My Week: Tom Wright of WhipCar

The car rental entrepreneur on living by the seaside, being a bad dad and the problems with growing too quickly.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
I have to get up pretty early, around 6.30, as I commute to London from Brighton. My wife and I moved there about a year and a half ago as we both grew up by the sea and we really wanted the same for our daughter, and Brighton was the closest bit of sea we could find.
 
I get into the office at about 9 o’clock by which time the rest of the team, including my business partner Vinay Gupta, are generally in the office. Vinay and I met when we were both working at Fleming Media. He’s American; he came over here to do his MBA at London Business School, and has been here ever since. We clicked quite quickly and soon realised we have complimentary skillsets – he’s really smart and strategic in the way he thinks, and my background is more hands-on, conceptual stuff – coming up with the ideas and implementing them.
 
I wouldn’t ever say the commute is painless (partly because I like the idea of my wife thinking I’m struggling) – but actually, it’s probably really healthy: it means you get two hours a day where you’re focused, without disruptions like answering the phone or looking at the internet. You get the chance to just think strategically about the business. When you’re in a start-up, everything is at a million miles per hour, and things change so quickly. So it’s really nice to take a step back on a daily basis.
 
That said, the beauty of a web business is that you can change things relatively quickly. I spend about 50% of my time on product development and innovation: our goal is to make things 5% better a week and we get a sense pretty quickly if the changes we make are for the better. If they are, we build on that - and if they’re not, we just roll back.
 
I also spend a large proportion of my time liaising with the customer service team. They are available 24/7, because we knew in order to make owners comfortable with putting their car on the service to be rented out, there were core elements required to give that level of reassurance. So, that means you have to go the extra mile on everything, from having a 24/7 call centre to screening every driver carefully – we even have a three-way conference call with the DVLA.

I take a personal interest in our customers, too: every day, I speak to dozens of drivers and owners to get a sense of either things they think we should be doing, or things we could do better. Last week, we implemented a personal voucher code element: you put in details about your car and your postcode and the site tells you what your car could earn you while you’re not using it, in your area.
 
We’ve only been going for four months but we’re already noticing patterns in the way people use the site and adapting the offer accordingly. For example, we discovered that people rented their cars out in very different ways to different people. So let’s say that I rent my car out 30 times, the chances are that that’s probably to ten people three times each. Within that scenario I might lend my car to my brother, who I want to give a better rate to than my neighbour two doors down. So we installed this function which means you as a vehicle owner can set your price, and then you outline the level of discount you’d like to offer; this generates a unique code and then you can just distribute it as you see fit.
 
I usually get home at about 9pm. This is where I’m a bad dad: Poppy is 10 months old, so it’s not ideal. On the plus side, though, when it comes to things like the weekend, it’s really good to be away from London. It’s nice to recharge your batteries on a weekly basis. I used to not be able to help myself and would end up working at weekends, but it’s something I’ve got better at. The business is always there in my mind – but I think I’ve got better at giving myself a bit more space.

Tom Wright is the co-founder of WhipCar, the world’s first company to let you rent your neighbour’s car.

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