Tribecar banks on convenience and low cost to attract users to car-sharing

·5-min read
Adrian Lee, co-founder of the Tribecar
Adrian Lee, co-founder of Tribecar. (PHOTO: Tribecar)

By Lyn Chan

SINGAPORE — What can you get for 50 cents in Singapore these days? A one-hour car rental from Tribecar, a car-sharing platform – complete with insurance.

There are two catches: The rate is only applicable for its Super Economy cars during off-peak hours determined by Tribecar Pte Ltd. Never mind that you won’t be zipping around in a BMW for 50 cents, it’s still cheaper than a one-stop MRT ride which deducts 92 cents off your EZ-Link card. The rate also opens up an affordable means for people keen on taking up private hire or delivery gigs. In fact, Tribecar is the only car-sharing company that caters to both commercial and leisure use.

Tribecar is the second brainchild of Adrian Lee and Paul Tan. “We wanted to cater to the rise of ride-hailing in Singapore, and to make it easier for those who wanted to pursue a career in the sector,” Lee told Yahoo Finance Singapore in a recent interview.

The former schoolmates, from the National University Singapore School of Computing, first got together in 2010 with one other partner to start car rental aggregator Drive.SG. The two engineers —Lee studied computer engineering and Tan did information systems — have about a decade of combined experience in Singapore’s automative industry.

Last month Tribecar tied up with NTUC Income and Carro, a used-car automotive marketplace, to provide usage-based insurance coverage for its rental cars. Customers pay only for motor insurance coverage based on the vehicle’s data such as time consumption and mileage.

With more companies entering the fast-growing business of car-sharing, Tribecar doesn’t let up on finding new ways for customers to maximise their short-term rentals, said Lee. “The focus is always on convenience and cost, and our community is our priority.” Hence, the desire to establish a new class of service that was cheaper than what Tribecar already had.

“We are (already) the economy price leaders, yet we felt we could do better if we separated insurance – a fixed-cost component – through our ‘pay as you use’ rental model,” Lee added.

So far, customers from all walks of life have been attracted to the usage-based insurance model. “This is a good entry point for people to try car sharing,” said Lee, adding that response to the programme had been positive since its soft launch in December 2020, although he declined to reveal the take-up rate or projections.

The start-up has been seeing steady growth, according to Lee. He declined to disclose Tribecar’s latest financial data, saying that the company “has stayed profitable since June 2020”.

Lee was quick to add: “We may not have all the answers to operating a business, it is a learning journey of trying to figure things out. Every year, we are inching closer to our goal — as long as our customers are happy, we are contented.”

One thing he is certain of: Tribecar is not in the market for funding partners right now. Collaborating with its partners and rental companies to further promote car-sharing in Singapore constitutes 70 to 80 per cent of Tribecar’s revenue.

“Our priority is to work with partners such that we can grow actively in the region. We are also looking to grow through debt financing, and are open to this option,” Lee said. Tribecar presently operates only in Singapore but expects to expand across South-east Asia “in the near future”, he added.

Lee, who is married and drives a Ford sedan, shares his thoughts on his entrepreneurial experience and the people who inspire him.

How did you come up with the concept of hourly car-sharing rental?

In early 2015 to 2016, it was difficult for PHV (private-hire vehicle) drivers to obtain a vehicle to ply their trade as they had to place a down payment of up to S$10,000 before they could drive for Uber and Grab. Furthermore, once they placed their deposit, they were tied down to the same car for one to three years.

So, we partnered with the ride-hailing giants to launch hourly rentals of our vehicles on their platforms for PHV drivers. The PHV drivers loved the service, as the vehicles not only came with proper commercial insurance, but also required only a S$50 security deposit.

Later on, through word of mouth, the public found out about our convenient and affordable mobility service, which was priced from only S$2 per hour. Our competitors were pricing their rentals at S$10 an hour and up.

What were the biggest obstacles you faced setting up Tribecar, and how did you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges that we faced was to create an affordable car-sharing service that leverages on self-service and community support. It took us a few years to get customers used to self-service. Many customers that are used to the traditional car-rental industry would want to be hand-held through the entire process.

However, with COVID-19 and the availability of online instructional videos, our customers are now used to the contactless pick-ups.

Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Yes. I believe we are in control of our destiny. Starting and running a business is an extension of that belief.

Who inspires you?

Bill Gates for his philanthropic efforts. Sim Wong Hoo for his never-say-die spirit. Lee Kuan Yew for his sheer determination and commitment.

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Echoing the advice of many experienced entrepreneurs: Get help and seek wisdom early in the entrepreneurial journey. The most adaptive and quick-to-learn founders tend to do better in business.

Often, the final product/service is very different from the minimum viable product as the business is changing itself constantly to meet demand. For instance, we used to heavily cater to PHV customers but we have tuned our business now to service typical leisure-usage customers more.

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