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Business of the Month: Safe rides, good deeds all in a day’s work for Uride

Northern-created ridesharing app makes foray into Latin America
Cody Ruberto founded the ridesharing service Uride to help cut down on impaired driving while providing additional transportation options to Thunder Bay residents. (Supplied photo)

When he created the ridesharing service Uride in 2017, Cody Ruberto had a simple goal: reduce impaired driving in Thunder Bay.

But not long after launching, he heard from people in communities right across Canada who similarly lacked access to safe, reliable transportation. And his homegrown solution began to catch on.

Today, Uride is operational in 24 cities across the country and is now making its first foray into Latin America.

“I think everyone everywhere deserves access to safe, reliable, affordable transportation,” Ruberto said. “And we're just going to keep chipping away, and we are doing everything we possibly can to resolve this problem everywhere.”

To access the service, users download the app on their smartphones and register with Uride. They can then order a ride, monitor the car’s progress, and complete their payment all through the app.

Drivers have to meet strict safety protocols, including holding a valid driver’s licence, passing a criminal record check, and having a clean driver’s abstract. Their vehicles have to pass a safety inspection and Uride provides full commercial insurance for drivers any time they’re on the platform.

A former pro athlete who played soccer in Europe during his twenties, Ruberto concedes he knew very little about business before embarking on this journey.

“I'm not a business person; I'm not a tech person,” the 33-year-old said. “My background is soccer.”

But he’s determined to help address the widespread lack of reliable transportation, propelled, in part, by a childhood experience in which a family friend was killed by a drunk driver.

“There's seven times the number of deaths caused by impaired driving in rural communities compared to urban centres,” Ruberto said. “And this is a stat that shouldn't exist.”

For his efforts, Ruberto has been accepted into C100 and Next Canada, national incubation initiatives that mentor young innovators in their journeys through entrepreneurship. He raised capital through a pre-seed investment fund with the province’s Ontario Centre of Innovation, and in 2018, the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre named him Young Innovator of the Year.

In seven years of operation, the company has found its niche settling into smaller communities where the larger U.S.-based ridesharing services tend not to operate. That includes all five of the North’s major centres: North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Timmins.

Earlier this month, Ruberto launched his first international location in Parral, a former silver-mining city with a population of just over 100,000 in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Latin America, and Mexico in particular, is ripe for growth in ridesharing, Ruberto said.

But transitioning the business to a Mexican model has had its challenges — everything from navigating the various state safety regulations to addressing the issue of fewer cars on the roads.

“The great thing is that we have a team of people that are really obsessed with solving this problem,” Ruberto said. “And we have so much help from so many people just to keep expanding and carrying this on, so we definitely wouldn't be here without the help of tons of people.”

The Mexico launch wasn’t an immediate success — “dead” is the word Ruberto used to describe activity in the first few days on the platform.​

Since launching in 2017 Uride is now available in two dozen locations across Canada and is currently expanding into Latin America. | Uride photo

​But something Ruberto believes sets his company apart is its ability to respond swiftly and adapt to any problems that arise.

On location in Parral for the launch, he and his team consulted with drivers, polled customers and took their input to heart.

After a few tweaks to the service, the numbers suddenly “exploded,” Ruberto said, showing 181 per cent in day-over-day growth.

It’s all part of his effort to make Uride both the best driving job and the best service for passengers, he said.

“The best ideas don't come from me; they don't come from our management team,” said Ruberto, who’s been known to jump behind the steering wheel when needed.

“They come from the front lines, from drivers and riders giving feedback, and then us just being open to listening and making changes based on their feedback.”

With pickup times averaging less than 10 minutes in most demographics, Ruberto said efficient service is certainly a priority for users. But more often than not, it’s the quality of the drivers they comment on.

Because Uride operates in smaller communities, it’s not uncommon for regular users to be matched with the same drivers over repeated use. Stories have emerged from multiple cities in which drivers and users develop friendships over their shared time in the vehicle.

Though he won’t disclose an exact number, Ruberto said Uride has “a couple thousand drivers” across locations and many have remained with the company from its earlier days.

They range from students who drive part time while they complete their studies to retirees who like to make some extra cash for their leisurely pursuits.

Whether it’s luck or something else, Ruberto is in awe of his company’s good fortune in this regard.

“I'm not sure what the secret sauce is,” he said. “But we really have incredible, incredible people driving with us and I’m super, super grateful.”

His gratitude emerges in other ways, too; namely, Uride’s Good Deeds Program, which is inspired by Ruberto’s personal experiences.

While playing soccer in Europe, Ruberto said, he was called to a team tryout in a different city from where he was living. He spent his last €20 on a train ticket to get to the tryout, only to learn there was nowhere for him to stay once he got there.

He had resolved to spend the night curled up in front of the community’s train station when an “incredible” man named Enzo offered him food, water and shelter.

“And that's just one example,” said Ruberto, noting that he did land the player’s contract with the team and got back on his feet shortly after.

“I've had so many people help me in my life when I've been in really bad circumstances. And so I think we should help each other.”

That’s why, when he launched Uride, Ruberto decided he wanted charitable contributions “ingrained into the company’s DNA.”

Once a month, Uride designates a portion of its profits to a cause that’s important to the communities in which it operates.

In April, in partnership with the Canadian firm Flash Forest, Uride planted a tree for every ride taken with the company on April 22. For its January good deed, the company donated 10 per cent of all January 25 ride fares to local animal adoption centres, while also paying the adoption fees for animals featured on its website.

The company has supported programming that helps immigrants integrate into their communities, donated to funds that support innovation and entrepreneurship, and purchased school supplies for elementary schools across its catchment area.

Initially, the recipients of Uride’s charitable contributions stemmed from interests close to Ruberto’s heart.

But suggestions now come from management, drivers, passengers, and anyone else who has a good idea for how they can positively contribute.

“There's a ripple effect of all those good deeds,” Ruberto said. “So we think that on top of solving the transportation problem in a lot of the communities we're operating in, we can make these communities happier, more prosperous places to live.”