Sam Zaid is the cofounder and CEO of Getaround which is a peer-to-peer car sharing marketplace that enables car owners to rent out their cars. The company has raised close to $600 million from top tier investors which include General Catalyst, Menlo Ventures, Redpoint, Bpifrance, Correlation Ventures, and Tuesday Capital to name a few.
In this episode, you will learn:
- A future in which all cars are shared
- How little we really use our vehicles today
- Hacking your way into TechCrunch Disrupt
- Sam’s top two tips for aspiring founders
For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).
Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
About Sam Zaid:
Sam Zaid is Founder & CEO at Getaround, a community marketplace for sharing underutilized personal vehicles. Sam Zaid is a 2008 Microsoft Code Award winner, an E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year 2009, a Google Scholarship recipient and alumni of the Singularity University Graduate Studies Program in artificial intelligence and robotics.
Sam Zaid is an active member of the technology community, and a co-founder of Fresh Founders, a club for young technology entrepreneurs. Sam Zaid holds a degree in Engineering Physics with First-Class Distinction from Queen’s University.
Connect with Sam Zaid:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have a serial founder, and the journey that he has is remarkable – building, scaling, exiting, and you name it, and everything in-between. So without further ado, I’d like to welcome our guest today. Sam Zaid, welcome to the show.
Sam Zaid: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
Alejandro: So, originally born in a small town in England, a place called York. How was life growing up there?
Sam Zaid: It’s a beautiful town, but I didn’t live there for very long. My family moved around Europe and the Middle East when I was younger and eventually settled in Canada before I made my way here to the United States, so I remember it being picturesque and a beautiful place, but not much more than that.
Alejandro: As you were moving around, your father was a traveling professor, but I’m sure that the moving and jumping from one place to another perhaps shaped you a little bit more as a person and maybe to be okay or dealing a little bit better with uncertainty and with new grounds. Is that right?
Sam Zaid: Yeah. I think that’s actually true. You made friends; you had to change friends; you had to make new friends; you had to get used to different systems and ways of doing things. I think it was a great worldly experience to collect at a young age. I don’t know directly how much it helped, but I’m sure it did.
Alejandro: How as that time, thanks to your father, you got into computers? You got your first computer. What was that like?
Sam Zaid: My father, who is an electrical engineer, back in the day when people used to build computers, he used to build his own computer. So, he had a fascination with them and felt like they would be very important in the future when we were kids growing up.
He would literally borrow – it was a Mac 512. He would bring it home, and then my brother and I would fight over who got to use it and play games on it. Eventually, I think the first thing that got me into computer programming, in Apple Basic at the time was, I wanted to lock out my brother from getting access to the computer so I could use it more.
I wrote a program, which at the time, he’s going to hate me if I say the name, but it was called locksie-lockout. That’s because he had curly hair, and I had straight hair, so I definitely made that locksie-lockout version 1.0. It was a great experience, and then I realized the power of computers from there on out.
Alejandro: What was it about computers that really got you hooked? What was so amazing about it?
Sam Zaid: I think it was the freedom to create things. It was the first time you could make the rules; you could build something, and it was an incredible feeling of creativity and learning something that was an entirely different way of thinking.
And, at the time, stuff was changing so rapidly that it was so dynamic. Most people didn’t know much about computers at the time, so it was like you had some special knowledge or some special power that nobody else had.
Alejandro: In this case, you turned 14, and a really interesting event happened. When I was 14, I was playing PlayStation and just enjoying life. In this case, not only were you enjoying life but then at the same time, you got your first job offer. How unbelievable is that?
Sam Zaid: Yes, so I was definitely also enjoying PlayStation at that time. The funny part of that story is, I got an offer as a computer programmer, and that was my first real professional experience actually getting to do what I had just done for fun in a real work environment and getting paid a lot more than my friends who were bagging groceries. The ironic thing was, I actually tried to get a job as a grocery bagger, and they wouldn’t hire me. So, somehow, they managed to hire me as a programmer, but I wasn’t good a bagging groceries, apparently.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. So, in this case, you continued to develop that love for computers, and eventually, that got you into university where you studied physics and engineering. And that was the nice segue to perhaps thinking that you could create something of your own yourself. So, how was that transition?
Sam Zaid: I was so into that programming computer science that when I went to college/university, I wanted to study something different, which was that I had started to really like physics. I didn’t know as much about electrical engineering at the time, so I felt that was what I wanted to study. That eventually took me to land a job as a photonics engineer, which was super cool because it was working on all the fiber optic components that power the backbone of the internet.
That was great experience, but that experience was also in a really large Fortune 100 crazy, big company, which taught me two things. 1) I liked the work a lot, but 2) I did not like the environment. So, after two-and-a-half years there, I decided it was time to go back to my roots of software and start my first company.
Alejandro: So tell us about that process.
Sam Zaid: Yeah. That was because what I wanted more than anything else was to work with people, for lack of a better term, really gave a **** about what they were doing. I saw it had purpose and that you were building something, and you had this united, aligned, purposeful team of people that you loved working with that you could spend 12, 14 hours a day trying to build something new and different and do that in a real way where people were so committed and passionate about the work. I just didn’t find that in a large organization.
In a large organization, there are a lot of people who are punching the clock 9:00 to 5:00, working on cool things, but it didn’t really matter to them at the end of the day. So, for someone who had been a hobbyist and super passionate about stuff I built, it just didn’t fit with me.
Alejandro: Let’s talk about building Apption.
Sam Zaid: When I left, we worked on a lot of different ideas. We eventually landed on this company idea early on of Apption, which was essentially what we called the time of stream data mining framework, which was a big data AI play on helping large companies.
The ones that I didn’t like working for, I was happy to consult for, so we would work with them on how to store their data efficiently and store it in a retrieval mechanism and then turn that from just data they used, to otherwise dump it in Oracle Rack at the time into actionable insights and information.
This was early pre-Cloud, even before Amazon Cloud. So, we had to build our own big data stack and all of our tooling. It was really fun work and really stimulating to actually use the best technology to help these companies become more successful. So, that company, we built it. I eventually took my leave, but the company is very successful and profitable, and my partner is still the CEO there today.
Alejandro: Then, what happened next?
Sam Zaid: What happened next is I went and started this company 360pi, which we had incubated, and we became the market leader in a totally new field, again applying the AI data, but to retail, to eCommerce, and online, in a field called Retail Price Intelligence and Retail Product Intelligence, which was about helping people who were selling product online optimize pricing, figure out how to maximize profits, understand what their competitors were doing, looking into demand signals, and using the AI to predict the right way to dynamically address inventory and pricing.
We became luckily the innovators in that space; currently, we became the market leader. Eventually, we sold that company to part of an equity rollout to an equity company called Market Track, and it was a very successful exit for everybody.
Alejandro: You guys were dealing with an industry that was being created, that was getting a lot of hype, and I’m sure that here, also, you guys raised a couple of million bucks, but you were really able to see the full cycle of the business, and I think that perhaps also identify for your next venture or your next ventures to come, the essence of timing in the market. I think that here, you guys were riding that wave that was being created. What did you learn about timing with this?
Sam Zaid: It’s a great question. Let me answer the timing question, and then maybe then there’s one more thing to go back to. That company, 360pi, I think we came at the right time. It was my first real experience raising venture capital, so we did that.
But the timing point is a great one. We realized from that and subsequently in my next venture was technology and technology trends are like a tsunami. They’re just a big wave that’s coming, and it is much easier to try and use the momentum of that and go with the flow than try to go against it.
A lot of people, when we started out, we were early enough on Cloud like oh, you just didn’t really make sense, but with every passing day, not only were we building progress and getting better, but the whole industry was shifting behind us. Being there to ride those waves and betting on technology as opposed to betting against technology, I think was an important lesson we learned there.
So, those trends are really important when you’re thinking about working on how do I bet on technology trends that maybe haven’t happened yet or about to happen. Yeah, I think early on, people felt betting on Cloud and AI. Those were rinky-dink technologies. They weren’t things that were going to change how enterprises operated.
So early-on, we felt very strongly about the potential, and we just had to believe that, and we had to believe it from first principles because we understood it. We built for a world where we thought the world was going to go, and we just held that conviction and built toward it, and we weren’t always 100% right, but having that momentum behind us allowed us to accelerate as things were shifting, and as the industry moved toward true Cloud adoption, true use of AI and the various algorithms.
So, I think that was a lesson we learned that we bet on technology early when it was unclear if it was really going to be something like a c-change, but riding that wave when it does become a c-change is incredibly powerful in terms of the momentum you get.
Alejandro: And it seems that the conviction is a big one because it’s like being in a completely dark room looking for the switch, and all of a sudden, you hit the switch, and everything is working just amazing. How did that strong conviction to keep moving to building where things are still uncertain, where maybe the market is not there yet; how did you form that strong conviction to get you guys to push and move forward?
Sam Zaid: Yeah. I think it’s two things. 1) I’ve always taken the view that you want to think of what the world is going to be like ten years in the future, and say like, what’s going to be different in ten years? What if this trend or that trend really plays out? If we were doing something in that ten-year horizon from scratch, would we do it the way we did it today, or would with the benefits of these new technologies would we do it differently.
So, taking that long-term world view of where the world may go and using that to anchor the long-term direction – pairing that with real tangible like in the trenches, what do you feel when you do it today? Do you feel like it’s more productive, like you’re doing something that could be better, like if you asked yourself, “If I was ever going to do this myself, would I do it the way people are doing it now, or would this new way actually be better?”
Maybe it’s not everything you want it to be, but that tangible feeling of improving something and making it better today, that technology improvement and knowing that there’s some essence of that even in the present moment and then coupling that with a view that this is really going to be world-changing ten years from now and trying to iterate that enough times that you get that conviction that there’s a good chance that the world and the industry may shift toward the view you hold. Then you start building toward that as fast as you can early.
You’ll know if you’re wrong because, within two or three years, it would have all gone in a different direction, but if you’re right, you’ll have a two to three years head start.
Alejandro: Very cool. In this case, after the experience with 360pi, which I think was a great one for you where you saw that full cycle, then you go into Singularity University, which was a pivotal moment in your entrepreneurial journey, and that was the time where you started to really perhaps incubate in that nice segue into your latest baby, which is Getaround. Tell us about this.
Sam Zaid: Getaround is another great example of a company where we were looking very long-term. We looked at the world as it stood in 2009, and you had a setup in the United States, 250 million passenger vehicles. We used those cars 4% to 5% of the day, so we’re wasting billions of car hours every single day as assets just underutilized sitting around.
Actually, when you do the math globally, we’re wasting 30 billion car hours every day. We were thinking that this thing was very inefficient, and yet we had stuff like the iPhone, which was creating pervasive connectivity and real-time location that everyone was carrying in their pocket.
We thought, “If data and connectivity coming to the phone will change how people will use those devices, can we ride that wave to make it easier and more efficient for people to share these assets that are otherwise just sitting around?” What we were doing, there’s no way it’s efficient. There’s no fleet running at 4% efficiency that’s not going to go out of business. That was what we felt in the moment.
Then, of course, looking out ten years, we were like, we believe that data and connectivity and intelligence and software will come to the vehicle, to the car, the same way that was transforming the phone and from the phone, transforming the laptop and the PC.
We really bet on this world of data and connectivity both in the phone that you keep in your pocket, in the car, becoming so real that technology would allow us to share and rent our vehicles in much more efficient and much more intelligent ways.
That was the thesis, the long world view, and the present feeling we had. The way we did that was we built some prototypes. We digitized the car key and made it an iPhone app, and went around showing people how cool it would be to just press a button on your phone and have your car doors pop open ten milliseconds later, which was radical in 2009, but maybe not so much today.
Then, we explained it like all this world of data and connectivity is going to make it so much information about cars and how people are using them and where they are that it’s not going to make sense for everybody to own a vehicle and plop it down 23 hours throughout the day.
Alejandro: So this actually leads me to my next question, and that is, obviously, here you needed to deal with rejection because once you have the thesis, it’s all about getting out there and building this thing and bringing it to life. In this case, this was before the Airbnb days where people were easier with the sharing, like your own stuff. And you were dealing with software, hardware, and then also the component of insurance. Tell us about the 99% rejection that you needed to deal with in order to really bring this thing to life.
Sam Zaid: When we started this, we said data and connectivity are fundamental. What we really want is you should be able to pull up your phone, press a button on our app, find a car, unlock the doors, and drive away, and you should be able to do that in 60 seconds.
Our idea was, how do we make it so that you can be gone in 60 seconds – no pun intended, paying homage to a classical Nicolas Cage movie. What that meant was three things. First, we had to build not just software. We needed to build both software and hardware because, again, we needed to find a way to push connectivity into the vehicle themselves, and most cars are pretty dumb.
The smartphone was a real thing, but we didn’t have the equivalent to connect the smart part. We had to build that hardware and that connecting part of the structure, so that was a hardware/software thing we had to do. We had never built hardware in a startup company before, so that was new.
The second thing we had to do was convince people that they were going to share their cars, which again, pre-Airbnb was a crazy, radical idea for most people we ever pitched to. The third crazy thing was we had to convince insurers and an insurance company to actually underwrite this activity of people sharing cars, which had never been done before.
So, the reality was all those things were really hard. As an example, on the insurance front, for the first 15 months, we basically talked to 100 insurance companies and got rejected by 99 of them. It was really this long period where we just had to believe that this could happen.
And it felt, like you said, the light switch was off, and we just hadn’t toggled it on yet, until finally, we found one insurance partner that said, “Okay. We hear your story. We think it could work. We’ll give you three months of insurance to prove that this is a real thing.”
Then we all went from banging our heads against the wall for almost a year and a half to having to scramble and launch some sort of alpha/beta product to prove that people would eventually share cars, which we ended up doing. We didn’t end up getting three months of data, but we did get two.
It took us about four or five weeks to get into market, and we managed to do that in a way where we got a little bit of buzz and a few people renting an early Tesla, and that was good enough to convince the insurance company that they should give us another year to really build this out in a bigger way.
Alejandro: Nice. Obviously, then, it was all figuring out distribution and getting out there with a bang, and you guys managed to get into TechCrunch Disrupt. How cool is that!
Sam Zaid: Yeah. Literally, four or five months after that great experiment that I described as three months, we knew people would do this. We actually had created the world’s first hourly-rentable Tesla. We had gotten a little bit of buzz and a bunch of people trying out, I think the early Roadster 2io. We managed to essentially hack our way into TechCrunch Disrupt.
By hack, we actually applied late. They were already full, and we managed to convince them to give us a plus-one slot, and so they did. It was in New York, even though we were based in California. We really wanted to be able to show our product, but the challenge was our product was an app on a phone, but we needed a car to be able to show the magic of pressing a button and seeing the car immediately unlock and the doors pop open, or the truck pop open.
We also convinced them that they should allow us to bring a car on stage, and we took one of the Tesla’s that was being shared on our platform, and managed to ask Tesla to help us ship it to New York. Then we got everything ready to do our pitch. In the end, it was a scramble. It was definitely zero sleep for several weeks, but we ended up winning the TechCrunch Disrupt Challenge. We won both the Audience Choice and the overall competition, so it turned out to be a worthwhile endeavor. That launched us into the limelight, and then we just scrambled to build from there.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. For the people that are listening to really get it, what ended up being the business model of Getaround?
Sam Zaid: Basically, we’re like an Airbnb for cars. We’re a connected, carsharing marketplace. We enable people who have cars to share them with people who need them, and we make that super easy by building the hardware and software technology so that you can literally download our app, rent a car, push a button on the phone, open the doors, drive away.
You never have to meet anyone. You don’t have to go to a rental counter or fill out any paperwork. So, using that connectivity and digital transformation, those digital transformation trends to fundamentally bring the idea of car sharing and car rental into the digital world.
Alejandro: Very cool. How much capital, Sam, have you guys raised to date?
Sam Zaid: You know, I never remember how to answer that question, but I think it’s around $600 million.
Alejandro: $600 million – that’s a lot of millions. As you’re looking back, whether it’s with Getaround and with the prior ventures, when you raised money, what would you say has been your biggest lesson around raising money?
Sam Zaid: Yeah. A lot of lessons around raising money. First, you probably always underestimate how much money you’re going to need to raise. That’s probably lesson one. If you asked me ten years ago, I would not have said $600 million was the target.
I think the second one is that raising money – the thing to realize about that is you can raise money at the best time for the company, meaning the right inflection point for the company or at the right inflection point in the market.
What I’ve learned there is that when you look at those two things, it’s 80% market timing and 20% company timing. So often, there are periods where the market is frothy; there’s a lot of hype, it’s a great fundraising environment.
Those may not always line-up with the best timing for when the company should raise money, but if you have to choose between the two, you really want to try and optimize for hitting the market window. Ideally, you’ve got that company window lined-up, but it’s just not always going to be the case, but even if the company is not perfect, it’s not exactly the right time, if there’s a good opportunity, you should go take it.
Then the second thing I want to say is what I was told when we were raising our seed round, which is: if there are cookies on the table, take them.
Alejandro: You know, that’s interesting because people are all different schools of thought. It’s either raise all the money that you can get, or raise just the money that you need. But I’m right there with you because you can’t time the market, and you don’t know how the market may be able to turn around on you.
Sam Zaid: No, you don’t, and a competitor might just get lucky and have the right story at the right time of the market. There are a lot of dynamics that you’ve got to consider, but I think you’re often going to need more money than you think. So if you can get it, and it’s available on good terms, right in front of you, you should really consider it.
Alejandro: Absolutely. Today, Getaround. How big is Getaround today for the people that are listening to get a good idea? Anything that you can share on numbers, employees, or anything?
Sam Zaid: We’re in 300 cities globally between the United States and Europe. We have about 6 million registered users and close to 100,000 cars shared on the platform. We’re in all the major metros, you might imagine, so here in San Francisco. We’re in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London, Oslo, so all throughout the United States and Europe.
Alejandro: We’ve been talking about envisioning the future and trying to see where things are heading. Imagine if you were to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world, Sam, where it’s five years later, perhaps at that point, you guys have been executing like crazy, and the vision of Getaround is fully realized. What does that world look like?
Sam Zaid: Ten years ago, we created a vision statement about the world, and we said we believe there will be a world where every car is a shared car. I think that’s still true. That’s how I’d answer this question, which is in five years, every car has native connectivity much like your phone and your laptop, they have fast internet and are essentially software computing machines on wheels, and Getaround is integrated with every one of those vehicles making it super easy for people to share cars whether you live in a city, whether you live in a cul-de-sac in suburbs. You can rent your neighbor’s pickup truck; you can rent your neighbor’s sports cars or someone’s minivan, and everybody can share cars in a way that we never would have imagined ten years ago.
Alejandro: Just out of curiosity, do you think that climate change and the pollution and the consciousness that people are having that maybe it’s going to be something that is going to be another wave that you guys get to ride?
Sam Zaid: I think that’s been fundamental to our mission for many years, and I think that people are becoming increasingly more aware of the fact that passenger vehicles contribute about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. So, for electrification and people sharing, you can really change that in a dramatic, radical way. So, yeah. 100%.
If people shared cars, we would be on a much more environmentally positive tract with respect to that, so it’s super critical to our mission to help people and empower people to carshare everywhere and solve all the environmental problems these automobiles create.
Alejandro: One of the questions that I typically ask the guests that come on the show is if you had the opportunity to go into a time machine and go back in time. Obviously, you’ve had this incredible journey with all these different ventures. If you had the opportunity to go back to perhaps that younger Sam that was in Canada thinking about launching a business, knowing what you know now if you had the ear of that younger self, what would be that one piece of business advice that you would give to your younger self before launching a company and why?
Sam Zaid: I think it would probably be two things. One would be: you can do it. I think there’s a lot of self-doubt and a lot of worry early-on about whether you’re capable of doing it, how do you do it, what’s involved? I think anybody can. You just have to step into it and literally just do it. That would be one.
The second is you really want to chase a passion and commit to something that you can literally pour your life into. I think a lot of people try to create or work on small things that are maybe not what they would otherwise believe they can do. They’re smaller ideas or just incremental improvements and changes.
It’s about as much work to work on a big idea as it is to work on a small idea, so you might as well find something that you really believe in that’s a big idea and go for it. Maybe it’s 10% more work or 20% more work, but it’s not 100% more work, and then stay with it because building anything that matters takes a long time, and by a long time, it’s not one or two years. It’s 3, 5, 10, 15 years.
I think all the great companies have been around for one or two decades. So, it’s a journey, and it’s a long journey, and you just need to be willing to think that far out and develop that level of conviction and lean into it.
Alejandro: I love it, Sam. For the folks that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi, Sam?
Sam Zaid: That’s a good question. I guess, write me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram. You have to request on Instagram, but those are probably the ones. You can find me on GitHub, but I don’t respond there as much.
Alejandro: Okay, good stuff. Well, Sam, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Sam Zaid: Awesome. Thank you for having me. It was really fun.
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