Ten years ago, Sara Schaer was a tech executive and stressed-out mom trying to get her kids safely to and from preschool. Today, she’s the CEO of Kango, a growing rideshare for kids that aims to solve that problem for parents like her.
She launched Kango in June 2012 as a peer-to-peer carpool service that helped moms and dads find and coordinate rides with one another. In 2015, she turned it into the rideshare app it is today — a kind of Uber for kids — and has been growing steadily.
Today, Kango has about 12 employees and several hundred drivers on staff. The company, which started out servicing only San Francisco, now works six counties throughout the Bay Area. It has been profiled by online publications like Entrepreneur and Paste, and was named “Best Uber for Kids” in 2017 by San Francisco Magazine.
Schaer, who declined to disclose revenue figures, says Kango’s potential was clear from the start. “It was evident that there was a ton of pent-up demand for his type of service,” she says.
But success has required overcoming a major challenge. You can’t grow a service that’s responsible for transporting “the most precious cargo a family could have” without one trait above all others: trust.
Security for Every Tiny Passenger
Vetting drivers is the top priority for Schaer. To make sure she hires only the best-of-the-best, she puts every applicant through rigorous approval process, she says.
For starters, “everyone who applies to drive, from Day One, must have several years of childcare experience and a safe driving record — which we check. If they don’t meet those requirements, it’s not possible to move forward.” All drivers must also be over 21, and their cars must be 4-door vehicles that are less than 10 years old.
Drivers who meet these requirements undergo an in-person interview, a criminal record scan dating back 7 years, and a thorough examination of their driving history. If no red flags are found, an additional background check is performed that goes back to age 18, as well as fingerprinting and a name-check through a child abuse registry.
It’s a meticulous process, but Schaer has competition to worry about, and industry standards to meet. While popular rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft are not permitted to drive unaccompanied children, other kid-approved apps like HopSkipDrive and Zum are serving parents. And these child-friendly apps are proven to have safer drivers than apps that don’t drive kids, according to research firm Zendrive.
Once a person completes Kango’s vetting, they must attend an orientation and training session where they learn defensive driving and childcare tips “learned through years of experience and thousands of rides.”
To further help parents feel at ease, the app includes a chat function that lets newcomers talk with other users about their experiences. Kango will even send a driver for a meet-and-greet with a parent, or let parents ride along for free up to a $20 value, Schaer says.
And to ensure kids are safe once they’re in a car, drivers are trained to properly install booster and car seats. Plus, vehicles are fitted with tracking and communication devices, so concerned parents can see where cars are at all times, and can reach drivers whenever needed.
All of these steps are taken to make sure kids and parents alike feel secure using Kango. It’s not just ethical, Schaer says — it’s also good business. “Trust is the best on-boarding mechanism,” she says.
A World of Experience
Schaer was born in Los Angeles, but spent her early years in Brussels, Belgium. As a teenager, she moved back to the U.S. and then attended Stanford University, graduating in 1992. She went on to business school outside of Paris before getting hired as a consultant at Accenture, which eventually took her back to California.
She had returned to the Bay Area just as the tech industry was coming into its own — and immediately, the dedicated problem-solver saw a new career path. Within a year, she joined a startup that let people compare insurance quotes online. When that company went public, Schaer moved on to photo-sharing site Snapfish, seeing it through its acquisition by Hewlett-Packard in 2005 and expansion into 22 countries.
Meanwhile, Schaer also became a mother of two, which introduced a problem she needed to solve for herself: balancing work and family responsibilities. She recalls many mornings spent scrambling to get her children to preschool on time before heading to the office.
She shared her frustrations with a colleague, Kaliyuga Sivakumar, and they both saw business potential in a solution to this transportation problem. In 2011, Schaer and Sivakumar left Snapfish, and the following year she launched a company with Sivakumar, at first called KangaDo. It was a fully bootstrapped, peer-to-peer platform that parents could use for free to coordinate carpool rides to get kids to school and other engagements.
Looking to grow, in 2014 the pair enrolled in 500 Startups, an accelerator in Silicon Valley that provided them with entrepreneurship training and funding. One year later, they relaunched the company as a rideshare for kids called Kango, which has been thriving ever since.
The accelerator experience taught Schaer the importance of mentorship, which inspired her to work with the nonprofit Technovation, which mentors young girls interested entrepreneurship, science and math. “There still aren’t enough female founders that are visible,” she says. “This is a way to show them by example.”
Eyes on All Forms of Expansion
Partnerships have played a crucial role in Kango’s growth, Schaer says. The company works with several schools and after-school programs in the Bay Area, coordinating rides to and from practices, rehearsals and group events. “It’s a cost-effective way to transport a group of kids, and we have the cars for that. It was a match made in heaven.”
Some of Kango’s cars come from another key strategic partnership — this one, with car manufacturer Chrysler. The automotive giant approached Kango soon after its 2015 relaunch about debuting some of its hybrid minivans. It was a mutual win, with Kango adding more reliable vehicles to its fleet and Chrysler reaching its target market: families.
Schaer’s short-term goals are to get through the end of this school year and keep up with ever-growing demand — especially since Kango added babysitting to its offerings in 2015. But her long-term goals are all about expansion.
She isn’t just thinking geographically, though she does dream of bringing Kango to Canada and the United Kingdom. She also envisions forging new partnerships with organizations, schools and businesses that can help her company expand its reach.
The safe transport of kids continues to be “a modern-day challenge for so many families,” and she says she wants Kango to be the one to solve it for as many parents as possible.