When Zach Ware first moved to downtown Las Vegas a few years ago, he hired a car service for a week as an experiment.
“I wanted to know, what would life be like if transportation were a sunk cost?” said the 32-year-old founder and CEO of Project 100, a startup aimed at disrupting the way people move in cities.
Without having to worry about driving, parking, taxi fare, or any other costs associated with getting from point A to point B, “I discovered that I had a lot more fun, saw a lot more people, and found that I was a lot more productive,” Ware said from his company’s brand new office overlooking the Las Vegas skyline. “That experience fundamentally changed the way I saw transit in the world.”
Ware initially moved from San Francisco to suburban Las Vegas to work for Zappos as a product manager, and relocated downtown after CEO Tony Hsieh asked him to join his Downtown Project, a private sector-led $350 million revitalization of the area. As one of the project’s earliest hires, Ware became a partner in the VegasTechFund while also leading the $40 million redevelopment and relocation of the Zappos headquarters into Las Vegas’ old City Hall.
The area, best known for the Fremont East District, was gritty — with few dining options, no grocery store, and lots of empty parking lots. Although downtown is only two miles from the Strip, taxi drivers have a stronghold on the market and round-trip fare can be costly. Public transit is more affordable but less efficient, and car service company Uber hasn’t yet cracked the Las Vegas market, leaving few options for residents who don’t own a car.
Ware decided he wanted to fix this problem. He and Patrick Olson, who co-founded Project 100, started working on bike sharing and had early conversations with carsharing companies such as Zipcar. But they decided they needed to create an entirely new system to disrupt the market.
Ware brought up the idea with Hsieh of consolidating all transportation into one company. After talks with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, they incorporated Project 100 and reserved 100 Tesla Model S vehicles in March 2013.
They decided the business would be an on-demand service where members have access to 100+ shared cars, 100+ shared electric bikes, and 100+ shared shuttle bus stops. Their mission is to provide access to any mode of transportation within five minutes. “We’re not just a menu of cars,” said Ware. “Our business is a promise.”
Over the course of the year, Ware and his team have been testing a number of electric vehicles, including the Renault Twizy and the Polaris GEM. Teslas will be available to members with and without drivers, so there’s the option of a concierge service.
“Why do people move, and what kinds of problems do they encounter? And what if cost wasn’t a factor?” said Ware. “We want to eliminate as many barriers as possible, putting all types of mobility under one roof.”
Project 100 recently hired several engineers to develop its app and demand prediction algorithms — which will determine the influence of traffic patterns, weather, and other external factors to help the team reposition vehicles, bikes, and concierges in advance. “The member will never see any of the complexity,” he said. “We can never fail, and we can never be late.”
The membership model will be multi-tiered, capping out at a couple hundred dollars a month. They plan to launch in beta this summer — beginning with a shuttle service — and continuing with a series of soft launches throughout 2014.
After rolling out the service in Las Vegas, they plan to expand to other cities. Like Uber, they’ve also encountered regulatory challenges, but Ware is confident that they’ll strike a compromise with the city.
He also anticipates that fundamentally changing how people get around will take time, saying, “Many visionaries have failed to respect that people have fear.”
“Overall, we think that in 10 years our members will move around in a fundamentally different way than they do today,” said Ware. “But we can’t expect them to give up what they know today. So we’re focused on helping them evolve with us, rather than trying to convince them to change dramatically today.”