Like many New Yorkers, Stefanie Lemcke started looking outside the city for schools for her children.
She and her husband took day trips here. When they realized “wow, people actually live in Westport!” they made the move.
Like many new arrivals, she loved the town. And — like many — she had to adapt to becoming a chauffeur. “No one told me I’d do so much driving!” she says.
Like no one else, however, she turned that mind-numbing chore into a flourishing business.
On the Upper West Side, Lemcke walked her kids to school. Here, she had to learn to navigate carpools. Emails, Excel spreadsheets, texts — there had to be a better way.
Having worked for years with companies like Uber and Lyft, she thought instinctively of an online platform. She had not been involved on the tech side, but she became “obsessed” — her word — with her idea.
Her solution: a secure website that allows families to connect easily with others in their school, and identify carpool opportunities. She called it GoKid.
Lemcke hired 2 freelancers in California to write the initial code.
Techstars — a Detroit-based startup accelerator — accepted GoKid. That helped her raise over $1 million in funding.
Despite very little marketing, growth as been explosive. Over 50,000 carpools have been organized, in more than 25 countries.
But GoKid — which works on a desktop, smartphone and other devices — is very much a Westport company. Its official address is here, and visitors to the site see photos taken all around town.
GoKid fills a clear need. For budget and other reasons — one bus route averages $37,000 a year — over 50% of all school districts no longer use buses, Lemcke says. In California, just 17% do.
Of course, Lemcke notes, “Kids still have to get to school” — and their many other activities. GoKid allows users to organize carpools by neighborhood, grade, even kids’ interests. It’s a way to find trusted drivers beyond a small group of friends.
Last week, GoKid rolled out advanced features, like “recent participant” and “recent location”; the ability to set up return carpools with different participants, and customized alerts and notifications. It’s now available on Android devices. And it’s making its first marketing push.
Lemcke knows the carpooling problem first hand. She lives on North Avenue — a few feet from Staples High and Bedford Middle schools. “Everyone drives their kids, even though we have buses,” she notes.
But the founder of an app that makes carpooling easier is not convinced that’s the only solution in her home town.
“It would be nice to create an initiative here around walking and biking,” she says.
“This is a progressive community, with great schools. But we’re backward when it comes to transportation.”
Of course, parents will continue to drive their children. That’s a fact of Westport life.
“Given the traffic and congestion, we welcome the opportunity to work with Westport schools to help parents save time and reduce traffic,” Lemcke notes.
(For more information about GoKid, click here.)