Ryan and Hoa McManus are thinking big with SHARE, the microtransit service company they started in 2016 to shuttle people to and from work, school and other frequently traveled routes.

In January 2018, the startup provided just 270 shared rides with four vehicles; a year later, SHARE handled 20,000 rides in January, using 60 vehicles.

The company has raised more than $5 million, even though it didn’t announce the three rounds, CEO Ryan says. Chief of Culture Hoa oversees more than 100 employees, as SHARE launches in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis and Dallas, with more cities on the way.

Obtaining funding primarily from Ohio venture capital firms means dilution for the founders, but the couple is focused on the size of the pie.

“Ohio entrepreneurs need to be thinking bigger — about how large their exit could be, not just about how big their piece could be,” Ryan says. “A $5 million exit for an entrepreneur here would be life-changing for them, but it’s not significant for our ecosystem. It’s not significant for the investors and it doesn’t allow that entrepreneur to put that back into the startup community. Hoa and I are focused on building this company to its full potential.”

Ryan and Hoa talk about their grand vision for SHARE — creating a CarMax-like network of microtransit.

Aiming high

In 2014, the husband and wife team started a marketing agency that helped more than 40 entrepreneurs launch startups. They wanted to use that experience to build their own product company.

“We’re planners,” Hoa says. “We’ve always planned things out for our future, and we’ve always set goals not with only ourselves, but with our whole family. We have two little girls, and we even have them goal set as well. I think it’s just a different perspective on how we look at life.”

So, when Ryan got a call from an old college friend — “There’s an opportunity to get an idea in front of Jaguar Land Rover, but you have four days” — they jumped at the chance.

Instead of presenting something practical, they decided to go for a moon shot, he says.

They’d already looked at opportunities surrounding the automotive industry, thinking about connected and autonomous vehicles. They told Jaguar Land Rover that they wanted to build a company that would develop technology for a world where everyone is a passenger.

“The idea we pitched Jaguar Land Rover was so outlandish that they said, ‘If your team is willing to move across the country in 30 days, we’ll give you $80,000,’” Ryan says.

Ryan, Hoa and two others moved to a house in Portland for six months to participate in Jaguar Land Rover’s technology incubator.

After talking to multiple automakers and tier one suppliers, they pivoted.

“We were convinced that a mobility platform was what needed to happen, but we weren’t getting a lot of support for the idea of building a transportation company with Uber and Lyft,” he says. “Everybody thought why would you build a mobility company with Uber and Lyft? Isn’t that market already won?

“We found a $14 billion market that fits right between the public bus and ride hailing that was completely untapped,” Ryan adds. “We call that market microtransit.”

Existing companies wanted to sell more vehicles. Ryan and Hoa wanted to move people away from owning vehicles, so they needed different support to build the business.

They moved back to Columbus and started working on their first version of mobility software to help other ride-share companies get started. However, people kept telling them: We don’t want to be in the transportation business; help us get out of that.”

“It was the summer of 2017, a year after our formation, we decided that we were going to become an actual transportation company, but to do that we needed to get another investor,” Ryan says. “We needed to get new investment. We had less than three months of runway when we did that and everybody on the team had a side job to be able to pay the bills.”

Finding its niche

In September 2017, SHARE was accepted into Singularity University’s Smart City Accelerator, co-sponsored by American Electric Power and NCT Ventures. Ryan says they received $100,000 to see what they could do in three months.

Hoa and Ryan put personal guarantees on their first vans and drove a lot, working from a minimal software platform.

Because SHARE has always had software as the backbone of its operations, it can keep operating costs down. The company provides transportation for employers that need workers, senior centers that want to outsource transportation services, and schools that need to transport students.

SHARE puts its drivers through at least four weeks of training before they can hit the road solo. Technology also tracks rapid acceleration, harsh braking and cornering, with drivers earning bonuses for driving safely.

Many of the drivers are surprised at how well they’re treated, which partly comes from Hoa’s experience. Her mother was a refugee from Vietnam who started over from nothing and then became a single mother after Hoa’s father died.

“I focus a lot on how we treat our drivers — and how we treat all of our employees really, but it’s the drivers that are the biggest component of our business,” Hoa says. “Without them, we are literally not driving forward anywhere, and so my biggest role is to take care of them.”

Over the past three months, SHARE has eliminated at least 25 percent of the manual work in its operations, Ryan says. That should continue as the company starts to utilize machine learning. It already has automated route building, automatic driver and vehicle assignments, customer service management that tracks the rules for each organization, as well as apps for riders and drivers to schedule and manage trips.

That is why the couple believe SHARE can scale up quickly in other cities. Finding drivers will be difficult, but it has the infrastructure and playbook already. In addition, the platform could be sold as a software-as-a-service line of business.

Some people are forecasting that by 2030 as much as 90 percent of trips will be in a vehicle you share. However, Ryan — who still owns his own car — tells investors even if that percentage of expected passengers seems ambitious, SHARE already has a market of individuals who need transportation.

“We improve the communities we serve,” he says. “We make these communities better and we get to uplift the community and leverage private subsidy to do this.”