UC Davis student brings family startup to town

Have you ever traveled and had trouble getting to the airport?

UC Davis third-year biological sciences major Sabrina Merchant is working with her two brothers to help solve that very problem for UC Davis students.

Their service, called SocialDrv, is designed to utilize people in the community for providing transportation to and from the Sacramento International Airport. Sabrina, the vice president of Marketing and Expansion for the business had the idea to expand it to serve the Davis community.

“I saw that it was going really well in the Bay Area and I said, ‘College students would really appreciate this kind of idea once they know it’s available to them,’” Sabrina said.

She is in charge of spreading the word on campus, and expects to see rapid growth and success once the publicity effort is completed.

“I think the reason why I can be so confident about it is one of the major things: as college students, we’re always broke, and this is a great way to make cash,” Sabrina said. “I think once people are aware of this it shouldn’t take too long to actually get business.”

Although there are many popular Facebook groups available to UC Davis students that offer services similar to those of SocialDrv, like the Davis ride-sharing group where people can post requests for carpools to specific places, the Merchants were not concerned about the competition.

Anil Merchant, Sabrina’s brother, said there are several key differences between his service and the business being conducted in these groups.

“The basic idea behind all of these groups is to share a ride with someone who may already be going in that direction, at the exact same time you wanted to go,” Anil said. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t scale very well for the airport model.”

He points out that getting to the airport must be done with a strict deadline and said it would be nearly impossible to find someone who would be able to take another student to the airport under the model set-up in ride-sharing groups.

“Early morning flights are very common, with people having to leave for the airport at 4 a.m.,” Anil said. “I don’t imagine anyone has ever found a 4 a.m. ride to the airport utilizing a ride-sharing group, but with SocialDrv, those students who happen to be up studying late into the night and could use a little break and the cash, will absolutely be able to provide that 4 a.m. ride to the airport.”

In addition, UC Davis students will potentially profit from the venture, mainly because SocialDrv relies on recruiting members from the community in order to offer the service.

Anyone who has a driver’s license can register to be a SocialDrv driver. Background checks and personal interviews are performed by the company’s founders, Anil and Imran Merchant. If registration is a success, the driver can begin to be scheduled for trips to or from the airport according to their availability.

The business originally began in the Bay Area, initially using Craigslist as a platform for ride listings. Eventually, a separate SocialDrv website was created where people can currently register as drivers, sign up for rides and pay.

“Although SocialDrv has only been live for less than six months, we have steadily grown each week, with referrals playing a huge role in driving that growth,” Anil said.

On top of emphasizing the money-making opportunity that SocialDrv offers students, Anil pointed out the cost and time-saving benefits of the service.

“Sacramento International Airport is about 22 miles from UC Davis and a taxi costs roughly $40,” Anil said. “There are other transportation options available, but those are far more time consuming. We wanted to provide students with another option that was just as fast as a taxi, but far cheaper and much friendlier.”

The social aspect of the ride to the airport is another one of the foundations of the business. Anil mentioned that the service provides an opportunity to make friends and network with other riders.

“Many of the customers who use SocialDrv as passengers follow up and tell us just what a wonderful, pleasant ride they had to the airport,” Anil said. “They had a great conversation with the driver, and truly felt as if they were being dropped off by a friend. That’s exactly what we strive for.”

Sabrina and her brothers see a lot of potential in expanding the service to college campuses. She said that if the expansion to UC Davis is successful, they will be looking to offer it at other universities and areas across California and beyond.

“Our future plans [are] to have SocialDrv throughout California and eventually nationwide,” Imran said. “We are currently working on covering all of Northern California and will be slowly moving downwards to Los Angeles, Orange County and eventually San Diego.”

Currently, the business relies on referrals, which are integrated into the service by giving out bonuses which would offer a discount for each referral for a total discount of up to $100.

“We will beat all taxi companies — guaranteed. And secondly, nobody wishes to stop at multiple locations before getting to their destination,” Imran said. “SocialDrv will take you directly from door to door!”

NICK FREDERICI can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

 Photo by Katie Lin.

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