Aaron Maus, founder of Jolly Wheels, started with his own grassroots peer-to-peer rental business. “Now, instead of running around with a dozen cars collecting 100 percent, we just do all the administrative work and collect 20 percent,” he says.
Jolly Wheels: Giving Indie Rental Companies a Chance
Jolly Wheels calls itself a "private sublease vehicle brokerage." The New York-based company contracts with private car owners and small, independent rental companies looking to expand their client base, says founder Aaron Maus. Jolly Wheels feeds reservations requests to "providers" (car owners) while providing an outsourced call center and roadside assistance.
Getting the technology right and managing risk are the company's biggest challenges, says Maus.
■ Grassroots Rentals
Maus was a paramedic with the New York Fire Department when he started dabbling online for a way to make some extra income in 2004. "I thought I would buy some old cars and have a little Rent-A-Wreck-type business for myself," he says.
Maus started by advertising his handful of rental vehicles on community Web sites such as Craigslist. Business was good in New York City, with rental rates so high. The vehicles were registered in his name and under his personal insurance policy. "It wasn't illegal, but it was risky," he says. In 2007, he incorporated and got his vehicles registered and insured in the company's name.
Maus began looking for a way to grow in which he could handle the transaction for other car owners looking for additional income. In January 2009, "I decided to allow other car owners and low-key car rental companies to benefit from the framework that we established," he says. "Now, instead of running around with a dozen cars collecting 100 percent, we just do all the administrative work and collect 20 percent."
Jolly Wheels has since expanded into six more cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Orlando, Fla., and is looking to grow. Jolly Wheels employs a customer service-oriented sales force that mans an 800 number 24 hours a day, as well as a sales person whose sole job is to actively recruit providers and small car rental companies.
■ Old-fashioned Matchmaking
When a new provider is signed up, Jolly Wheels gets the first booking for the car and then follows up with the renter on the experience. From there Jolly Wheels creates a profile with logistics and parameters to smooth future rentals.
Renters access inventory in one of the seven cities through the Web site. After choosing a date range, renters are presented with a list of available vehicles at various locations within that city, along with rental rates and whether the vehicle is privately or company owned. Icons indicate rental conditions set by the provider such as age minimums, miles or distance limits, advance notice requirements and length of rental restrictions.