Nathalie Criou, Ridepal, Woman Entrepreneur
Talk about figuring out a void in the marketplace. Ridepal helps companies retain good people by providing commuting options, namely high end bus transportation. A really interesting model engaging transportation companies who already own the buses and becoming a link to companies that want to provide commuter options for their employees. It all started with the Google bus.
Nathalie grew up in Provence, the South of France. Her mother works with handicapped children and her father is a physical education teacher. Her father also does a lot of things outside his work like making sports accessible to low income communities by taking them kayaking and hiking and working with non-profit organizations.
After high school, Nathalie went on to the International European college. The concept of this university is to foster integration and exchange knowledge. Each student is hosted by a different university. Once she graduated she directly went to get her masters in computer science at Leeds in the UK. In undergraduate she majored in electrical engineer.
Not surprising that after graduating she took a job as a software engineer in Southampton, England. She worked on developing video app stations building a multiplex of videos. She stayed for three years. Her company had an office in Silicon Valley and Nathalie wanted to move into the business side of product marketing. So she moved with the same company to California and spent one year in product marketing managing technical sales and another year in business development on the sales side. Nathalie decided it was now the time to go to business school. She got accepted into the Insead International School.
Before showing up at Insead Nathalie took some time off backpacking around Latin America in countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Mexico. Inseads tag line is "the business school for the world". Not more than 10% of one nationality account for the student body and the faculty. The school is located in France and Singapore. It is a one year program. Half in France and half in Singapore.
The main reason that Nathalie wanted to get a MBA is that she was working in the semi-conductor industry and found the companies powerless. Powerless because it took them so long to develop anything and they tend to either over estimate or under estimate demand. It is a highly specialized industry. Her biggest frustrations were the politics of getting anything done. It wasn't a skill she had. She did felt like she did not know how to talk to people or motivate people and that getting a MBA might help her understand that better. She was too young, too naive, too data driven and not social enough to understand the emotions, desires, aspirations and personal interests of those around her. She was essentially a young geek.
After graduation she joined Google. She had done some freelance for a few Silicon Valley companies in Asia but she wanted to go work for a company that makes a difference with information that could empower people. Back to Silicon Valley. At that time micro-electronics were being used and she found it intriguing. Nathalie stayed at Google for 5 years working on mostly the advertising side. She found the company interesting. She says that at that time 50% of the company makes the money and 50% of the company spends the money. At that point it was a way to empower young businesses and Nathalie liked that. She got her green card and went back and forth to work on the Google shuttle.
It was 2009 when she left Google. She had joined Google when there were 2000 people and left when there were 26000. She went to work for Admob doing advertising. She was working on a way for mobile apps to serve up advertising. She worked on the publisher side. 60 people when she got there 100 when she left because it was sold to Google. She left after the sale was complete and went to work for Meebo which was 25 miles south of where she lived and commuting was a nightmare. She thought it would be ok but some days it would take her over 2 hours to drive to work. The public transportation was horrible. She left her car once a the train station and it got broken into. Eventually Meebo also got sold to Google. She told Meebo about the Google shuttles. This is when the idea for Ridepal was formed.
She started to do some research. Many of the companies that were located where Meebo was had trouble recruiting top notch people because of the commute. She thought she could get other companies interested in a shared type of commuter experience. Who would get the people out there, how would the stops work, etc. Google spent millions of dollars at having a mid-sized transportation company. Could Ridepal duplicate that concept for other companies?
Nathalie learned there were two main concerns. Commuters wanted a better quality of life getting to and from work and they were willing to pay for it. Companies were having problems recruiting so she went directly to the companies. She got a bus and started to learn. Riders began to sign up and tell them their preferences such as how far they would travel to a bus stop. Essentially the routes were figured out. She partnered with a bus company that already had the fleets, insurance and drivers. They act as a massive logistics sales channel. The bus companies love it because the times that Ridepal is using the buses, they were sitting empty because they are charter bus companies.
Fast forward, there was now 8 employees, 15 routes and they provide for 20 companies. When we spoke she was closing in on 600 riders. They are now looking at taking this concept to other markets including internationally where they have had several inquiries. Nathalie sees this as a billion dollar revenue opportunity. Once again, regardless of Nathalies tech background she built a company that filled a void in her life which is what women tend to do. Obviously it was a void for many others too.