A Nissan Rogue outside Nissan’s North American headquarters was used to give live demonstrations of rideshare application Hytch, on Tuesday, Jan. 30./Photo by Brooke Wanser.
By BROOKE WANSER
After being recognized last week as the Nashville Technology Council’s 2018 “Emerging Company of the Year,” the rideshare application company Hytch Rewards revealed a new partnership with Nissan at the North American Headquarters in Cool Springs on Tuesday morning.
The free Hytch app, which will release online on Friday, Feb. 9, is designed to incentivize carpooling for both drivers and riders. It functions much like Tinder allowing drivers and riders to connect via a map of their route. Along with making money off sponsored cash rewards from local partners like Nissan and Franklin Synergy Bank, drivers and riders will be reducing fuel emissions and traffic.
Hytch’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Cleveland spoke at the Williamson County Transportation Summit in the fall, explaining the app’s model, and the importance of reducing traffic in the area.
“It might be as simple as putting the money where people can be rewarded directly,” he said at the October summit. Three months later, it is happening after a partnership formed when Cleveland met executives at Nissan through Williamson, Inc., the county’s chamber of commerce.
“Nissan is our local auto headquarters. You can’t not be engaged with Nissan if you’re active in the chamber,” Cleveland said, adding that after announcing his idea for the app, Nissan took notice.
“All of the sudden, they were like, ‘This is a really innovative idea,’” he said.
“This could be a new long-term trend that we would like to understand better,” said Dan Teeter, the director of vehicle connected services at Nissan’s North American headquarters.
“This is our opportunity to have a local partner that’s very well respected and to be on the front end, and help shape what that kind of mobility solution could look like,” he said of Hytch, which won the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s $100,000 Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant in 2016. “So it’s really a win-win for both of our companies.”
“That’s what I love about them,” Cleveland said, pointing to a banner in Nissan’s lobby. “‘Innovation that excites.’ If you’re looking for it, you recognize it.”
Nissan’s focus on environmental sustainability, Cleveland said, was what drew him into the partnership.
After 17 years living in Brentwood, Cleveland, 55, recently moved to East Nashville, but his roots are in Oregon soil. During an interview, a duck quacks out a notification from Cleveland’s phone, alerting any listeners in the area to his alma mater, the University of Oregon.
Growing up in Oregon, he said, gave him an appreciation for clean air.
“I think when you grow up in a culture that values the outdoors and outdoor lifestyle, you want to preserve it,” he said, especially for the next generation. “I don’t think my environmental motivations are unique, I just wanted to act.”
Since retiring as the chief executive officer of Swiftwick, a sock company, Cleveland had been interested in solving the issue of traffic in a sustainable way.
Cleveland, who also spent 17 years working for two transportation companies, said he saw the potential in all the empty seats inside cars on the interstate.
“All these empty seats are a huge shared economy asset going to waste. There already is a mass transit system here,” he insisted, “it’s just that people aren’t thinking about sharing rides.”
Cleveland believes that by merely providing a small incentive, 5 cents per mile, drivers will be swayed to help out their neighbors.
“People are alone enough, we’ve got plenty of alone time. ‘Life’s better when you ride together,’” he said, referencing the app’s motto.
He acknowledged that many people won’t want to share rides. “But if ten percent, 15 percent of the people who drive today shared a ride, you’d have 20 percent less traffic,” he said.
With the region’s welcoming culture and growing traffic problem, Cleveland believes the app is poised to make a big impact.
“We’re a culture that’s focused on being welcoming. And people come from other places to be a part of it,” he said. “They land in sort of a net of hospitality, and we share and we can support each other.”
Though the app will be released through the app store globally next Friday, Cleveland’s immediate focus is the Middle Tennessee region.
“We want to first prove in Tennessee that we can have a huge impact on air quality and on congestion,” though he noted the company is partnered with a global brand to mirror their global ambitions.
In the future, Cleveland has his eyes on expanding to other cities he feels are a good match for the app, like Seattle, Portland, Dallas and Austin.
“We’re going to prove together that this is a new way of thinking that’s worth exploring,” he said.
HOW IT WORKS:
Originally developed to be similar to the Tinder interface (a dating app where users swipe right to connect, and left to decline), the app allows users to log on to see where potential drivers and riders are nearby.
Once connected, drivers and riders can see a map of where they are headed along with how much money they are making each mile, before finishing the ride. The app also has a feature that shows how many trees you’ll save by riding.
When a driver or rider has reached $10, they can cash in their reward by entering PayPal account information into the iOS and Andriod app.