The Fund Founder Spotlight Interview: Su Sanni and Chris Coles of Dollaride
Su Sanni and Chris Coles are the Co-founders of Dollaride, an innovative technology platform that connects people living in transit deserts to private ride-sharing networks.
Welcome to The Founder Spotlight where we highlight the incredible people behind the companies we’ve backed at The Fund. The Fund is a founder collective and early stage firm, by founders for founders.
New York City has the largest public transportation system in the United States, and one of the largest in the world, yet millions of people are still living in “transit deserts,” where there is a limited supply of transportation and/or a lack of infrastructure. Transit is not just an issue of access and opportunity, but of equity and justice, as most transit deserts are disproportionately affecting low income communities who are the most in need of reliable transportation services. Historically, these communities solved this problem with private ride-sharing networks called “dollar vans.”
Dollaride is an innovative platform that has taken these “dollar van” networks to the next level by using technology to effectively close gaps in local transit. Dollaride was founded by Su Sanni and Chris Coles in 2017 on the notion that equitable access to transit is a common good worth pursuing. Su grew up in Brooklyn and Chris in Washington D.C., both experiencing the difficulties of living in a transit desert first-hand. Su and Chris share how Dollaride is providing mobility for communities underserved by public transit, while at the same time helping to reduce carbon emissions and bolstering clean mobility options.
How did you meet?
Su: We met virtually through a networking group called Stealth Mode New York, which is a group of black and brown entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, and designers in New York who are all working on interesting things. I sent out an email expressing I had a business idea to provide transportation to local communities through dollar vans and wanted to hire and work with engineers to build an MVP. I started working with Chris and a few other engineers, but after about 6 months it was really clear that Chris was more than just an engineer doing the coding. He was really engaged in the process and someone who spoke honestly with me about the product, business strategy, and potential challenges. Our relationship evolved into me inviting Chris to become my co-founder.
What’s Dollaride’s Northstar?
Our guiding principle is to make transportation more accessible to everyone, especially people who live in transit deserts. We operate in New York City at the moment, specifically Brooklyn and Queens, but we’re working on expanding outside of NYC.
How does Dollaride inspire “customer love”?
Throughout our company history, what’s really resonated with people is the cultural heritage that dollar vans and other forms of informal transit have within their local communities. We’re building modern tools for fleet owners while acknowledging that cultural affinity. We’ve received so much love because we help provide a service that people have grown up on for decades. We also hear how refreshing it is to see a tech company that is led by diverse founders from their own community.
Tell us about some recent milestones Dollaride crushed.
We recently received $10 million from the State of New York to build the first all-electric dollar van network, so we’re going to be hyper focused on implementing a fleet electrification program in New York City.
In 2022, we served 18,000 passengers in Jamaica, Queens alone. There’s a lot of people out there taking shuttle routes that are powered with Dollaride software.
Our social and economic impact has been inspiring, as riders have reported how we’ve given them time back in their day by reducing their daily commute time by ~30 mins (on avg). And some drivers have reported their annual income growing by at least 25% as a result of using Dollaride.
What sets Dollaride apart from competitors?
We’re the only tech company in the US that focuses on providing solutions- actual software and other service solutions to this demographic of riders and drivers in underserved communities. With the $10 million grant and contract from the State of New York, we will now provide electric vehicles and charging stations to fleet owners and drivers. We are building an end-to-end solution for delivering clean transportation in transit deserts.
Any advice for other founders?
We recommend actively seeking support groups and affinity groups where you can learn from other peers, investors, and folks who come from similar backgrounds and have an extra vested interest in seeing you succeed. For us, those groups include Stealth Mode New York, where we met, and another one is Bleecker Collective, a virtual platform where you can get career advancement support, programming and make professional connections. Most participants in Bleecker are women, people of color, and all types of folks who are underrepresented in their industries. There’s also a whole host of VCs that focus on underrepresented founders, such as Visible Hands. So from investment all the way to peer support, seeking out, joining and participating in these types of programs is a great way to level up your network as you enter a new industry and/or start a business.
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