Zebigo, Led by Boeing and Blue Origin Vet, Rolls Out Ride-Sharing Network in Seattle

Mark Russell spent 13 years commuting the 50-odd miles from Graham, WA, to Kirkland and back. Driving alone, he couldn’t use the carpool lane, so he spent countless hours sitting in traffic. Now he is channeling years of pent-up frustration to help solve the broader ride-sharing problem, using a confluence of social networks, mobile applications, and smart optimization algorithms.

Russell’s company, Zebigo, is introducing its new service in Seattle later this week, when it will begin signing up customers. The Web-based service will start in earnest on June 17 in Seattle, Bellevue, and Tacoma. It works sort of like a cross between Zipcar and eBay, without the bidding. Customers set up accounts with Zebigo, and the software and Web interface matches up riders trying to go from A to B at a certain time with drivers already heading there or planning to go—all within a minute or two. If both parties agree to the rideshare, then the rider will pay the driver after they carpool together (much less than a taxi fare), with Zebigo taking a flat fee of 49 cents from each transaction. The whole thing can be done with smartphones; Zebigo sends information to the rider and driver by e-mail and text message.

“Our goal is to turn your mobile phone into a set of keys,” Russell says.

Although the service is meant for strangers to be able to share rides—more on this social barrier below—repeat carpoolers might drive a lot of business, and build their own network of people they get to know. “I feel like I am the customer for this system. I wasted three and a half hours a day in traffic,” Russell says. “I want to amalgamate all these technologies into something that really has an impact on society and the environment.”

Russell is no stranger to high-impact work. He’s a veteran of Boeing, Intel, and Blue Origin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s aerospace firm. Perhaps what’s most intriguing about Zebigo is that its team of seven full-timers (and about a dozen people in all) comes largely from the aerospace industry, where they solved technical problems ranging from flight routing to intelligent database programming to spacecraft separation for launching satellites.

But it isn’t too surprising that they’ve turned their efforts to a big transportation problem. There seems to be renewed interest in sharing cars, exemplified by Cambridge, MA-based Zipcar’s plans for an initial public offering, as we reported just yesterday. And online ride-sharing services, such as Zimride, PickupPal, and GoLoco, have been sprouting up around the U.S. and Canada in the … Next Page »

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