Here’s how it went: Years ago, Anya Babbitt was working on a project in Los Angeles. She was staying at a hotel and taking the hotel shuttle to work every morning. But one morning the shuttle was full and Anya found herself stuck at the hotel.
“Luckily, there were two other guests traveling in the same direction and we shared the ride,” she said. “A great conversation with the riders developed into an opportunity and another project. This was the first time that I had the idea, to bring people together and create community through shared transportation.”
Next, Anya shared the idea with her friend and to-be SPLT co-founder, and the two turned the concept into a prototype. Today, SPLT operates as a carpool app offered by employers as a benefit to employees. The company opened up business development offices in Stuttgart, London, Mexico City and a new software development office in Los Angeles. Earlier this year, the startup got acquired by tech and mobility giant Bosch.
Anya spoke to W Insight about the idea behind SPLT, its focus on sustainability and positive environment impact, as well as her career path as a woman entrepreneur.
Diana Asatryan, editor at W Insight: SPLT is currently offered by various corporations as an employee benefit. What’s your pitch to those employers?
Anya Babbitt: As the economy continues to boom, attracting and retaining the best employees is a challenge for employers large and small. Offering SPLT as an employee benefit to help them get to and from work is in itself a social good. Our customers talk about helping colleagues in different departments who would otherwise not be in touch with each other to come together and share not only the ride, but ideas. This helps promote mentorship of senior employees to junior employees and build connections. By building a culture of sharing and sustainability, the result is a more sustainable company. The cost savings for carpooling, of course, are also a bonus. With Bosch as a partner, we have been on a path towards faster growth and expansion. We’ve also received wide internal support from Bosch teams globally looking to bring our product to their region. We have many new product initiatives under way as well.
Describe the company’s current focus on social and environmental impact.
The positive environmental impact of taking cars off the road is significant. I wrote my thesis on the reduction of CO2 emissions, so this topic is of particular importance not only to me but to most of our team and customers. C40 Cities, a network of mayors of the world’s megacities, is tackling climate change at the local level, setting published goals at Deadline 2020, which outlines emissions goals for 2020 and beyond. An analysis published by McKinsey, “Focused Acceleration, A Strategic Approach to Climate,” estimates that cities large and small can reach 25% to 45% of their 2030 emissions reduction targets by adopting integrated next-generation mobility, which includes ridesharing. SPLT, by encouraging more passengers per vehicle and making the process frictionless, can play an important role in reducing emissions and climate change.
The same McKinsey study notes the importance of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) as part of meeting climate goals. Employers and landlords who create density along preferred transit corridors can help reduce congestion and resultant CO2 emissions. Ridesharing plays an important role as both a source of primary travel and last mile in a multi-modal format. In addition to reducing CO2 emissions, transit options can reduce the amount of parking spaces that are required for office and residential development. This helps reduce the high cost of underground parking and the use of surface parking, which radiates heat and creates impervious surfaces and creates water runoff and resultant pollution. By creating incentives for TODs, landlords can create greater density and income, trading the cost of parking spaces, which develop fractional revenues, for leasable or saleable square footage.
How did your background help bring SPLT to life?
I came previously from a background in marketing and investment acquisition. I had already founded two companies and worked on many different projects in the past. Entrepreneurship did come to me at an early age as members of my immediate and extended family formed businesses big and small. Leading a team and building a brand was something that I honed later on in my career. All those skills, knowledge, and experience combined to contribute to the success of SPLT.
What do you think was the turning point for the company?
There were many turning points for the company, big and small, each important in getting SPLT to where we are today. Coming to Detroit because of Techstars Mobility, where we received initial investment, mentors who gave guidance on direction and product, and brought onboard the first few enthusiastic employees onto our team. The groups of investors who knew me in my prior life in New York, who placed their funds and their trust in our team here. Our opportunity to win competitions such as the Clean Energy Trust and Accelerate Michigan. Finally, the opportunity to pitch SPLT at Google Demo Day in Mountain View where we met our customer and future acquirer Bosch.
You head one of the few woman-led tech/mobility companies. What was it like growing SPLT in a male-dominated investor environment?
Female entrepreneurs, while there are fewer of us, are becoming more and more commonplace. While there will always be an entrenched core of investors who are looking for the typical Silicon Valley archetype for investment, the more forward-thinking investors who are evaluating the best opportunities and best teams have always led the way in participating in companies. We were very fortunate to bring onboard early employees such as Cassidy Tucker and Benjamin Seidman who believe in the mission and joined precisely because we are a female-led company.
What’s your main advice for emerging female entrepreneurs in the mobility space?
The advice is to go where you are welcomed. Find investors who are supportive. Find mentors who are onboard and enthusiastic. Find customers who understand and want to partner. Once more people see the progress, see the results, and see the returns, it becomes far easier to keep going.
Today, women make up half the workforce in the U.S., and only represent 25% of the workforce in the automotive/mobility industry. When you look at women in automotive executive positions, that number drops to 17%. Yet, just as automobile ownership declines, autonomous vehicles take over and shared mobility services grow, so will women become prominent in an industry once dominated by men.
What has been the biggest disappointment and the greatest motivation in your career so far?
The greatest motivation for me is being able to remain independent, to be able to help my closest family members and relatives. If I do have a family one day, I would like the world of the future to be a more positive place and to leave it in a better place for our descendants. As a boundless optimist, the biggest disappointments have been balancing expectations with optimism, such as when things aren’t moving quickly enough or when our ambitions as a company have outstripped our resources.