Startups are attractive in the outward-facing parts but disgusting behind the scenes, Robin Chase, the co-founder and former CEO of ZipCar and Buzzcar said at a lecture on Wednesday.
“If we think about startups, they kind of remind me of hotels [in] that the public areas are really beautiful, and then you open up that wrong door and you go into the back cement area that’s dirty and has mud,” she said.
Chase discussed how the idea for ZipCar developed from a 1999 conversation with her child’s best friend’s mother.
The German woman went on vacation to Berlin, where she sat in a café, looked across the street and saw a shared car. Noticing the idea, she returned to Cambridge, Mass. and met with Chase because of her business background — Chase had a degree from theMassachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.
“When I heard this idea of car sharing, it is true that this light bulb went on over my head and I said, ‘Whoa, this is what the Internet is made for — sharing a very specific asset among lots of people,’ ” Chase said.
Chase worked to develop a business plan and to raise funds to support the plan before launching the company in June of 2000. Among the savings, she mentioned that the first $50,000 for the company came from the first millionaire of her class.
Chase expressed admiration for the way technology is changing the lives of workers.
“I want to say wow, we have now had industrialization where we have piled all of the social safety nets and all of the benefits into full-time employment but we are going into a world where everyone is going to be working independently. This new world has this one potential for it that is fabulous — that is, I can now have a bazillion income streams,” she said.
Chase emphasized the necessity of transforming industries.
“When I was in France working for a couple of years, people would say to me, ‘Oh my God, you’re taking the auto industry out.’ I’m thinking, ‘Do I care if I’m taking the auto industry out?’ ” she said. “I think we need to move faster and move faster means I’m not protecting any industries that aren’t with the program.”
She gave the example of her time visiting the sewer museum in France.When Paris built its sewers, the city eliminated 50,000 jobs for water carriers.
“Do I wish we didn’t have sewers so people could carry poop out and clean water in? No, I don’t,” Chase said.“So I look at this and I think we really have to transform world economies and legacy companies.”
She noted that because the time for change has come, she wants to have no mercy on outdated technology.
Titled “From Zipcar through Uber and Beyond: How a New Organizational Paradigm is Changing the Way We Work, Build Businesses and Shape Economies,” the lecture took place at 4:30 p.m. in Robertson Hall.
Chase was visiting as part of theDean’s Innovation Science, Technology and Environmental Policy Initiative at the Wilson School.