Founder of a biker app aims to end the free ride

The Washington Post Sunday - - CAPITAL BUSINESS - Look­ing for some ad­vice on a new busi­ness, or need help fix­ing an ex­ist­ing one? Con­tact us at cap­biznews@wash­post.com.

A Rockville en­trepreneur seeks ad­vice on how to con­vert free users of his mo­tor­cy­cle app to pre­mium sub­scribers. — Dan Bey­ers

The en­trepreneur: Jonathan Chash­per has spent his ca­reer work­ing with technology star­tups, in Is­rael and the United States. Since 2006, he has run Pro­duc­tSavvy Con­sult­ing out of Rockville, work­ing with young com­pa­nies to help them de­velop prod­ucts. One thing he’s learned is that a suc­cess­ful com­pany is one that solves a real prob­lem in the mar­ket.

That per­spec­tive came in handy when he was out on a ride with a group of mo­tor­cy­clists and lost con­tact with his com­pan­ions.

“It took a very frus­trat­ing, long hour to get con­nected with the group again. I fig­ured there had to be a bet­ter way,” he says. From that ex­pe­ri­ence Wolf­Pack was born.

The pitch, Jonathan Chash­per, chief ex­ec­u­tive and founder: “We want to bring the con­nected ve­hi­cle ex­pe­ri­ence to mo­tor­cy­cle riders. When you are on a mo­tor­cy­cle, you can­not call or mes­sage any­one. It’s re­ally hard to com­mu­ni­cate, and it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult to keep to­gether on the road when rid­ing with oth­ers.

“There are 11 mil­lion mo­tor­cy­cle riders in the U.S. and 113 mil­lion mo­tor­cy­cle riders in the world. Roughly 70 per­cent of U.S. riders ride cruiser or tour­ing bikes. And those riders like to in­vest in their mo­tor­cy­cles and ride to­gether in groups.

“More than 40 per­cent of riders use their phones for nav­i­ga­tion. Wolf­Pack’s technology of­fers riders a smartphone app that helps to keep groups to­gether and gives them a way to com­mu­ni­cate eas­ily. We use Google Maps as an un­der­ly­ing technology, (to al­low for group turn-by-turn nav­i­ga­tion) com­bined with our com­mu­ni­ca­tion plat­form to al­low users to plan and en­joy rides. Ev­ery rider sees the same nav­i­ga­tion route on his or her phone so there is no con­fu­sion dur­ing the ride and every­one is nav­i­gated to the same des­ti­na­tion. Dur­ing the ride, the app shows the lo­ca­tions of all riders in the group within a mile of each other on a radar, mak­ing sure no one is left be­hind. The app also gives users the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with each other while rid­ing with a few taps of on-screen but­tons that in­di­cate pre-canned mes­sages like ‘I need gas’ or ‘stop for food.’ (Each rider may have his or her own mes­sages.)

“Our ba­sic ver­sion is free. The pre­mium ver­sion is $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year, which adds the abil­ity to plan rides in a more de­tailed way with mul­ti­ple route stops or up­date the route as you go. The pre­mium ver­sion also of­fers users the abil­ity to chat with oth­ers in their group when they are not rid­ing.

“We have had good trac­tion since in­tro­duc­ing the app Oc­to­ber last year. When you down­load Wolf­Pack, you need to add users to your pack. That makes it vi­ral be­cause users are then push­ing this out to other riders.

“Our No. 1 chal­lenge is con­vert­ing free users to pre­mium users. We have 4,000 users right now; about 30 are pay­ing users. We have also de­cided not to use ad­ver­tis­ing on our app, so our sec­ond chal­lenge is how to gen­er­ate other rev­enue streams.”

The ad­vice, Elana Fine, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ding­man Cen­ter for En­trepreneur­ship at the Univer­sity of Mary­land: “Think about of­fer­ing users a trial sub­scrip­tion in­stead of the ‘freemium’ model, where you have a free ver­sion and ex­pect users to up­grade to a paid ver­sion. Of­ten freemium sub­scrip­tion mod­els gen­er­ate most of their rev­enue from only 10 to 20 per­cent of users. This model typ­i­cally works well for com­pa­nies with higher pre­mium price points where the power users can sub­si­dize the free users.

“My con­cern with your model is that you won’t get enough of your ba­sic model sub­scribers to up­grade, so it will be very dif­fi­cult to gen­er­ate the rev­enue you need off of the pre­mium model. With the trial sub­scrip­tion model, you’ll get users try­ing Wolf­Pack for free, but then they are more likely to want to con­tinue to use it and pay for it when their trial ends, par­tic­u­larly be­cause they are invit­ing other riders onto the app. Once riders es­tab­lish their ‘wolf­pack,’ it seems likely that they’d con­tinue to pay the $1.99.

“It will be in­ter­est­ing for you to ex­per­i­ment with the price point to see how much peo­ple are will­ing to pay. In the short run, do­ing the trial sub­scrip­tion will help you con­vert users to the paid sub­scribers to get that early rev­enue trac­tion you need to sus­tain the busi­ness.

“As you think about other rev­enue streams, think about other ver­ti­cals that could use this technology. Are there op­por­tu­ni­ties be­yond di­rect con­sumers where you would have a busi­ness-to­busi­ness sale?”

The re­ac­tion, Chash­per: “We are now ac­tu­ally lim­it­ing the num­ber of free rides to eight, then push­ing users to up­grade to our paid of­fer­ing. We are also plan­ning to in­crease the price in 2018.

“In ad­di­tion to con­sumers, we are go­ing af­ter com­pa­nies that plan mo­tor­cy­cle trips and com­pa­nies that pro­vide safety re­sponse and road­side as­sis­tance ser­vices to mo­tor­cy­cles.”

COUR­TESY OF JONATHAN CHASH­PER

Jonathan Chash­per wants users to up­grade their sub­scrip­tions.

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