Founder Story: How Ruben Schultz is Attacking a $30 Billion Dollar Industry With Swoop
Many startup founders are born entrepreneurs.
They grew up knowing how to hustle, how to come up with the next big thing, how to persevere under immense stress and pressure, and most importantly, how to execute. In fact, a recent Inc. article says one of the number one characteristics of a startup founder is knowing how to “get things done.”
Our next Founder Story series interviewee — Ruben Schultz, co-founder of Swoop — is all of the above. He is a born entrepreneur who, with the help of his co-founders, has completely revolutionized an industry that is typically overlooked when it comes to technology.
The industry? Chauffeured transportation.
Swoop is a VC-backed mobility tech company headquartered in Los Angeles, aiming to make chauffeured transportation accessible, transparent, and affordable for everyone.
Keep reading to learn how Ruben and his team took an antiquated concept and brought it into the twenty-first century.
Embracing Your Entrepreneurial Spirit
Ruben grew up knowing he wanted to start his own business. What was once selling Pokemon cards to his classmates turned into standing in line for the latest Nintendo Wiis to sell for a profit on eBay.
“I was always somewhat entrepreneurial,” said Ruben. “There’s always been this idea of having ownership over what I did.”
While Ruben had successful stints at Groupon, Google and Facebook, he knew something was missing. He was ready to re-embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of his youth.
Luckily, one of his childhood friends felt the same.
Amir Ghorbani, co-founder of Swoop, grew up in chauffeur transportation. Through his parents’ limousine business, he saw firsthand how stagnant the transportation industry had been.
While digital transformation was rampant across industries, chauffeurs were left squarely in the very early aughts, with websites consisting solely of a telephone number, and if you were lucky, a contact form.
Avoiding the B2C Problems
The initial idea for Swoop was a chauffeur marketplace to generate business for operators who may not own their own vehicles. But while doing market research, they stumbled upon an even bigger problem that needed to be solved.It’s important to truly understand your industry and market to know what the challenges are and where there is white space. Click To Tweet
“We realized as we were scaling the marketplace business, that the problem wasn’t necessarily the demand generation, the problem was one level deeper,” said Ruben. ”The foundational problem of the industry is that there’s no technology that these operators can use to run their business effectively.”
Technology was the true crux of the problem.
According to Ruben, without technology, operators don’t have full foresight into upcoming trips, vehicle and driver availability, pricing models, and more. As many founders know, it’s difficult to manage a business in an Excel spreadsheet, let alone a pen and paper.
Ruben and Amir, alongside Amir’s high school friend Pete Evenson, took this idea and ran with it. They saw that the transportation industry was worth over $30 billion dollars, yet there was minimal movement to digitize individual chauffeur companies across the country.
Why was this?
“It’s an overlooked industry because it’s not the sexiest,” suggested Ruben. “Often entrepreneurs go towards the sexy problems, the B2C problems, but there are so many industries that are so overlooked.”Consider the B2B landscape when you're thinking about startup ideas. There may be a way to infuse technology into an otherwise manual business. Click To Tweet
Today, Swoop, and the underlying technology Moovs, helps both customers and operators navigate the highly fragmented transportation industry by removing friction and complexity from the current user experience.
Finding the Right Counterparts & Prioritizing the Product
For Ruben, the co-founder relationship was important from the start.
“If you look at why startups fail, it’s always because of founder fights or because they ran out of money. It’s usually never because the idea necessarily didn’t work out. And that’s why the founder relationships are so important.”In addition to finding co-founders with the right skills to bring your idea to life, look for people that you genuinely get along with and are aligned with your vision. Click To Tweet
While Ruben, Amir and Pete experienced some setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, he was fortunate as it brought them even closer together.
COVID-19 also allowed them to re-prioritize and focus on the business. Prior to the pandemic, Ruben focused mostly on short-term, smaller wins.
“As a founder, you get blinded by small wins that don’t necessarily help you scale,” said Ruben. “At times, it was hard for us to prioritize the right things in the product without being blinded by the short-term wins. It took COVID for us to say, ‘What are we going to prioritize over the next year?’”Never forget to prioritize product development—it's the foundation of your business. Click To Tweet
Learning to be Patient
Looking back on the early days of Swoop, Ruben realized patience and resilience are key.
“As a first-time founder, you gravitate towards the most sensational stories, the ones who sold their business in six months,” Ruben mused. “Obviously that’s not an accurate depiction of what the ecosystem looks like, but you still get influenced by those external events.”
Patience and resiliency may be key characteristics of a successful entrepreneur, but hustle and drive come out on top more often than not. This was especially true for Ruben, as he said the timing is seldom perfect to start a business.
“If you find yourself saying ‘Once I got this promotion at my current job and I have X amount of money saved and I’ve moved here, then I’m going to start a business,’ you’re likely in a mental model where you’re preventing yourself from starting a business. And you should probably be honest to yourself about that.”
But when it comes to timing, Ruben says now is the perfect time to start a business. The whole world has been shaken up, where everything is up for discussion. Not to mention, there are more tools that are readily available to entrepreneurs to help them get their idea off the ground than ever before.First-time entrepreneurs should be honest with themselves about wanting to start a business. Click To Tweet
The final piece of advice from Ruben?
“There is a lot to say around the fact that you have to live through some things in order for them to really resonate with you.”
We may dole out advice in our Founders Series, but founders, take it from Ruben. Talk is cheap, but experiencing the startup life for yourself can provide a whole new perspective.
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a team to truly bring an idea to life.
Founders may take the most risk at the beginning of a startup (and receive the credit for it!), but Ruben would be remiss if he didn’t mention that the team has been a core part of Swoop’s success.Take the time to recognize and thank the early-stage employees who took a risk to work at your startup. Click To Tweet
“Sometimes founders get all the love but many times, there’s a huge supporting cast that’s doing the heavy lifting,” said Ruben.
While Ruben says thanks to his team, we want to thank him for participating in the Founder Series and partnering with Finmark!
Interested in being the next Founder Story spotlight? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.