In 2007, without an own car, Guilherme Souza and Matheus Marosti both Computer Engineer undergrad students at Unicamp were a little bit tired of having to always search among other students or in the University’s murals or lampposts for a ride to São Paulo, where their families live. This real and personal problem was the inspiration of the startup Unicaronas (something like Unirides).
So, they decided to start a web platform where people needing a ride and people needing to reduce their travel expenses could connect and help each other.
As Unicamp is a renowned university that attracts students from everywhere throughout the country, travel to the parents’ home is always a necessity and the expenses are usually high, especially for full time students without any or with a low personal income.
Guilherme observes that “a few years ago, it was usual to see several students at the university’s gates asking for a ride. Today, the usual scene is several students with their suitcases waiting for their rides, for example, at the gas station nearby the main Unicamp gate”.
Initially, the platform was called as Caronas Unicamp (Unicamp’s Rides) and was available just for Unicamp, but along the time other universities started asking the company for the same service. The startup gained some scale and changed the name for Unicaronas.
Nowadays, the platform has 13,000 active users and is responsible for about 1,200 rides per week, mainly between cities. According to Guilherme, the company is trying to stimulate a daily carpool culture in the cities they are offering the service.
Unicaronas is working with 28 universities throughout 5 Brazilian States (São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul) and they are targeting the same ratio of students using the service as they have in Unicamp: “Nearly 1/3 of the 30,000 Unicamp students are regular costumers of our platform and we intend to reach the same results in the other universities we are working with”, says Guilherme.
The security about getting a ride with a stranger was one of the initial challenges faced by the company, especially with the girls. One of the mechanisms used is that all the users must have an official academic email. Besides, according to Guilherme, “the service is referred by the senior to the freshmen students as effective and safe and we’ve never had any problem with the security of our users”.
Besides the economic value added by this services and the green aspect of the carpool, there is a fun social aspect involved. According to Guilherme, it is promoting an integration among universities (it has becoming usual a carpool with students from 5 different universities), several couple started dating because of the carpools and even several business partnerships emerged from those rides.
Unicaronas’ business model relies on advertising. Recently, it closed a deal with a bigger partner who is responsible for most of its income.
Unicaronas is going to expand its functionalities and services very soon. According to Guilherme, besides solving the problem of transportation, ”Unicaronas intends to be the Google for grad and undergrad students, creating a solution for all the main needs a student have, such as housing, job search, foreign exchange, parties, etc.”. Offering more services, Unicaronas intends to gain scale in number of users and income, as it gets more attractive for other companies advertise their products and services.
The first new service to be launched must be the housing solution in less than 2 months from now. A partnership with Unicamp is being developed for this product.
Unicaronas is one of the companies attending the Unicamp Ventures’ Mentorship Program 2011 and according to Guilherme it is being really helpful to develop the new business models.