How and why did Flexicar get started?
Our CEO, Monique Conheady was raised in north-western Victoria. Her father is a successful small businessman. So he encouraged her to start her own business.
After completing her Arts/ Engineering degree at Melbourne University and working in the Engineering field both here and overseas, Monique decided that she wanted to start her own business. She knew that she was interested in the sustainability field and looked at different business opportunities with both environmental and social benefits.
She discovered “carsharing” in the US in late 1990s US while holidaying and visiting an Australian friend living in Boston, who late became her business partner. After tracking is success over the next 5 years. Monique knew that car-sharing would work in Melbourne. Monique and the other partners signed up for the now defunct discontinued Shell LiveWIRE program which provided support for those interested in starting a small business. In 2004 Monique launched Flexicar(formerly Flo Carshare). They received $25,600 from the City of Melbourne’s Small Business Development Grant and $210,000 from the State Government.
What problems did you face and how did you overcome them?
Lack of money was an issue as with any small business. The partners used their own money, raised a little of money and got some grant funding and used their own money to get the business off the ground. Although people thought it was a good idea it was a new idea and therefore Melbournians were hesitant to join and get on board. With limited money it was difficult to market the “carsharing” concept, so they relied heavily on Word of Mouth and PR. This was overcome by a larger raising capital.
As the company relies heavily on in car technology there were quite a few challenges that were faced early on, Flexicar developed it’s own technology which proved to be much more time consuming and costly than anticipated. There was a lot of testing and developing and going back to the drawing board. It was an entirely new system development. This was overcome by dedicated hard work from Flexicar’s operations department.
Lack of resources was also a problem with the CEO’s and Operations Manager being completely hands on and doing everything from cleaning cars, approaching councils, meeting with investors to meeting all new members that signed up.
Most of the problems faced were overcome by learning on the job and from past mistakes.
How did you promote the businesses early on?
The business was promoted through word-of-mouth, direct marketing such as postcard drops in our new areas, email marketing to all members. We also did some radio advertising on RRR community radio and paid for some television advertising on Channel 31. We had limited budget and our resources were stretched so we looked for sponsorship opportunities that were inexpensive.
How do you promote yourself now?
Postcards: Our main marketing is direct marketing: We organise postcard drops to residential and business addresses in all of our new areas.
Radio Advertising: We stick to community based radio for two reasons, our demographic listen to these stations, inner city small business and individuals and secondly we don’t have the budget to do other major radio stations.
Events: We try to stay ever present at local events run by our council supporters in the areas where we have cars. We also organise member events and get behind larger events such as the Sustainable Living Festival and Ride To Work Day.
Sponsorship: We sponsor a number of events through out the year such as Melbourne International Film Festival, Melbourne Fringe Festival, and Midsumma Festival, Bicycle Victoria’s Ride to Work Day; in exchange we allow them to borrow our cars for an agreed period.
PR: We have been fortunate enough to be approached by the major newspapers and publications such as The Australian, Herald Sun, The Age, The Sunday Age, RACV magazine. We have also been on Today Tonight. We also approach local papers in our area to cover stories when we launch in an area or add new car spaces. We do also send out media releases and approach organizations and ask them to write a story if we have something newsworthy to discuss.
E-Newsletters: – we send monthly newsletters to both our members and other parties that have registered their interest on our website.
What would you have done differently?
Developing Flexicar’s in car technology proved to be harder than originally expected. Flexicar looked at purchasing hardware units and licensing software from overseas but these units system were much more expensive than expected.
So the only other option was to develop their our own in- car technology. There was a lot more involved and it was a lot more challenging/ expensive than originally expected. So if we knew than what we know now we may have opted to purchase the overseas units. We now however have technology that we own and control; therefore we can manage/ direct and customize this to suit our needs.
Another challenge we have faced is centered on new locations. The areas and car parks that have proven to be successful have been those areas where we have had a supporter/ champion company or organisation who have become members early on. Therefore putting a vehicle in front of a business or area with supporters is much more successful than placing a car in on street without this support.
Lastly, staffing has proven to be a key issue, we have recruited staff to relieve the workload but have not had the systems in place to allow these staff to take on the role effectively. This has definitely been a learning curb and we are working on developing systems to make it easier for staff to integrate and master their job role.
Email us at email@example.com if you’d like us to profile your sustainable small business!