Swoop's CEO Was Raised in the Limo Business. Now He's Trying to Reinvent it.

Rachel Uranga

Rachel Uranga is dot.LA's Managing Editor, News. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.

Swoop's CEO Was Raised in the Limo Business. Now He's Trying to Reinvent it.

Swoop is hoping to do for group transportation what Quickbooks did for accounting.

The platform service that tracks jobs for bus and limo drivers and their passengers just scored a $3.2 million seed round led by Signa Venture Partners, South Park Commons and other angel investors.

Started by chief executive Amir Ghorbani, Swoop aims to digitize business for the mom-and-pop companies that ferry people to corporate events, weddings and other group outings. Ride-sharing apps may be ubiquitous, but there remains a $40 billion U.S. market that's still largely analog in group transportation, according to the company.

"This whole business was run on pen and paper," said Ghorbani who grew up running around his parents' limousine dispatch center in the 1990s. He said his father, who immigrated from Iran, plastered the center's walls with pictures of the celebrity de jour — from Madonna to Tupac — who rode in their limos.

As a teenager, Ghorbani helped run his parents' transportation service, writing down job leads for them. After he graduated from college, he took a larger role and was struck by the persistent use of so-called "trip sheets" in the industry.

The info would tell drivers details of each ride, but in order to read it, drivers had to come into the dispatch center. Often pieces of information would get lost.

"Being around that, it became apparent — it was kind of an 'a-ha' moment — this industry needs a technical advancement from booking to dispatch."

Swoop co-founder and chief executive Amir Ghorbani at his parents' limo business.Courtesy of Swoop

The Los Angeles-based company will use the funds to build out its service, which is already being used by companies like Netflix, Nike and Airbnb.

Ghorbani had help from two longtime friends in creating Swoop: Co-founders Pete Evenson, a high school friend, and Ruben Schultz — whose parents came from the same region of Iran as Ghorbani's. Schultz, who runs operations, left Facebook to launch the company. Evenson focuses on sales.

Last year, the three-year-old service had 120,000 passengers with around 6,000 trips. Swoop caters both to providers and passengers.

"It's almost like what QuickBooks does for the accounting world we do for the transportation business," said Schultz.

The business management platform charges a flat fee for around $400 per month and works in conjunction with Swoop's consumer-facing business which matches transportation groups with companies, planners and other users looking from a group ride. Swoop takes a 15% to 20% commission for rides that it generates.

"It's a marketplace where we create more business for them," Schultz said. "Their vehicle utilization is at only 4.9%. So vehicles are standing around a lot of the time."

A Swoop driver inside his vehicle.

The application allows operators to track their vehicles, do payments through the service and communicate with customers. It also provides a single point of contact for corporate planners who regularly plan flights and other travel with online booking systems.

For Ghorbani, who as a child grew to know many operators, the business really provided him a way to help them. Many of the transportation owners were immigrants or working folks that didn't have the capital or tools to leverage technology in a way that would grow their business. Creating the company, he said, felt right.

"Being around (those operators) felt like family," he said. So this became — you could call it — a life calling."


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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.