Project 100 wants to revolutionize transportation, but will it be another unrealized Vegas dream?


Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 5.25.34 PMAs Zach Ware, CEO of the newly funded transportation startup Project 100, explains his vision I can’t help but think that he’s gone a little crazy.

“Public transport can never deal with the need to go door to door. We see an opportunity as Uber did to build a dynamically routed system to connect someone from one door to the next in an efficient way,” Ware says.

He envisions — and not just envisions but has already placed purchasing orders for — a multi-tiered transportation company that shepherds people around Las Vegas via bikes, cars, drivers, and shuttles. It’s called “Shift, by Project 100.”

Today it announced that it closed a $ 10 million funding round in a round led by the grand Vegas poo-bah (and Pando investor) himself, Tony Hsieh. Hsieh put in 95 percent of that money, with additional funds coming from smaller angels. “It’s [Hsieh’s] largest personal investment that he’s made so far so we’re pretty humbled,” Ware says.

When asked whether that means Shift by Project 100 is, in essence, Tony Hsieh’s pet project and just another branch of Downtown Vegas, Ware admitted, “Obviously from a financial stand point as a CEO you always work for your investors.” But he went onto argue, “When we first came up with this idea I was adamant that we don’t think of this as some Downtown Project amenity. Tony wouldn’t have invested if he didn’t think there was a future growth path that didn’t involve him.”

The promise behind Shift by Project 100 is that future members can get to a transportation option in five minutes — i.e. a bike, car, shuttle, or driver are all five minutes walking distance away —  if they’re in the “central” part of Las Vegas. That includes The Strip and Downtown.

There will be three tiers of pricing, where customers will pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to bikes and shuttles, and small, medium, or large chunks of car rental time or driver time depending on the price plan.

Ware’s eventual dream is to make it so no one in Vegas needs to own a car — that having a membership to Shift will be enough. After Vegas? The world.

“There’s more cities in the US that look like Vegas than SF,” Ware says. “We figure if we can figure it out here we can figure it out anywhere.”

That’s all well and good as far as vision is concerned, but executing such a grand master plan is a far different beast. Revolutionizing a sprawling suburban city’s transportation system so that eventually no one will need to own a car is a feat that even the heart of Mother Teresa, the brains of Elon Musk, and the might of Spiderman would struggle to accomplish.

If successful, it’s the complete revolution of an urban transportation system. You think Uber is disruptive, imagine everyone you know giving up their cars to just hop on a bike or a car nearby whenever they need to go somewhere. It’s the culmination of a bunch of transportation startups smooshed into one — Leap Transit for buses, Uber for cars, the now defunct Bixi for bikes.

If it’s successful. That’s a huge if. The challenges of executing on a vision of this magnitude are endless, particularly given that Project 100 will own the bikes, cars, and shuttles it rents out. There’s supply and demand questions — onboarding more customers won’t just require recruiting more drivers. Project 100 will have to order more vehicles to be manufactured.

Of course it will have to onboard more drivers too since that Uber-like service is part of its offering. It will also have to buy more bikes. And shuttles. And people to drive the shuttles. Not to mention technical people to service the bikes and the shuttles and the cars when things go wrong. And it will need to find more parking spots and lots, which have to be negotiated with the city and land owners respectively.

That’s just the scaling challenges Project 100 will face as it gets bigger in Vegas. It doesn’t count what will happen when it tries to move to other cities.

It’s blasphemy to say this in startup culture, but Project 100 might be too ambitious for its own good. By trying to meet all the transportation needs all at once, it’s perhaps dooming itself to failure. Ware, of course, disagrees. “If you look at all the things we’re doing in a short period of time, it’s to build a capacity to dump a lot more people and a lot more cars. Even though it seems super complex it’s a system design,” Ware says. “That’s what will allow us to drop into another city quickly. We’re systematizing everything.”

That’s supposedly the reason behind the big splashy purchase of the Teslas. Ware says it’s not because Shift plans to target members who are swanky enough to want Teslas instead of Fords. It’s because electric vehicles are easier to maintain and cheaper to run.

When asked whether the company has considered hiring urban planners or transportation experts, Ware defers. “Our idea is so different and weird that when we bring people in who have a lot of experience, they also come with baggage,” Ware says. “This is how it should be done because it has been done this way for 50 years. Just like Uber has more people focused on data science and math than they do with transportation planning, that’s the approach we’re taking.”

Big-dream ideas associated with the Downtown Vegas project have a tendency to over promise and under deliver. We have yet to see a huge startup emerge from the entrepreneurial ecosystem Tony Hsieh has been cultivating. Vegas has not become “The Co-working Capital of the World.” Even the 100 Teslas that Project 100 itself purchased in a huge splashy news stunt a year ago have yet to arrive.

Project 100 used a prior seed funding round to pay the half a million deposit it needed to reserve the 100 Teslas up front, and Ware says that Project 100 will be receiving them in a staggered period of time as the company grows.

“The reservations and the orders are still in place with Tesla,” Ware says. “The first delivery will be June 15. It will only be a handful of vehicles because we don’t need all that many in the beginning.” By ordering 100 up front and paying the deposit, Ware claims that opened the door for Project 100 to work with Tesla on developing technology for Shift like specific APIs for vehicle tracking.

He admits that the whole Shift undertaking is enormous and some might think it to be impossible.



Bricks and Mortar and Mobile: How to Take Advantage of an Unrealized Opportunity


Retail has so far invested in creating a mobile presence, but it has yet to harness the huge potential the mobile platform offers, a recent report (PDF) by Plastic Mobile indicates.

Though that conclusion may be a surprise, it also offers savvy businesses the opportunity to get up to speed before their competitors catch up.

We need a rethink in the industry:

  • We need to understand that fusing offline and online isn’t just about ensuring coherence between the two but also about recognizing that consumers have an integrated offline and digital experience in their day-to-day lives.
  • And we must do more to take advantage of that moment when a customer gets out her smartphone inside a store.

Interesting Stats

Nearly every customer will enter your store with a secret weapon in her pocket—a smartphone—and plenty of them will use that smartphone while shopping.

If you don’t have a strategy in place to get them to interact with you while they are on their phone in your shop, then you’re missing a fantastic opportunity—and most retailers are indeed missing that opportunity, according to a recent review of retailers’ apps by Plastic Mobile. 

Customers, on the other hand, want to be able to integrate mobile experiences while they’re inside a shop, according to a recent survey by Walker Sands: 

  • 64% of survey participants say they have used their mobile device to research products while in a brick-and-mortar store.
  • 52% say they would be more likely to shop at a retailer with an in-store navigation on a mobile.
  • 59% said they would be more likely to shop at a store offering self-checkout via a mobile device.

How You Do It

So, what ways can you capitalize on consumers’ in-store mobile use? Plenty.

Mobile optimization can be used to not only improve customer service but also increase loyalty and engagement.

In-Store Checkouts

Here is an idea that is starting more than a few murmurs within retail: A consumer can buy items without having to queue up at the checkout. Rather, by either using a mobile app on their own phone—or, more realistically at the moment, by approaching an assistant who carries a mobile device—shoppers can buy the item immediately, on the shop floor, via one-to-one service, without any queuing.

JCPenney staff are issued iPod Touches enabled with software that lets them check out items, and it’s proving to be a huge success. It not only improves customer experience but also frees up shop assistants—an added efficiency for stores. Assistants can quickly help someone pay for an item and then be free to walk around the store doing necessary jobs rather than being tied to a static unit where they have to stand and wait for customers.

Social Media

  1. Make your handles visible. At the very least, you should have your social handles/account names visible within the store, encouraging shoppers to like or tweet you.

    If you can get a customer tweeting pictures to you of your products while they are in your store (with fully branded background) then you’re in the ideal scenario, where consumers are doing the marketing for you. But you can go far beyond this scenario.

  2. Offers and competitions. Offer in-store customers exclusive offers. Get your customers to Like you while they are in your shop and in return give them a 10% discount or a free item. Have exclusive voucher codes that are advertised only in store (maybe bespoke ones for each store, letting you loosely track social engagement by geographical area in a new kind of way); customers would then be able to use those voucher coders on their mobiles. Create a “selfie” area in a shop and run a social media competition. None of those are radically new ideas, but they will increase engagement and loyalty.
  3. Rethink personalization. If you want to take cues from e-commerce and rethink personalization, why not consider offers that are tailored to people based on their online profile, but which get flagged to them only at the final stage, by a shop assistant, when they are buying from them on the shop floor?

    There are possibilities for “signing in” a customer when an assistant uses a mobile device to check them out; if that action could flag a bespoke offer, which an actual human could tell them about, you’ve got a fusion of offline and online that couldn’t be more personalized and personable.

  4. Branded wallets. The relatively new concept of branded wallets is becoming popular. Branded wallets allow customers to check loyalty points and offers and to manage their respective accounts with retailers. It also gives retailers the opportunity to create bespoke offers and experiences.

The overall aim here is to increase loyalty and engagement. A mobile device gives you the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with a customer, and that means creating more than just a mobile presence.

Do It Now While It’s Still New

JCPenney has been very vocal about its ambition to convert to a totally mobile checkout solution, but at the moment the idea still has enough newness to gain points just for the novelty of the experience.

We’re just on the brink of really harnessing all this technology to make our lives more convenient, and yet you still have to deal with the mundane reality of queuing at checkouts on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Imagine that first experience of skipping a queue and paying while you’re still browsing around the shop; it’s a memory that will stick, and you’re likely to remember the brand that first brought it to you.

The Burberry Flagship Store

One example of a store that has really invested in fusing offline and online is the Burberry flagship store on Regent Street. It has blended the digital and physical to the extent that mirrors inside the shop actually become personalized, interactive screens. The store is also used to screen live global events and gigs, or “choreographed audio-visual take-overs,” as they like to call them.

Obviously that is a massive investment and not one that all retailers should be emulating, but it’s this kind of store—where the company has really thought about how it can take advantage of both real-world and digital experiences—that retail is heading toward, and it’s this kind of approach that other fashion outlets can learn from.

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