Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, the show that features Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. My guest today, Gordon Taylor, Founder and CEO of Croozen. Gordon, welcome to the show.
Gordon: Thanks, Russ. Thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about Croozen.
Gordon: Croozen is a social travel network that brings individuals, based on travel preferences, and also just connection. Truly what that means is that we want to be the first social network for travelers and allow for people to connect through all modes of transportation whether it’s cars, taxis, Ubers, all of the different modes of transportation.
Russ: And how do you spell Croozen?
Gordon: Croozen, you spell it as C-R-O-O-Z-E-N.
Russ: Ok, and what’s the domain?
Gordon: The domain is gocroozen.com, so we are really excited about it. We are trying to figure out how to actually get the right domain, but gocroozen made sense.
Russ: Gocroozen makes a lot of sense. Do people have to be friends before they can travel together, or is that the way they become friends?
Gordon: I think that it’s the latter. We really want them to become friends and to really discover this world of individuals that they didn’t know existed, right? Think about midtown, where we’re at right now. There’s a ton of young individuals, and even older individuals that don’t know that they have this similar interest and want to go to the same places. Currently, right now in the market in mobility, people are utilizing those transportation modes but don’t even know the person that’s sitting next to them. We want to be able to connect them to become better friends and be able to give back to the Croozen community.
Russ: Interesting. Are they normally taking short trips within Houston or are they going to Dallas, or New York, or what?
Gordon: What they’re doing currently is taking shorter trips within cities. Think more downtown Houston to Galveston, or kind of our longer distance which is Houston to Austin, or Houston to Dallas are mostly our traveling base. And they are doing it for a reason, right? It’s to go see that Red River Shootout or if it’s going to see an attraction like Kemah Boardwalk, or going to Space City Houston.
Russ: Say I wanted to go to one of your examples, the Red River Shootout. I wanted to meet people that wanted to go there too. How do you, how does Croozen find good passengers for me?
Gordon: We collect your interests. We collect who you are as a person, a lot of data that you provide. From there, we create this experienced marketplace for you, that we call it, and basically, it’s a number of destinations, events that, based on your interests, you would like. We also show you the people that are going to those events and we provide that in transportation mode that best suits your needs. Say, for instance, you’re going to that Red River Shootout, and there is tons of Oklahoma fans here and UT fans, right? If there’s a hundred, then we can crowdsource us from one of our partners, Coash USA, or if there’s only a few then we’ll give you the travel options of saying, hey, there’s a Zipcar in your area, or someone else is driving as well, to go together in that platform. You can kind of think about it as a social network that is crowdsourcing transportation to actually go to your interest or desired destination.
Russ: Interesting. So, how old is the company?
Gordon: We’re about almost three years old. We started in Chicago. I went to The University of Chicago for my business school degree and then moved the company here, probably three or four months after starting the company.
Russ: Ok, and how is business?
Gordon: It’s great. We’ve done thousands of rides, more focused on long distance, but now we are doing a transition like we talked about to include the social network and all modes of transportation. We really envision a world that people can connect in any mode, whether you’re on a Megabus and you can pick who you want to sit next to, or you’re in an airport and you want just an interesting conversation while you’re waiting at Heathrow Airport, that’s the world that we envision at Croozen. We really live up to our mantra, which is, connecting travelers one experience at a time.
Russ: I remember way back, pre-Uber, there were several share ride things evolving. Is this like that, and maybe better so, do you have competitors doing the same thing?
Gordon: Yes. I don’t think we have competitors anymore. I really say that the difference is that we’re not trying to be a shared ride service. We’re really trying to be a social network on top of all modes of transportation. Whether it’s your personal car, a Zipcar, a bus, a plane, whatever it may be, we just want to be the connection to show that you can travel with this person within those. So, even Uber, Lyft, we see them as a partner versus a competitor. What we want to do is get Gordon and Russ together to go to a Texas State basketball game, and say, hey, we can go in an Uber together if you want to split the cost of that Uber long distance.
Gordon: We want to be able to connect you to your next best friend. Our mascot is Tom Crooze, and it’s a dog, so we want you to find your road dog, your new road dog. We know that people change over time, your travel preference does too, and we really think that you can actually get to know new people in your area that you can travel with. It’s so amazing to know that if I come to a new city like Houston, or if I’m traveling to a new country, that I can get to know the local market but also the people I can travel with within that market.
Russ: As you well know, this is a business show, we have a business audience. I’m sure they’re wanting to know; how do you make money?
Gordon: We used to make money similar to Uber and Lyft where it’s per connection. We’ve recently taken that platform off—or, that revenue stream off, and we want to be able to allow for people just to connect. The way we do it is actually make money off of advertisements, right? So, if someone is traveling to a different location, let’s say if it’s Thailand or here locally in Houston, you want to know what’s around you. Being able to provide you with that great travel experience that is really tailored to you, Russ. You may like a sushi restaurant versus McDonald’s, so we want to provide you with that experience or that deal so that you can understand what is good to do in Houston. So, that’s how we make revenue is through advertisement.
Russ: Wow, so it’s free for your riders and customers but it’s a sponsored model. How are sales going to sponsors?
Gordon: They’re going pretty good. We just initially just started that off. We see our company as kind of a three-fold company; Of course, a tech company; and then, very much a marketing company, those kind of go hand in hand; but data driven, for sure. We want to be able to be responsible about the data that we’re providing to our providers and other people that are advertising on the platform, because we want to be able to add tremendous value to them but also, in terms of adding a lot of value to the customer as well. It’s going well. We’re pretty early in that model, but we’re excited. The other side of it is that we were very successful at the transactional model, but we think that want you to come back not based on that you’re making money, that you’re getting a great experience.
Russ: Take us back to the beginning. What triggered the idea to start Croozen?
Gordon: I took a really long road trip from Chicago to Houston. It was about 18 hours, a treacherous ride. Whether I was going through Missouri, or Tennessee, or wherever it was, I kept seeing the same people along my path and I kept saying, it would have been interesting to share this ride with someone, just the experience. It really got us into what our original model was, which was long-distance ride sharing. We were based on college campuses across the US and did pretty well. We had thousands of rides, but we realized that our customers, it wasn’t about saving the money, it wasn’t about just getting the transportation, it was about the person.
Gordon: The reasons why, whether it was going to that awesome music festival like Lollapalooza, or experiencing your grandmother for Thanksgiving holiday, that’s the reason why people did it. They wanted to connect with the people in the car to do it better and to hang out, and I think in a world that seems so disconnected, that social media has created, Croozen just wants to bring you closer to the person that’s behind that social media. We believe in very authentic connections and a way to actually collaborate and travel together. That’s how the business has evolved beyond how we started.
Russ: Before I let you go, I know you’re from the Houston area, Pearland, I believe, and went to some school in San Marcos for undergrad, went to Chicago, and came back to Houston. What is it about Houston that brought you back here and how does it help you be an entrepreneur?
Gordon: I’m a southern guy. I love Texas in general, but more importantly, Houston. I think, just the people. I think there’s an authentic side of just being a Houstonian and I feel that it started whenever the Rockets won the championship in ’93 to ’95. I think it’s just the people that brings me back and being able to give back to the city. We saw in the last year from Harvey, to the Astros winning and everything, too, and I think that is a lot for me to think there is a greater calling here. Not just to give back to the community but also see that there is an opportunity within tech to do something here and not to move to other second to first tier markets like San Francisco, or Boston, or wherever else.
Gordon: It’s about doing it here and really getting behind the mayor, Mayor Turner, in terms of building out tech here. Croozen wants to be the largest consumer tech company that Texas has ever seen; hopefully, the world. In fact, we turned down money from investors in Boston to stay in Houston. I think for us, we realized it was a bigger opportunity to be here to do something impactful for the community here, but also, whenever you’re thinking about the right investor you want to make sure that it’s someone that backs your total vision. Croozen just thought that Houston had the makeup for that. We believe in doing it here, we really want to do that.
Russ: I did see a social media exchange, I believe it was somebody saying, ‘Why in the world Houston?’ You did an excellent job of defending it, as you did right now. So, Gordon, thank you so much for telling your story. We wish you good luck.
Gordon: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Gordon Taylor, the founder and CEO of Croozen. And this is HXTV.
brought to you by