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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Tufts students launch startup offering long-distance shared rides

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CarTrek co-founders senior Adon Shapiro, junior Mikayla Rose, junior Olive Baerde and senior Ross Wood meet with mentors in the Venture Lab in July.

CarTrek is one of the newest entrepreneurial efforts coming from Tufts, specifically from a team of four students who brought an idea for a class project to life. The company offers a long-distance carpooling service, connecting drivers with riders going in the same direction for trips between one and five hours.

Junior Olive Baerde developed the idea for CarTrek while taking an entrepreneurship class at Tufts. Baerde explained that the process of bringing the idea to fruition has had its ups and downs in part because, at the beginning, no one on their team had the necessary skill set to create an app.

“The process was long and hard because I started this idea during my [first-year] spring semester at my [ELS 101 Entrepreneurship and Business Planning]," Baerde said. "I had a great team who loved the idea. However, none of us [were coders], so we could not make it happen.” 

However, through word of mouth and different social media platforms, Baerde recruited the rest of the team.

Mikayla Rose, also a junior, joined the CarTrek team at the start of last spring.

“[Olive and I] were in the same marketing class … I was super intrigued mostly because of the human connection component. I thought it was a … unique version of travel that allows for a sort of exploration of not only a place but also like the people that you're with, which is kind of overlooked oftentimes,” Rose said.

Baerde and Rose both shared that CarTrek is different from other forms of transportation such as Uber, Lyft and bus services because sharing a small, intimate car space for several hours provides passengers with the opportunity to have authentic, in-depth conversations.

According to Baerde, CarTrek aims to be an affordable transportation option by frequently comparing their prices to those of their competitors. The team uses these price checks to ensure they are providing the most affordable companion-focused travel experience.

“We always do a price analysis of what [the] bus charges and what the train charges and find the best price,” Baerde said.

Before Baerde came to Tufts, they spent some time in Spain where they used an app that became the inspiration for CarTrek.

“It wasn’t until when I was about to miss my flight back to Madrid, and someone at my walking tour told me about BlaBlaCar, which is a carpooling app that matches you with other riders and [a] driver who are going to the same destination," Baerde said. "My BlaBlaCar ride cost less than me trying to change [my] flight, and I made three friends during the six hours drive.” 

Baerde was surprised that there was not a similar option when she came to Tufts, which inspired them to take their CarTrek idea beyond the classroom. One of the biggest challenges for the team has been making this transition from students working on a project to founders of a real-world enterprise, according to Ross Wood, who is also a co-founder.

“It’s been really interesting getting out of 'school mode' and taking things into a more professional environment,” Wood, a senior, told the Daily in an email.

Rose said that finding motivation without being under the watchful eye of a professor or another person has been difficult but rewarding.  

“It is tough to not have someone looking over your shoulder saying 'you're doing great' or 'you need to step it up.' We're kind of holding each other accountable and so that's been an interesting thing to learn how to do, but I do not think that is a setback,” Rose said.

Baerde explained how everyone in the founding team plays their own role and complements one another well, comparing their own spontaneity to Rose's detail-oriented nature. According to Baerde, senior Adon Shapiro does tech development for the business -- mainly consisting of the website's construction -- while Wood works with Baerde on operations.

“I think that you hear all the time that startups aren't successful just because of the idea. They're successful because of the people that are working on it. I have full faith in Olive," Rose said. "We are ... go-getters and I think that's a pretty cool partnership,” Rose said.

During this past summer, the CarTrek team was part of the Gordon Institute's New-Venture Summer Accelerator. According to the program's website, “The New-Venture Summer Accelerator provides selected Tufts startups/new-ventures with comprehensive and thoughtful guidance, mentoring, support, connections, and resources to start and grow their business along a tailored curriculum.”

Rose said that the accelerator program provided some "bootstrap" -- that is, minimal -- funding for the startup to cover living costs and other necessities.

Wood said that the mentorship that Gordon Institute lecturer Tina Weber gave as part of the accelerator program has played an integral role in the development of CarTrek.

Tina Weber, who ran the Tufts Summer Accelerator this summer, was more than just a mentor," Wood said. "[She] put so much time in nurturing our ideas, our group dynamics and helping us through every moment.”

Rose said that as CarTrek is still in development.

“We are looking to add more functionality to our website and make it a little bit more user friendly,” Rose said. “We are also adding dimensions where you can share Spotify playlists and see mutual connections on Facebook.”

The team is looking forward to tapping the market of Boston's large number of universities before expanding to other areas of New England.

“I think that our initial market that we're trying to capture is really the Boston hub of travel, specifically within the student bodies [of] Boston … It would be an awesome market [especially] to get those who travel from Boston to New York … on a weekly basis for like recent grads and college students," Rose said. "From there, we're … looking into different regions that have a similar demand for travel, and that might mean an expansion to the northeast near [other] NESCAC colleges."

Yanelle Cruz contributed reporting to this article.