Do you want to twist an existing idea to create something original? Daniel Jones (class of 2002) might be a good person to talk to. The Sycamore graduate is in the midst of raising interest and investors for his ride share concept that takes on Lyft and Uber. He calls his idea Nomad Rides, and has already successfully tested the concept, garnering good reviews. Jones’ idea is to empower the drivers, let them keep more cash, and find a revenue stream for the company. While Uber and Lyft take a 25% commission plus a booking fee on every ride, Nomad allows its drivers to keep the entirety of their fares. To make money, Jones will use monthly driver subscriptions, advertisements, and in-car vending machines.
He notes how other successful business models have used a similar formula. He says Google subsidizes its service with ads, enabling free access to information, while Facebook has enabled free access to communication in a similar way. “In the future, we believe that restaurants and bars will pay for a Nomad ride in order to bring them to their establishment, effectively making the ride free for the customer.”
EARLY FEEDBACK SHOWS MARKET PROMISE
The early returns on the Sycamore alumnus’ vision has shown success, with more than 18,000 ride requests across 3,700 users in the first few weeks in Bloomington. “Demand has started to outstrip supply where, in a single day, we had over 1,000 ride requests.” Jones says the biggest problem of too much demand is exactly what investors love to hear. He now is working to raise $420,000 an initial round of fundraising, and in the first few weeks, investors pledged “approximately 35% of it,” Jones says. “I personally write all the app code, which gives us a major competitive advantage and really de-risks the company. Having a fully-built product with thousands of paying riders and drivers is really interesting to investors when most other startups are coming to them with just a pitch. But our favorite moments are still the small ones, like when we hear a rider tell a friend, ‘I'm in a Nomad,’ and his or her friend understands exactly what that means.”
A HERITAGE OF GROUNDBREAKING BUSINESS SUCCESS
Jones has the lineage that makes one think he’s likely to find success. His dad, Scott Jones, is the man who made millions through his voicemail innovation more than 20 years ago and is the creator of the not-for-profit computer coding academy—Eleven Fifty Academy— now located in Fishers. In addition to his father’s influence is the Sycamore factor. The younger Jones credits the school for his ability to both think creatively and to connect with others. He spent more than ten years at Sycamore (From EC2 through 8th grade), and credits Sycamore for teaching him how to break down complicated concepts into bite-size pieces.
“Knowledge is a skyscraper,” he says. “One can take a shortcut with a fragile foundation of memorization, or build slowly upon a steel frame of understanding. Even after graduating college, many people don't learn this concept. Math is a lot less stressful when you move from rote memorization of formulas to understanding how to build the formulas yourself. School and learning became something within my control. Sycamore taught me how to learn, and it is a tool that I've been able to use in every subsequent stage of my life.”
Andrew’s next step for Nomad is expansion. Over the next three years, Jones says his goal is to become the fourth largest rideshare company in the US by building marketplaces in midwestern cities (Indianapolis, Cincinnati) and large college towns (Columbus, Ohio and Bloomington, , Indiana). “These midsize cities and college towns are areas where Uber doesn't strongly focus, but we could build a very strong niche,” he says.
THE SYCAMORE INFLUENCE
As Jones carries out his plan for revolutionizing the future of rideshare programs as they exist today, he reflects on his influences and lessons he learned at Sycamore. “Coach Fink had a huge influence on me as a teacher and coach (Jones ran track and played basketball.) I enjoyed his sense of humor and found him to be a great role model. Even when I see him now, it is hard for me to not call him ‘Coach’.”
Jones also remembers the math and science programs at Sycamore as “tough” and the homework load “intense.” He says it gave him a really strong foundation for high school. “I was able to immediately be in math classes with juniors and seniors when I was still a freshman. One of my favorite memories at Sycamore was our balloon-powered car project with Mr. Schuth. The goal was to create a miniature car with the one rule; it had to be powered by a balloon. Almost everybody used the air from a blown-up balloon to power their cars. I decided to use my balloon instead as an elastic string attached to a model airplane propeller, and it ended up traveling so far that it ran out of runway. That's one of the first times that I realized that thinking differently can pay off.”
Jones says Sycamore is imprinted on him in ways he now better understands. “As a middle schooler, it was difficult to see how fortunate I was to be in the Sycamore environment, and I become more and more grateful every day. At this point, it's become almost impossible to differentiate any personal success or opportunity from the foundation that Sycamore gave me.”
JONES ON SOCIAL MEDIA
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
“If I were talking to my 8th grade self, I would tell him to be extremely careful about how to use social media and your phone. We, as a society, are entering an unprecedented stage of abundance and connectivity, and the Internet is moving from a tool into something that can be unnaturally addictive. In my school years, it was just beginning, but for the current teenagers, it is in full swing at the most formational and vulnerable time of their lives. Social media seems innocent at face value, but it can deeply damage one's mental state if one isn't careful with it. Social media is a feed of the highlights of other people's lives. Brad Stevens, the Boston Celtics coach, says ‘comparison is the thief of joy.’"
“With our phones and social media, we are comparing ourselves, fifty times per day, to a perfectly Instagramable life that is unattainable. It can be a recipe for unhappiness and it destroys your attention span and focus. The Internet is filled with videos, photos, and games that are carefully designed to addict you, and they are at the touch of our fingertips. After filling your mind with so many 30 second videos, it's hard to sit through a book, a lecture, or even a conversation. One of the things I didn't learn until later in life is that it's okay to turn your phone off. It's okay to not have a social media account, even though society makes it seem like the norm. And when you do, you'll feel yourself coming back to life and coming back to the present, and you'll wonder how the rest of the world continues to live like this.”
“I worry a lot about the current high schoolers and middle schoolers. My generation was a little too early, and I believe digital safeguards will be built for the later generations. But Gen Z is growing up in the midst of this change, and no one will really know the effects until 20 years down the line.”