Launched Memorial Day weekend, the "moving billboards" of Hamptons Free Ride quickly became a popular means of transportation for beach goers and village shoppers alike. Now, following a successful inaugural summer, the brains behind the company are packing it in for the off-season. This upcoming weekend marks the last time folks around East Hampton will see Alex Esposito and James Mirras' fleet of electric people movers until next May.
Before the entrepreneurial duo heads down to Florida in a couple of weeks, Alex was kind enough to agree to an extended Email interview. We took the opportunity to ask him about the company's first summer, the criticisms from cabbies and the startup's future plans.
What did you expect going into the season? Were those expectations met?
We must admit that our expectations were high. Growing up in the area we knew that the service was needed. The Main Beach parking troubles have been going on as long as I can remember. The number of riders did, however, exceed our expectations by about 30%. We added a 4th car to our fleet in the middle of August to help handle the demand. It took a little longer than expecting to sell the advertising prior to the season but once a few cars were outfitted the demand took off. There were a lot of overwhelming times this summer, but we had such a tremendous amount of support. Our friends, families, and even just people who heard about us have helped out in so many ways.
How do you respond to the criticism that Hamptons Free Ride hurt the cab business out here?
This accusation really took us by surprise. We aren't a taxi company and we don't pretend to be. We don't charge and we don't take reservations. The cars only run in the immediate village and we stop around 6pm at night. We're an advertising company. I guess some cab companies thought that the village allowed us designated spots. We have signs up to show people where to wait, but there are no Free Ride designated spots. We help with the parking lots, we take a step in the right direction for the environment, and we help to promote local tax paying businesses. It's really an apples to oranges comparison.
Would you have done anything differently this season?
Nothing major. Basically everything we plan on doing next year could have been implemented this year. We could have gotten the ad sales going a little sooner, but it was tough to do without people knowing what the service was all about.
What's in store for next summer?
We'd like to start running the service in Amagansett and Montauk. We'll see what we can get together this winter. We also plan to expand our online presence, do more product giveaways and offer more Groupon-like discount promotions through the cars.
Any winter plans?
We're going down to Florida in a few weeks to stake out some spots but we're mainly focused on our plans for summer expansion in 2012. Our fingers are crossed for next winter.
What do you mean "stake out some spots?" Are you hoping to bring the service national?
We would love to bring the service national. With the cars sitting during the winter, we have the inventory to accommodate a warm-weather location.
Anything else you feel like sharing?
We recently donated the ad space on the exterior of one of the vehicles to [Yankee pitcher] David Robertson's [foundation], High Socks for Hope. He is raising money for troubled tornado victims in Alabama. We chose the organization because I was a classmate of David's wife, Erin, in college and we're big Yankee fans. It's also nice to see an organization that helps Americans in need. There are so many international charities out there that it seems people forget about how many Americans need help.