University of Maine alumnus Spencer Wood launched a free ride sharing service in Dec. 2014, allowing students to request rides just by calling his personal cell phone. As the company gained popularity, Wood recruited more drivers and was eventually able to create a mobile site for the service. Now, after winning a few entrepreneurial competitions, Wood has the funds to develop a mobile app.
“It’s pretty much like Uber,” Wood said of the app. “It’ll use kids’ current location. They’ll just click ‘pick me up,’ and it’ll send a request to the closest driver. Within 15 seconds, the driver will accept the request and be on the way.”
Wood added that although the app is similar to Uber, which is being increasingly used by UMaine students, he isn’t worried about having to compete with other ride services.
“It’s a for students, by students, type of deal,” Wood said. “There’s no fees, it’s just tips. That way everyone gets home safely, regardless of how much money they have.”
Wood believes that students are much more comfortable receiving a ride from a peer than they are from a complete stranger.
“It’s cool to get in the car and turn the music up and say, ‘hey, I see that kid at the rec,’” Wood said.
The app will include a “tip-splitter” feature that will allow riders to split the cost of the ride among themselves. Tip Whip does not have set pricing and operates solely on tips.
Although Tip Whip is a less-expensive option than Uber or taxi services, it’s still quite profitable for the student drivers who keep an 80 percent cut of the tips they make. Wood estimates that drivers usually make $18-25 an hour, which adds up to about $150 a night.
The app is set to launch by Oct. 16 for Homecoming Weekend. It will be available for immediate use at UMaine, the University of Southern Maine and hopefully, the University of New England. Wood is also looking to bring the service to the University of New Hampshire. If the expansion is successful, he hopes to continue to move to additional schools.
Wood described the app development as a process of trial and error. After attempting to use a local company, Wood said that he “pretty much wasted $11,000 and they just made it look like a virus from the 1990s that didn’t do what I wanted.”
Eventually, Wood found NetSmartz, a New York based company specialized in transportation apps. The company is currently developing the Tip Whip app in India.
There are currently six Tip Whip drivers in Orono and a handful of students who have expressed interest in driving once the app launches. Students looking to become drivers can contact Wood at TipWhip.org.