If you’ve taken a cab or a limo in any major city in the U.S. in the last few years, odds are good that a team of UConn alumni helped orchestrate your ride.
Dashride, the leading provider of mobile dispatching software for transportation companies, is the brainchild of UConn alumni Nadav Ullman ’12, the CEO, and Thomas Bachant ’13 (ENG), co-founder and CTO.
Their goal is to help ground transportation fleets launch new mobility services in a quickly changing industry. These fleets range from taxi cabs to medical transportation companies, and, more recently, driverless fleets.
The men have been enormously successful by building upon a business idea that they created while they were students at UConn. Dashride now supports nearly 500 transportation companies, serving most major U.S. cities, as well as parts of the United Kingdom, Singapore and Australia.
Disrupting the Disruptors
“We started to sell our new platform before we even had a name,” Ullman recalled of Dashride’s launch in 2013. “There were 200,000 taxi and limo companies in the U.S. that needed to modernize in order to compete with emerging ride-share organizations. Many of the taxi and limo companies had been using the same dispatching practices for 20 or 30 years.”
“Our focus was not on maintaining the status quo, but building a technology that’s well positioned for the future, that will continue to grow and improve,” Ullman said. “Dashride quickly became a viable business, and we began to attract outside investment.”
“Taxi companies were susceptible to disruption because they didn’t have the technology to meet their customers’ needs,” Bachant said. “With Dashride, fleet owners now have access to the modern software they need so they can focus on providing the best service and growing their businesses. Any company using Dashride has the tools to become an industry leader.”
Most of the taxi and limo companies were struggling with systems that were ineffective, outdated and disconnected from modern technology. The first step for Dashride was establishing mobile apps, but then the founders went on to develop more complex, robust and comprehensive software.
Dashride allows services such as advance customer booking; billing and accounting tools; a nationwide affiliate program; detailed mapping and help with routing, and even a system that rewards overbooked services who share their riders with another fleet.
“We dug in and worked closely with our growing client base to get continuous feedback,” Ullman said. “We didn’t stop until we knew what their challenges were, what they wanted, what they needed. We continue to work with our customers today to ensure we’re constantly improving and addressing our clients’ major challenges.”
Forerunner ‘Sobrio’ Started at UConn
Now located in the heart of Manhattan, on Fifth Avenue, Dashride developed its roots at UConn, providing safe rides to students who had been out partying on the weekend.
“People were going out at night and needed safe rides home. Some were driving after being out drinking; others would walk for miles in the cold,” Ullman said. “We also knew there were a lot of students who wanted to make extra money and would be willing to give students a ride. We matched the two together in a company named Sobrio.”
Sobrio won UConn’s Business Plan Competition and the School of Business’ first Innovation Quest competition.
“When I first met Nadav and Tom, I quickly concluded that they were on a pathway to success. From the early days of working closely with them as iQ Ambassadors, I was very impressed with the sophistication of the questions that they asked, as well as their willingness to seek out the evidence needed to support their decision-making,” said Management Professor Rich Dino, who is the director of the iQ program.
“Both are driven, dynamic entrepreneurs, continually scanning the environment for opportunities. Their successful pivot from Sobrio to Dashride is a case in point. They are industry disruptors and transformed their market solution into the leading position in dispatching software for transportation companies,” he said. “We are so very proud of them and their accomplishments.”
After launching Sobrio at UConn in 2012, the friends expanded it to UMass, the University of Rhode Island, the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio University and Stony Brook University. The two friends even lived out of an RV for a few months as they traveled from one campus to another launching the app at new locations.
Look for Proof that Your Idea is Viable
Ullman’s advice for student entrepreneurs is to take advantage of the many opportunities for business mentoring, especially through iQ, which matches aspiring entrepreneurs with the business knowledge and expert mentors that can take their ideas to the next level.
It was at the iQ startup weekend that Ullman, a consumer behavior major, and Bachant, a biomedical engineering major, met and became business partners.
Ullman said it is important for future entrepreneurs to remain focused.
“The mistake that a lot of people make is they have this grand idea and they think they have to plan everything right away,” Ullman said. “They think they need a 30-page business plan and 10 iterations of a logo.”
“The most important thing is to get proof that what you’re bringing to market is something that people want,” he said. “Business is unpredictable. Planning steps 2 through 6 before you evaluate your market prevents you from focusing on the important stuff.”
To the Next Level
“One thing iQ did was introduce me to some people that were very influential in getting me to the next level,” Ullman said. “It was a very good crew, and they created a community of people that really wanted to help out. They had no hidden agenda.”
He praised Dino, UConn iQ founder Keith Fox ’80, and angel investor Mary Anne Rooke, who he said helped him find smart people who wanted only the best for the startup.
“When you’re going through iQ, you may not realize how special that is. They are not taking any equity and, outside of a college setting, that’s unheard of,” he said.
As Sobrio grew, the company received publicity in local newspapers and on social media, and soon local fleet companies started calling Ullman and Bachant asking for advice and paving the way for Dashride.
Dashride has 11 employees including several from the UConn days, including Joseph Thibeault ’11 (ENG), a computer science and engineering graduate who is vice president of engineering and Michael Magnoli ’13 (CLAS), director of mobile development.
Ullman said he is very focused on the future, which includes partnering with car manufacturers and expanding into the autonomous vehicle industry.
“That industry has tremendous potential and by 2025 is expected to be a $40 billion industry…and they will need a great ride-sharing, ground logistics platform,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily matter if there is a driver in the car or not. We’re building the future here.”
Entrepreneurs are Made, Not Born
One of the toughest adjustments for Ullman is to be guarded with his time.
“One of the things you have to get good at is saying ‘No!’ a lot,” he said of entrepreneurship. “When our company was first getting off the ground and getting traction, people want you to meet and have coffee with everyone. One of the things I had to learn to do was to say no to some of those invitations and focus on the mission of the company and what would help it grow.”
Ullman said he thinks entrepreneurs are made, not born.
“I think people who become entrepreneurs may have a higher risk tolerance than others,” he said. “But if you identify a problem that you are passionate about solving, that’s the basis of entrepreneurship. People become entrepreneurs when they solve a problem that is important to them. We found a market with a big, and growing, demand and were able to build the technology in a way that people found very valuable. We’re helping businesses grow every day.”