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Tip Whip CEO and UMaine alum talks app success and expansion

In January of 2014, Tip Whip CEO and founder Spencer Wood received a late-night phone call from a friend in need. He was stuck at the Bear Brew, unable to drive, had no money on him and needed a ride home. Spencer obliged and drove his friend back to Orchard Trails, receiving his friend’s last $2 along the way.

Wood said that after some thought, he decided to give that kind of driving service a try. “After that night, I went all in. I ended up getting a van, I paid my roommates and my friends to drive, and I would sit in the passenger seat with headphones on. I had an old phone, an old Blackberry, that people would call and I would essentially try to write down all of their addresses and numbers and we would kind of pick people up that way.”

In the fall of 2014, Wood tried creating an app for the driving but was unsuccessful. In February 2016, he launched the app that many users know today. “It became much more accessible,” Wood reported. “It was a lot easier for people to use.”

Initial advertisement efforts on campus and in Orono for the app included Wood speaking with classes and having representatives hand out flyers and download cards.

According to Wood’s LinkedIn account, “Tip Whip is the world’s first ride share company exclusively focused on college student safety. We want every college student to get home safely regardless of how much money they have in their pockets. For that reason, there are no set fees for rides, just the tip.”

The app is used widely at the University of Maine, in Orono and in Bangor. It has also expanded to UMaine Farmington and Keene State College in New Hampshire. Wood reported that UMaine was his “pilot school” and has seen incredible success thus far. He plans to expand to the University of New Hampshire (UNH), the University of Connecticut (UConn), and the University of Massachusetts (UMass) in the near future.

“With UMaine being our pilot school, we can see what it’s like when it’s accepted and used on a wide basis,” Wood said.

“I will definitely go to all of the schools,” Wood added. “We’ll visit for a week or so, try to get the word out and get drivers signed up, really start to try to create the community and leave that school with what we call a campus CEO, somebody that’s on the ground, probably a student that’s trying to get some experience and wants to help out. That’s what’s happened to us at UMF and Keene State. It’s been students, actually, reaching out to us saying that they’re willing to put the work in to get it there. The whole challenge of other schools is getting the word out and having them actually believe in it, and try it. That’s been the hardest part for a lot of kids.”

The app can be logged into with a .edu school email account that must be confirmed and requires a credit card for online tipping. When you log in, a page asking for your location and destination appears. It shows if cars are available in the area, and when you click “book now,” it asks how many riders there will be and how much you would like to tip the driver. When a driver picks up the ride request, the person requesting the ride receives an automated text message with the driver’s name, rating and what vehicle they will be arriving in.

The app also features an Uber amount and taxi amount for the ride being requested, as well as the amount for a DUI.

Tip Whip currently employs 100 drivers and Wood reported that 25 percent of the UMaine campus uses the app. Tip Whip has given rides to 25,000 people at UMaine since the launch of the app last year and 9,000 people this semester alone. “We’ve pretty much grown hand over fist every semester since we’ve launched the app,” Wood said.

Wood reported that Tip Whip is a seasonal job, active mainly when UMaine students are in session. “I think it’s a little slower than I want it to be actually, but I knew it was a solid business, I mean, I was living it. I was in school; I knew what it meant to get a ride for a tip and what it meant to get five bucks as a driver. It’s just a matter of time and getting it out and getting people to use it.”

First-year Kinesiology student Austin Morse started working for Tip Whip several weeks ago. “What I like most about being a Tip Whip driver is being able to work whenever I want. It really allows me to be able to focus on school and then when I have the time away from school, I can be working. If I have a big project due one week, I can take that entire week off to make sure I get that project done, and if I have nothing to do one week, I can work every single night. I like the flexibility it offers.”

The Tip Whip app is free and can be downloaded on the app store and the Google Play store.

Wood graduated from the University of Maine in 2013 with a double major in communication and child development and family relations with a minor in peace and reconciliation studies. He continued onto graduate school and graduated in 2015 with a master’s degree in human development.

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