IF nearly every successful tech company started out by solving a problem - Mark Zuckerberg was an introvert and founded Facebook to get to know more girls at Harvard University; Larry Page and Sergey Brin wanted a better way to find and organise information and so Google was born - then peer-to-peer car-sharing startup, iCarsclub, is on the right track.
The Singapore-based company was set up after co-founders Eddy Zhang and Jamie Wang wanted to rent a car but found that most car rental companies here were in "really inconvenient" locations.
At the same time, they noticed many cars were sitting idle at parking lots most of the day, on both weekdays and weekends.
"It got me thinking - if these people aren't using their cars, why don't they let me rent them and make extra income for themselves? I would rather pay car owners than large rental corporations with high profit margins," Dr Zhang tells The Business Times.
And so, iCarsclub was formed in October 2012, as an online platform that connects people who want to rent a car with car owners close-by who are not using their cars.
Users enjoy lower rental rates compared to that of car rental companies, with cost savings ranging from 30 to 50 per cent, claims Dr Zhang.
A Toyota Camry, for instance, can set one back by about S$200 a day at a car rental company, but only S$120 via iCarsclub.
A Kia New Carens 7-seater which typically costs S$300 per day, can be rented out for as low as $150 a day via iCarsclub, according to Dr Zhang.
iCarsclub also offers more convenient pick-up locations, as well as a safe and almost effortless rental experience, thanks mainly to the iCarBox, he says.
The iCarBox, a smart device that communicates with the iCarsclub mobile app, is installed in each registered car and integrated with its locking system to enable keyless entry.
A renter simply needs to tap the "unlock" button on his mobile app to send a signal to the box to open the car door. He then enters the car, finds the ignition key in the glove compartment and starts driving, doing all of this without having to meet the car owner at all just to get the car key.
The iCarBox also enables real-time GPS and mileage tracking via the app, and acts as a speed and impact sensor, providing peace of mind to both car owners and renters, says Dr Zhang.
However, he believes that more can be done to educate both parties about the benefits and efficiencies of peer-to-peer car-sharing in Singapore.
The startup is in talks with the Ministry of Transport and the Land Transport Authority to encourage car-sharing as an alternative means to car ownership, reduce car ownership and eventually lower carbon emission.
Today, it remains the first and only such platform in Singapore, with over 1,500 registered cars, and 10 employees at its office in Blk 71, Ayer Rajah Crescent, as at June this year.
This block is widely hailed as the startup hub of Singapore.
Beyond the Republic, iCarsclub also expanded to China in October 2013, using the name "PPZuche".
To-date, it has gained a foothold in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, with over 40,000 registered cars and 250 employees.
Staff in both Singapore and China do everything from research and development and operations to providing 24/7 customer service and roadside assistance.
The startup has raised some S$589,000 in seed funding from Red Dot Ventures and the National Research Foundation in March 2013, just four months after its launch.
In June 2014, it went on to bag S$10 million in Series A funding from multiple investors in China, among them Sequoia Capital China and Crystal Stream Capital.
"iCarsclub attracted significant interest from top-tier investors in China almost immediately after they launched and achieved first-mover advantage over there. It helped that they've tested their services in Singapore first," says Leslie Loh, managing director of Red Dot Ventures, a Singapore-based venture capital firm.
"We probably would not have invested in them if their target market is mainly Singapore. It would have been too small," Mr Loh adds.
Looking ahead, the startup says its plan is to focus on creating a "world-class product" for its users, and to expand beyond Singapore and China into other Asian cities.
It also wants to become the market leader in China.
It faces rivalry from Baojia, a peer-to-peer car lending app which in June raised US$5 million from undisclosed angel investors. But Baojia operates only in Beijing for now, giving iCarsclub an advantage in terms of presence.
Says Dr Zhang: "As of now, iCarsclub has no close competition yet in China . . . we're at least a year ahead of the competition. But we welcome followers, so that we can learn and be better informed about the market and better educate our stakeholders, while maintaining our leadership position, of course."
Red Dot Ventures' Mr Loh, an early backer of iCarsclub, is confident about the startup's long-term potential. "I believe iCarsclub has the potential to become a billion dollar company within the next two to three years."