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SxSW’s Official Ride-Share Fasten Maps Trending Places

This is is Boston-based Fasten's big test to differentiate its service in the absence of Uber and Lyft at SxSW. But its place recommendations engine faces competition.

Fasten scored a major coup when SxSW anointed it as the “official” ride-hailing app of the nine-day tech and entertainment festival, but it’s trying to recover from a weekend outage by introducing two services designed to change the subject and differentiate it from rivals.

The Boston-based ride-hailing company swooped in and took advantage of the withdrawal of Uber and Lyft in the wake of new regulations calling for drivers to be fingerprinted last summer.

Since its Austin launch in June 2016, the company claims to have taken over 2 million rides. That’s double Fasten’s closest SxSW rival, the non-profit city-centric AustinRides, has given since its own June 2016 debut.

Both companies’ apps crashed on Saturday, and SxSW attendee complaints erupted on Twitter with mea culpas by respective executives from both AustinRides and Fasten quickly following.

Fasten in Austin

Changing The Subject With Location

For Fasten, the outage interrupted what has otherwise been a victory lap, even as its underdog status has drawn skepticism that it can quickly and successfully expand nationally beyond serving just Boston and Austin.

While showing it can comply with local regulations can be seen as a strength given Uber’s latest embattled period with various cities and generally negative press, Fasten needs to prove that it has something special beyond good municipal behavior.

So the timing of the release of Fasten Vouch — “a project designed to let you know where people are actually going, what’s trending, and useful insights about the town,” the company says — couldn’t have been better planned.

Essentially, Fasten Vouch is a place-discovery engine that designed to appeal to users during “micro-moments” such as “where to eat with a large group.”

Released only in Austin in the middle of SxSW, Fasten Vouch is aimed at the 30 percent of ride-hailing passengers visiting the city from out-of-town and looking for where to go (or, conversely, avoid).

“This is just the first step in our mission to reinvent the ride-sharing experience worldwide,” Fasten says in a blog post. “We will continue developing Fasten Vouch, with plans to provide personalized recommendations and special offers from the spots people go, on-the-go.”

The Challenge Of Differentiation

The data that individual ride-sharing/hailing companies possess when it comes to consumers’ location habits is one of the most powerful and valuable aspects these platforms have.

In addition to knowing what to charge during a surge in ride-hails (or “boosts,” as Fasten calls its dynamic pricing function), being able to anticipate where a user might want to go could be an attractive feature to keep users returning to the app.

But Fasten is unlikely to come close to displacing Google, Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, OpenTable, and other platforms that people turn to when trying to plan where to go in the moment.

But if Fasten can maintain the big promises that are part of its pitch in other cities, it stands a chance given the low adoption of ride-hailing apps across the country.

Still, those promises to consumers and drivers are considerable: first, Fasten claims a quick response that a ride will arrive within an average of 3 minutes of receiving a request (something GeoMarketing found to be largely true during our eight Fasten trips over four days at SxSW).

Then, there’s the question of whether it can continue to attract pleasant drivers (again, in our non-scientific review, all but one of our eight drivers was personable, and none were overly chatty or obnoxious). There’s a good reason for the generally cheerful disposition of Fasten drivers, as the company takes only a flat 99-cent fee per ride, as to a 20-30 percent share of the total charge for each trip taken by the likes of Uber and Lyft.

In the end, riders tend to have a good idea where they want to be before opening up a car-hailing app. And there’s certainly no lack of city guides.

That’s why Fasten has added another potentially useful feature designed to keep users once the crowds of SxSW visitors have gone back home.

A Shopping Trip

A ride-hailing app’s partners can also provide an extra service without adding to engineering costs. By offering complementary rides within airline and hotel apps, ride-hailing services have been able to capitalize on consumers’ desire to avoid opening several apps at once to complete the single task of getting to or from a flight to their lodgings.

In keeping with the idea of aligning with complementary services, just as Fasten was rolling out Vouch for mapping trending places for riders, Fasten said it was teaming up with the Basket grocery app to connect riders with local Walmart outlets.

This feature too is only available in Austin. And this also comes with a promise that will be hard to sustain over the long term: for riders who make their grocery list with the Basket app to be picked up at Walmart, the round trip with Fasten is “free” (up to $15 each way, that is).

The Basket offer could appeal to some Fasten users in Austin, but striking similar deals across the country sounds daunting,

Nevertheless, three-year-old Fasten has raised about $14.5 million in two rounds, which certainly gives it the wherewithal to compete in a few more key cities.

But with Uber and Lyft, not to mention other ride-hailing apps like Gett, Juno, and the city-cab hailing Arro and Curb apps, having established themselves in the most populous areas, Fasten will surely require several boosts to compete.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.