College students make safe driving a ‘JoyRyde’
MIDDLEBURY — JoyRyde, a new app for mobile devices created by two Middlebury College students, has tracked more than 33,000 miles of phone-free driving — and counting.
That’s a big deal, given that around 660,000 drivers “at any given daylight moment across America” are talking on cell phones or using electronic devices, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As estimated by the NHTSA, all that distracted driving leads to around 3,000 fatalities and over 400,000 injuries a year.
The app, developed by Middlebury seniors Terry Goguen and AnnaClare Smith, aims to make safe driving fun by rewarding drivers for every mile driven without texting or talking. The app tracks a driver’s phone-free miles using GPS technology. Those miles are converted into points, which drivers can exchange for free products or discounts or even use to make charitable donations.
Over 300 individuals have downloaded the app since it entered beta testing Oct. 1. Earlier this week, JoyRyde LLC got a major boost when it signed on its first corporation, Green Mountain Power. GMP employees will download the app to their mobile phones and begin using it this week, according to the company. And GMP will add its own incentives, including an extra vacation day for the employee with the top safety score.
“As soon as we heard about JoyRyde’s service, we knew it was something that fit with our culture of safety, accountability and fun,” said GMP President and CEO Mary Powell. “We are committed to bringing the latest innovations to help Vermonters while supporting local entrepreneurs and startup companies like JoyRyde.”
IDEA & DEVELOPMENT
Goguen, the oldest of six siblings, got the idea for JoyRyde while driving siblings back home in western Massachusetts.
“I’m driving my two little brothers Joe and Tom back from hockey practice, and I’m fooling around with my phone, and I realize that I’m crossing the line, I’m crossing the double yellows, I’m in the other lane,” Goguen recalled. “At that point I realize what an idiot I’m being so I said, ‘OK, what if someone was paying me not to use my phone? What if companies were giving me free stuff or incentivizing me with their products to do the right thing and stay off the phone?’
“And that’s where I immediately got the idea. I went home and started doodling in my notebook and coming up with some sketches of what the app would look like and potential names.”
Back at Middlebury, Goguen continued to develop his ideas for the new app and took advantage of the college’s Programs on Creativity and Innovation, which promote entrepreneurship by providing access to funding, workspace and expertise. He made his first successful pitch to win a seat in Middlebury Entrepreneurs, a Winter Term class on business startups led by experts from the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET), and brought in friend and now colleague AnnaClare Smith, who grew up in Shelburne.
The business leaders from VCET “are very honest with you,” said Goguen. “It’s like walking in the shark tank. They help you turn your idea into a tangible business.”
That class took the nascent business idea from scribbles and a PowerPoint to something that Goguen and Smith could pitch to investors and interested parties across the state. They presented their idea at the Statehouse in February as a way to start getting the word out, and by the end of April secured their first $10,000 in investments. Within days after that they won a MiddChallenge business grant of an additional $3,000. Cash in hand, the duo took their idea to software developers at Gametheory, whose “let’s make fun” approach melded perfectly with Goguen’s idea for the app.
Goguen and Smith knew that “game-ifying” the app, was key to its success. Introducing an element of fun seems especially important given the high proportion of drivers in their teens and 20s involved in distracted driving crashes.
“Game-ifying it means that people want to use it,” said Goguen. “People want to compete. People want to challenge their buddy or play against themselves. And game-ify is making kids want to use it. The biggest success is making people use it because they want to.”
The app is not only fun, but free to individuals, who can download it off the JoyRyde website, joyryde.co.
The startup received another boost in August when it won the Essex Junction leg of the Fresh Tracks venture capital company’s Road Pitch competition. The Fresh Tracks Road Pitch sends investors motorcycling around the state to hear pitches at eight different locations. JoyRyde made its winning pitch, fittingly, at Green Mountain Harley-Davidson. More important than the $450 prize and the “Biker Bear” from the Vermont Teddy Bear Co., was the opportunity the Road Pitch gave Goguen to meet movers and shakers from around the state.
THE BUSINESS PLAN
Goguen and Smith have designed the business to be profitable in two ways: as a service that can be purchased by companies like Green Mountain Power, or any institution or nonprofit, and as a marketing opportunity for the companies that provide the freebies and discounts that make safe driving pay.
MiddChallenge judge, Middlebury graduate and Skida Headwear and Accessories founder Corinne Prevot approached the duo right after the MiddChallenge competition. So far, companies offering rewards through JoyRyde include the Burlington-based Skida, which manufactures skiwear; Cumberland Farms; food retailer b.good; the hockey equipment line Pure Hockey; and Sword & Plough, a company founded by Middlebury graduate Emily Núñez Cavness that repurposes salvaged military fabric into bags.
Surveys that Goguen and Smith conducted as part of the Winter Term class showed that JoyRyde rewards were even more rewarding if you could opt to turn your points into charitable donations. Right now, JoyRyde users can donate to Text Less Live More, a safe driving campaign started by parents whose daughter was struck and killed by a texting driver. The JoyRyde company itself pays out those donations. Goguen and Smith envision that the JoyRyde app will offer a changing menu of possible donations, perhaps rotating every month to a different selection of nonprofits.
Goguen, who is JoyRyde’s CEO, plans to continue with the business once he graduates next May. Smith will continue promoting JoyRyde throughout her senior year and then will move on to a finance job she’s already lined up in Boston. Goguen is also converting the many hours the two continue to pour into promoting JoyRyde around the state into an independent study project with Center for Social Entrepreneurship Director Jon Isham.
Both Goguen and Smith think that Vermont is a great place to start a business. JoyRyde has benefited from the many opportunities and resources the college provides to help young entrepreneurs to get jump-started. But the duo sees Vermont as a dynamic yet accessible landscape for startups — small enough that you can meet people, develop networks and relationships and get the work out, yet large enough that there are sufficient consumers and opportunities to be successful.
What’s next for JoyRyde?
“I’m trying to get the college on board,” said Goguen. “The potential for JoyRyde is really endless. There’s a lot to look forward to, which is great.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].
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