Harvard Business School comes with many perks. Boston’s weather isn’t one of them. On a particularly daunting winter day, RelayRides founder Shelby Clark–who didn’t own a car at the time–found himself pedaling past empty vehicle after empty vehicle to reach a shared car. “I was sort of grumbling the whole way, like, ‘Why am I passing all these cars to get to a car?’” the 31-year-old says. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
The (then) long-haired and bearded student arrived at Harvard in 2008 with the intention of starting a company. He’d caught the startup bug at Kiva.org, a nonprofit that links individual lenders with individual borrowers to alleviate poverty. “It was a really cool experience to watch something go from a bunch of people sort of locked in a room together with nothing more than a great idea to something that literally impacted billions of lives,” Shelby Clark says.
That winter day gave him the socially conscious business plan he was looking for. He didn’t see his carless state as a problem: As far as he was concerned, having to think twice before driving was a good thing. But he knew car-sharing lacked efficiency. “You could have something that would work in way more areas and provide value for way more people because you don’t have the overhead of owning and maintaining a fleet of vehicles,” he says.
Today, RelayRides is a person-to-person car sharing marketplace that operates in every state but New York. Shelby Clark isn’t the CEO anymore–after more than two years of running things on his own, he brought in eBay veteran Andre Haddad to help build what had become “a much more operationally complex business than I was expecting,” he says. Nevertheless, Shelby Clark remains involved as RelayRides’ chief community officer. “In five years, I think that we will have a car within walking distance of the majority of Americans,” he says. “I think that we have the ability to impact the way people live their lives on a daily basis all across the country, and I think that’s really exciting.”