When one expat mom got together with two Parisian mothers to start a carpool for their children’s activities, they had no idea it would evolve into a successful community sharing venture called HOPWAYS. Now, over 1,000 families in and around Paris use the online service to organize pools by car, foot and public transport to help parents keep up with all their children’s activities. German-born co-founder Marietta Lagourgue explains to INSPIRELLE why parents use and trust HOPWAYS.
Organizing a neighborhood carpool is one thing, but how does HOPWAYS organize carpools throughout Paris to help families get their children to various activities? The task seems enormous!
It’s easy: the search engine on our French website matches your route to your child’s activities with the routes taken by the other parents in your neighborhood. If the distance and the times match then we will show you a list of possible “carpool” parents. You only need to click on them and get into contact! Please note, in Paris most of these routes are done by foot or trotinette, it’s more of a sharing of the availability of parents to escort, not their car!
Does getting children from point A to Z safely just involve carpool or does HOPWAYS organize accompaniments by foot and public transport?
It’s the parents who decide when they meet each other to talk about the details. Within Paris, most of these accompaniments are done on foot, by public transport or even the trotinette or skateboard; but a bit further out the distances get longer and parents prefer the car.
How did this idea come to you and your two French partners?
The idea grew from a carpool done every week by several mothers who take their children from school to music lessons. Anne, my co-founder, thought that there must be a way to connect parents everywhere, not just with the limited group of our friends and their children.
How do you personally use the HOPWAYS pool to get your three children around?
I successfully used Hopways to take my son to soccer; we were three mothers taking turns. In the new free time I gained, I can now help my daughter with homework at home instead of working on the freezing benches at the stadium!
I am currently looking for parents who want to carpool the way to fencing lessons!
After running for two years, just how popular is your HOPWAYS?
We launched last September and we now have more than 1,000 users, most of them in Paris and the surrounding suburbs. But we also have users around France. It functions with Google Maps, so it works everywhere.
How can a parent entrust his or her child to another adult and know it is safe?
We entrust our children to other parents. It’s the reciprocity which ensures the safety of the child. We also ask our parents to note each other on safety, reciprocity and punctuality.
Does any vetting of drivers/escorts take place before organizing a child pickup for the first time?
Parents have to meet each other before organizing a carpool with their respective children. It is like the follow up of the “garde partagée”, of course you need to get to know the other family, talk to them – we encourage them to do so to make sure that all the safety precautions are taken. For example, check whether the car seats are fixed accordingly, which route is taken, or what time the children have to be at their destination. We encourage our users to grade each other and leave comments. We grade each other on security, reciprocity and punctuality. We also have “conditions of use” (les CGU) that our users have to read and agree to – they are 20 pages long!
How popular is carpooling in France? Seems to me there are a lot of single drivers at the wheel on the road.
It’s becoming more and more popular, with the help of companies such as BlaBla car for long distances, Sharette for the home to work way, or Citygoo for instant drives.
What do you think about half-day classes in French schools on Wednesday and Saturday? How do working families cope with the organization of children in and out of classes on these days?
It’s nice for the children to get a day off school and be away from academic work to do sports or other activities; but the organization behind this for a family is incredibly complicated. With HOPWAYS we try our best to help these families.
Does your website organize accompaniments of children in the Paris suburbs?
Yes! We have lots of families looking for carpools in the suburbs. They are even more time consuming there, because the activity is too far away from home for you to go home between the drop off and pick up. If four families get together to organize a carpool, you end up taking them only once a month. Imagine what you can do with all this free time!
Is it true you each quit your respective jobs to work on HOPWAYS full time?
Yes, once we launched the website we saw that we needed to be on it full time.
Anne worked in a bank before, and once we started Hopways she went to do a course to learn how to code. She can do some changes or add new functionalities to the site, and we depend less on external developers. Sophie is in charge of communication, she sends out newsletters, thinks of PR actions – and, rain or shine, she will go to meet parents at any time of the day to promote Hopways.
What is your primary role?
I take care of the partnerships, the activity centers, schools and such. I love to ask parents what their children do in their free time. There are an incredible amount of activities available around us: circus, coding lessons, capoeira, and more.
How were you able to develop HOPWAYS into a business?
Everywhere we go, we talk about our solution. Parents tell us that it is heaven sent and wonder why nobody had thought of this before. There is a demand – and we can supply!
Do users have to pay a fee to belong to the car pool?
It’s “freemium”: the first connection is free to get to know our service and then you pay 10€ for 5 connections with other parents. For 60€ you can have unlimited use of HOPWAYS all year long.
Your founder, Anne Buffetaud, was recognized this year as a key “Engaged Woman” by the media group Mondadori for how HOPWAYS facilitates the lives of families in France. Is HOPWAYS a business or a community service?
It’s both. We deeply want to change the way a family organizes the accompaniments of their child. Did you know that parents spend an average of five hours a week just accompanying their children? This is time spent on the road, not watching your child at the stadium. That adds up to 20 days a year! Imagine how much peace of mind you can gain! Imagine how much safer the parking lots around the stadiums would be with less cars, the babysitter budget saved if you share these rides, and the time you win!
It’s also a business because we need to earn money in order to exist. We want to redesign our website and launch an App next year.
What’s the next step for the growth of your company?
We just started our incubation program with Paris&Co. Its a mentorship program for the startups that Paris takes under their wing. At this moment in our development, we need to focus and find the right direction to go. With Paris&Co, we have a professional partnership. They invite us to meetings and talks about programming, marketing, finances, they help us get into contact with representatives of big groups, give legal advice and we have a great new office space that we share with other startups!