By Ben Bergman, November 13, 2013
Even though they aren't old enough to rent a car themselves, Kevin Petrovic, 19, (right) and Rujul Zaparde, 18, are trying to shake-up the $11 billion airport rental car market.What if instead of paying to park your car at the airport, someone paid you to leave it there? That’s the idea behind a new company called FlightCar, that opens its third location at Los Angeles International Airport Wednesday.
The catch is that other people might be driving your car while you're away.
The co-founders of FlightCar look like college freshman, and that’s because they would be, if they hadn’t decided to start this company, putting their Ivy League educations on an indefinite hiatus.
19-year-old Kevin Petrovic was accepted at Princeton University and 18-year-old Rujul Zaparde was on his way to Harvard University.
Instead, they decided, along with co-founder Shri Ganeshram - who was accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - to try to change the way we rent cars and take on the $11 billion airport car rental industry.
That’s even though they’re too young to rent a car themselves.
“At any moment there’s something like 360,000 cars in long-term parking lots in the top thirty U.S. airports,” said Zaparde. “That’s very inefficient.”
FlightCar will let you park for free and pay you if someone rents your car - up to $20 a day. They pick you up and drop you off in a black sedan and wash your car.
And perhaps most importantly, they offer all of the peace of mind that a $1 million policy can buy.
“Everything is insured up to a million dollars,” said Zaparde. “We’ll cover liabilities, any collision, theft, and damage. Even if there’s a small scratch on the car it’s fully covered.”
The first location opened in San Francisco in February, followed by Boston in May.
Petrovic said they got the idea from Airbnb, which helps you rent out your home.
“Largely because of Airbnb, it’s really opened the door to the sharing economy and people are more willing to share,” said Petrovic.
Who is brave enough to loan their car to a complete stranger?
It tends to be those in their late 20’s or early 30’s. But not everyone is young.
Walt French is a 65-year-old San Francisco portfolio manager who’s left his Acura with FlightCar more than 10 times.
“To me, the great value of this is that before I learned about FlightCar, I was paying to park at the airport $15-$18 a day,” said French.
Now, he collects money when he gets home, as he did recently following a weeklong trip to Shanghai.
“I got a check a couple hours ago for $111,” said French.
French is hooked. So is Joe Rosenberg, who now leaves his BMW with FlightCar twice a month when he has to travel for work.
His car has always been returned in good shape.
“I mean there’s obviously little things, like the mirror or the seat is in a different spot,” said
Rosenberg. “But that’s no different than if you valet parked your car somewhere or went to carwash.”
Other customers have shared horror stories on the online review site, Yelp, about finding decomposing fried chicken wings stuffed in the side door pocket… or worse, not getting fully reimbursed when their car was in an accident.
To succeed, FlightCar will have to prove such incidents are rare.
It will also have to show it can stay in regulators’ good graces.
In June, the city of San Francisco sued the company for operating illegally at the airport.
Petrovic says FlightCar isn’t backing down.
“I think anytime you do something really innovative in a market you are going to run up against opposition,” he said.
Petrovic isn’t expecting any regulatory hurdles at LAX, which doesn't have the same rules as San Francisco International.
So far, investors haven't been scared away, even though the company is a long way from profitability.
The teenage founders have raised around $6 million in funding.
Among the investors are Airbnb’s founders, along with Ryan Seacrest and Ashton Kutcher.