This month’s Austin Business Journal‘s Face 2 Face event featured Joseph Kopser, CEO and Co-Founder of RideScout. Since the app launched in 2013, RideScout is now in more than 69 cities in the U.S. and Canada, earning the 2014 U.S. DOT Data Innovation Award as well as Joseph’s recognition as a White House Champion of Change as a Veteran in Clean Energy in part for his work with RideScout.
Prior to RideScout, Joseph served in the army for 20 years. He earned the Combat Action Badge, Army Ranger Tab and Bronze Star. Joseph is a graduate of West Point with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering and also received a masters from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2002. In his free time, he works closely with The Bunker Austin, an organization dedicated to supporting veteran entrepreneurs. In addition, he volunteers as Chairman of NSTXL, working to improve U.S. Energy Security policy. He lives in Austin with his wife and three daughters.
During his time in D.C. working for the Pentagon, he began to notice how main highway lanes were always congested while the HOV lanes were always open. People in D.C. would combat this by informally doing a “rideshare.” Joseph personally witnessed this informal ridesharing at the Pentagon. He watched as people waited outside the Pentagon in a line. People would drive together if they were heading in the same direction. Joseph’s “aha moment” came one day when he noticed people waiting in line in the freezing rain and sleet for a ride home. He thought there should be a better way to access alternative transportation options: what if you could see all available options (bus, taxi, Lyft, etc.) and which would be the fastest and cheapest all in one place?
Joseph’s friend Craig, who later started RideScout with him, had business experience and wanted to help Joseph make his idea a reality. Joseph retired from the military and started working full time on RideScout in Austin. When he came to Austin, he joined different groups to build a network of support and investment options. He spoke highly of Leadership Austin and references his success to having great mentors and a strong support system both in and out of the military. He emphasized the importance of listening to others’ advice because it helps him make decisions and grow as a person.
RideScout has grown from five to 45 team members since its start. Joseph said he essentially built RideScout “one beer at a time.” He spoke with many people to figure out the various components needed both for the app and his team to be a success. He felt the military built a solid foundation for his transition to a career in business.
“I spent 20 years defending American enterprise and now I get to participate in it,” Joseph said.
RideScout’s work environment is also designed from a military standpoint. The decision makers (CEO, CFO, etc.) sit in a “huddle” in the middle of the work space. This makes it easier to make quick decisions.
One major lesson Joseph learned when building RideScout is that you have to get used to hearing “no.” It is tough to hear after you have pitched your idea that you have worked so hard on to hear an investor say “no,” but he said that pushed him more to improve the idea and take it back to them until they said “yes!”
Joseph said you need at least two of the following to succeed: customers, cash and commitment. Without at least two of the three, he said, you are doomed to fail.