Introducing Splend; the Aussie start-up 'enabling' the disruptor

Margaret Paton

Splend is setting the pace as a disruptor ‘enabler’. The business supplies vehicles to drivers signed-up to Uber and is the latest kid on the start-up block.

Twenty-seven-year-old founder and CEO Chris King says: “It’s not just for Uber [drivers] that we provide vehicles. Drivers must be signed-up for Uber – the predominant on-demand app – but can take up opportunities to use the vehicles for other delivery apps for online shopping, couriers, goods, food, etc.”

King’s pitch to Uber? Splend would enable more drivers (particularly those without a car or whose car was too old) to sign-up to the ride-sharing app. Splend partnered with Uber to match new drivers with cars for a weekly, no lock-in contract hire fee averaging $249-$269 per week with insurance, maintenance, accident and fleet management, 27/7 support, and coaching included.

The young entrepreneur came up with the idea when he was working as an advisor to the Western Australian transport minister.

“I got my first exposure to the taxi industry then – I couldn’t make any sense of it. There was always a shortage of taxis,” says King.

He then worked for Western Australia Treasurer, Troy Buswell, before clocking six years in finance at national company KP Electric. While there, he became an avid user of Uber since its Sydney launch.

“I realised it offered valid full-time employment for the drivers. As professional drivers, they needed to ensure their costs were as low as possible, but often the vehicles used too much fuel or were an inappropriate size.”

King worked on a business case for a best-case scenario of 500 vehicles over 18-24 months and then launched a three-month pilot in July 2015 with several hundred thousand dollars of his own money and help from a flatmate.

In just nine months, Splend has put 552 vehicles on the road across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth and Newcastle by piggy backing on Uber’s expansion. Vehicle retailer Automotive Holdings Group delivers and services the cars for Splend.

New Zealand is next cab off the rank and Splend is exploring markets in North and South America. Splend also offers luxury cars for UberSelect drivers in Queensland.

In March the start-up put 160 cars on the road; this month it’s set to roll out 200 more. Most popular are SUVs and a Tesla’s even available for the best drivers (all vehicles track on-road behaviour and driver safety).

King is anticipating steady growth in Australian capital cities, following the regulation of ride-sharing in ACT and NSW late last year. “The sheer demand is there in the market,” he says.

Drivers currently utilising Splend are aged between 25 to 71 and come from all demographics – aged pensioners, self-funded retirees, mums with young kids, creatives, contractors, and the underemployed.

Sydney-based mum-of-two Melissa Malcolm averages 20 to 25 hours per week as a Splend-Uber driver since signing-up just under three months ago.

“I did my calculations about buying a new car or hiring one and Uber had the best deal with no surprises,” she says. “The job works so well around my children."

“I’ve noticed recently, though, an influx of Uber drivers so it’s not so busy. I’d been thinking about quitting my other part-time job and just Ubering.”

The flexibility is a key drawcard for Splend customers says King: “A taxi driver has to commit to a 12-hour shift six days a week. That’s not suitable for most people.”

Splend has 26 staff and King expects that number to quadruple by year’s end.

King’s advice for would-be entrepreneurs? “Do your market research, put your money where your mouth is, take some risk and give it a crack.”

Margaret Paton

Former Sunday Age staff journalist, Margaret Paton (formerly Jakovac) has written widely for corporations/government departments and more than 100 online/hard copy mastheads in regional NSW, Sydney, Melbourne and Europe.