Had a few too many? StearClear is a mobile app-based designated driver service with big expansion plans

By Editor October 1, 2012

ImageA Q&A with StearClear CEO Craig Sher. The Wyckoff, New Jersey–based company was founded in November of 2011 and raised $600K in Angel funding in mid-September. 

SUB: Please describe StearClear, and the value proposition you offer to your customers.

Sher: StearClear is a designated driver service that gets customers and their cars home safely. Customers are connected to professional drive teams through our smartphone application. What StearClear offers to customers is the peace of mind that they won’t be at risk of a DUI and instead they will get home safely with their car.

SUB: Who are your target users?

Sher: Our target users are primarily those looking for a safe way to get them and their car home after a fun night out, whether it be from the bar, a music venue, sporting event, wedding or a friend’s house. We have also had a great deal of interest from those seeking a ride home during the day after surgery or other medical appointments.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?

Sher: Competition for StearClear comes from black car services like Uber, taxis, and other designated driver services, but each offers something different than StearClear.

SUB: What differentiates StearClear from the competition?

Sher: StearClear differs in that the smartphone app connects the drive teams and the customers directly. Drive teams are alerted to pickup requests from customers, the location of the customer, and respond to the request. Customers can see in real time where the drive teams are located and chose the closest or best rated driver. Unlike other services, our drive teams take the customer and their car home safely. With StearClear customers wake up with their car outside their house rather than back in town where it could be ticketed, towed or worse.

SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?

Sher: We founded StearClear in November 2011. The first thing we did was put together a development team to create the application and back-end infrastructure to make the service work.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for StearClear? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?

Sher: We first came up with the idea for the application and designated driver service after being told about a similar service being offered in South Africa. The challenge with the South African service and most other designated driver systems is that they are not scalable because they are tied to a dispatch system that is full of inefficiencies and costs. We saw an opportunity to put our experience with large transactional systems to work to removing the inefficient dispatch system and overhead costs in order to create a business that was scalable and profitable. This could all be done while serving the common good of the community by reducing the risk and number of impaired drivers on the road.

SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?

Sher: The name StearClear came from research on Internet for a domain name that could be associated with safety and responsibility when driving or avoiding driving your car. Drunk driving is risky—you can kill yourself or others, or land in jail. Why not use our service and StearClear of the above. StearClear is not only a good play on words but was also able to be trademarked.

SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?

Sher: Thus far, we’ve had a phenomenal response from people loving the idea. The challenge we have had to overcome is building people’s confidence in the fact that someone will come get them and that they and their car will get home safely. It takes a little faith to hit the button the first time and request a ride, but after then, more than 50 percent of our customers are return customers with another 25 percent coming from word of mouth referrals from existing customers. This tells us that those who have used the service trust it and will come back for more. We’ve had upwards of 3,000 sign-ups for the app and now it’s just a matter of getting those sign-ups to transfer into regular use.

SUB: You just raised $600K in new funding. What are your plans for the funds?

Sher: Our plans for the funds are to ramp up the expansion of the service areas that we cover. Beginning with northern New Jersey we plan to cover the entire region with StearClear service and then support the 30-plus potential franchisees we are talking to all around the country.

Some of the funds will be used to continue the development of the StearClear application and some will go to marketing support for the franchisees. We’re pushing marketing dollars, hitting TV networks, radio, and social media to get the word out there about our service and our franchise offerings.

SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise more outside funding?

Sher: At this point we’ve finished with our beta testing and as of October 1 of this year we are looking to go full fledge into the market. We’ve made updates to the app for iOS 6, created a smooth dispatch system, and the service is ready to push out to the masses.

SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?

Sher: Revenue is generated both through rides and premium memberships. Our premium memberships give users discounts on their pickup fees.

SUB: What are your goals for StearClear over the next year or so?

Sher: By year-end, we are looking to have additional franchises providing coverage throughout northern New Jersey. From there we will expand throughout the state and into strategic markets across the U.S. where we currently have interested franchisees. We will probably look to raise some additional capital in 2013 to help with the national expansion and franchisee support.

StearClear – www.stearclear.com