace the yellow bus. Instead, our goal is to act as a complement to traditional school transportation models, providing solutions and optimization to make the entire system more efficient and cost-effective for districts.
Our technology platform and operations help school districts customize transportation needs from the one to the many. We’re planning to launch 30 new markets in the next few years.
We’re also focused on the progression to zero emission. HopSkipDrive’s CareDriver vehicle network already significantly outperforms regular passenger vehicles when it comes to reducing carbon emission: While less than 2% of vehicles in the U.S. are hybrid or EV, 19% of CareDriver vehicles are hybrid or EV. Over the next few years, we will introduce programs and partnerships that enable even more CareDrivers to transition to EVs.
What are some of the main challenges you’re taking on as you plan to expand into 30 new markets, particularly as it relates to your safety culture and standards?
JM: We’re very deliberate about scaling so that we can maintain our exceptional safety culture and standards. In each new market, we carefully build a network of highly vetted, qualified CareDrivers and ensure they have everything they need to provide the safest possible experience for our Riders.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into driver safety. What’s the journey been like at HopSkipDrive in building a safety culture? How have you gone about doing this, and what were the major challenges along the way?
JM: From the beginning, safety has been at the forefront of HopSkipDrive’s mission. We are dedicated to monitoring every aspect of our operations with an eye toward safety, and making adjustments and improvements. For me, the question was and continues to be, “What would I need to see to feel comfortable putting my child in a HopSkipDrive ride?”
Our obsession with safety is why we were the first in our industry to implement a 15-point certification process, including driver qualification requirements like a fingerprint-based check of criminal databases and five years of childcare experience. It’s also why we use a multi-factor authentication system for pick-ups, and why every single HopSkipDrive ride is monitored in real-time by our Safe Ride Support Technology and team.
In addition, we built a Safety Advisory Board that works with HopSkipDrive to advance our safety leadership and guide our safety initiatives. This board is comprised of hand-picked industry experts at the very top of their respective fields and includes leaders of some of the most well-respected organizations on youth transportation safety.
When it comes to safety, we also believe that holding ourselves accountable is important to ensure that we not only stay true to our mission but also continue to research, innovate, and implement new ways to ensure optimal safety through technology.
Last year, HopSkipDrive released its very first Safety Report, which highlighted safety investments made to the platform throughout 2018 and 2019 while simultaneously encouraging other organizations to share their data in an effort to provide greater transparency throughout the industry. We recently published our second annual Safety Report.
From a business perspective, what are some key learnings that HopSkipDrive has taken away from this pandemic? How have you changed, if at all, the way you think about driver safety nowadays?
JM: Needless to say, last year’s COVID-mandated school closures created a major challenge for the business. As a result, we expanded our service offerings to include arranging transportation for older adults and supporting schools by delivering education technology devices and meals to families who depend on school lunches.
Additionally, we partnered with local agencies to streamline transportation operations to mass vaccination events, expanding access to potentially life-saving vaccines.
With the advent of COVID-19, we acted quickly to enhance our safety measures by creating and implementing our rigorous COVID-Safe Ride Standards. Developed with public health experts and based on CDC guidelines and local regulations, these standards include first-in-market procedures such as plastic dividers between seats (though these are no longer required), vehicle disinfecting between rides, face coverings for both CareDrivers and Riders, and an affirmation from CareDrivers that they are asymptomatic and have not been exposed to COVID-19 prior to claiming rides.
CareDrivers reported that the COVID-Safe Ride Standards made them feel safe driving during the pandemic. With these safety measures in place, many CareDrivers were able to continue driving and earning income.
What are you most excited about as you look ahead for HopSkipDrive, especially now with the new funding? What are you most concerned about?
JM: Right now, as we are scaling to meet market demand, we are very focused on execution and on helping kids get back to school safely. Across all our markets, we signed nearly 150 new district contracts since COVID first closed schools down, and we’ve renewed 100% of previously signed contracts.
As I look ahead, I’m excited about the different ways HopSkipDrive can help solve many of the challenges facing the school transportation industry today. School districts across the country are reaching out to ask for our help, and we’re thrilled to be able to be part of the solution.
Part of being there for our kids is being environmentally conscious, which is why I’m also excited about HopSkipDrive playing a vital role in the electrification of student transportation.
Learn more about how Zendrive's technology helps HopSkipDrive maintain a safety culture here, or request the full case study below.