You’re drunk, at a bar downtown, car keys in your pocket. In many transit-deprived American cities, you have two clear options. One--driving home drunk--is dangerous and illegal. The other--taking a cab--means the hassle of abandoning your car and hitching a ride to retrieve it later.
But in Sioux City, Iowa, you have a third option in the form of a blonde soccer-playing college senior in a gleaming yellow construction vest, business cards in hand: “Be a survivor, call Sober Driver.”
“The majority of my business is opportunity,” says founding Sober Driver Jesse LaFramboise. He and his two business partners do rounds of Sioux City’s downtown bars starting around midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, looking for people who are or might soon be too drunk to drive. When they find a group willing to stop, they pitch them: You can get home, in your own car, and then watch your Sober Driver take his fold-up electric bicycle (or gas-powered scooter) out of your trunk and ride away.
The price for this service is comparable to a cab, but it comes with additional perks. For example, LaFramboise is happy to wait with you at the bar while you finish your beer. And if the munchies kick in on the ride home, he’s happy to drop by La Juanita’s. “I say, ‘Yeah, you’ve just gotta buy me a burrito.’”
It’s a compact business: Other than his foldable two-wheelers, he’s able to keep all of his equipment in a backpack. He keeps a rain jacket, tools to fix his bikes, receipts (his current form of legal protection in case of an accident), and, most importantly, his cell phone. “I pretty much run the business from my phone,” he says. He uses it to take calls, spread the word on social media and take credit card payments using Square. “It’s helped me expand a little bit, because a lot of people that are downtown at the bars: They’ve spent all their cash on tips or buying drinks or whatever, and they don’t have money to get home,” says LeFramboise.
The business has its constraints. Most people want their rides at the same time, 2 a.m., when the bars close. But its successful enough that LeFramboise wants to turn Sober Driver into a franchise. “Lincoln, Nebraska. Iowa City. Maybe in Sioux Falls or Vermilion--a lot of the smaller college towns are good areas,” he says.
He hopes to build the business over the next five to 10 years, before returning to grad school to do what he really loves: Biology.