Co-founders Jillian Anderson and DeVynne Starks are breaking ground in one of the nation’s busiest airports.

Anderson and Starks are leading HERide, a rideshare company that prioritizes women’s safety. The concept was born in 2017 after Anderson dedicated time to pursuing a professional basketball career.

Anderson then moved to Atlanta, GA, and worked in the gig economy as a rideshare worker. On her routes, she recognized a pattern among female passengers — they expressed hesitation about rideshares.

“There were a lot of women that were hesitant with riding with men at night using Uber and Lyft. I realized that this was just a consistent problem that those platforms did not have any intention on solving. So I decided to solve it myself,” Anderson, 31, chief technology officer, told AFROTECH™.

Bootstrapping the venture, HERide launched in 2019. Anderson brought her insights from her undergraduate years at Albany State University in Albany, GA, where she completed a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science. She also completed a course to become a full stack software developer and technical support engineer between 2018 and 2019, as mentioned in her LinkedIn profile.

HERide currently operates solely in Atlanta, GA, and has tested outreach in the city of Athens. According to its website, drivers must pass extensive background checks and be personally evaluated to ensure passenger safety. The rideshare platform also has in-ride security features to reassure passengers that they will arrive at their destination.

“We do have this element of convenience where we are providing an option to women who have vocalized their desire to ride with a female. So, we’re providing that option while simultaneously tackling how we create safer transportation, not just for women but everyone who utilizes public transportation,” explained Starks, 29, who joined HERide as a co-founder and chief of marketing and communications in 2020.

She continued, “Our focus is on women because we understand that women have had more issues at an alarming rate than men have. But that is not to disregard that men have not had similar issues. Our focus right now is on publicizing these issues, tackling them, and creating solutions for them in order to make a rideshare safer for everyone.”

In addition to advancing the rideshare experience, the platform is financially implementing that same level of care for its drivers, with 80% of the fare going to them as compensation. In the future, the platform is looking to incentivize drivers further by introducing a profit-sharing model. This model would allow drivers to have a share in the company profits contingent upon quarterly or annual earnings, and they would be rewarded depending on their tier.

Anderson aims to put this initiative into action once the company exceeds its target of recruiting 1,000 drivers, each securing at least 10 rides per week.

“We want the drivers to feel valued and understand that they are the backbone of the business but also that they feel a part of the growth that we are in right now,” she said.

HERide is also expanding after securing a contract with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in 2023. This airport is the busiest in the world, with a recorded 104.7 million departures and arrivals in 2023 alone, as reported by Airport Technology.

Furthermore, HERide’s arrival led to a significant milestone. It became the first Black-owned rideshare company to partner with the airport.

“Not only are we the first female-friendly rideshare company authorized to operate at the airport, we are the first Black-owned. That’s big on all fronts, but it’s showcasing it to other people. You have these giants that exist, and for a long time, it felt like no one else could get in or no one else could do it because it seemed like such a far-fetched idea,” Starks expressed.

She added, “Now you have two Black women coming into this space doing it and being successful about doing it as well, too. So, it creates an opportunity for anyone else who looks like us, who empathizes with our story, who sees themselves in us, to take action as well to do it.”

HERide’s bookings have more than doubled since the big news, increasing from 9 to 20 rides per day. However, this feat required the co-founders to advocate for more representation within the airport. At the time of their launch, they were not given signage at the airport, causing confusion among riders looking to be directed to the proper rideshare area.

“Last month, I was on their tail about it,” Anderson mentioned. “There is the word ‘rideshare,’ and then underneath it, it says ‘Lyft’ and ‘Uber.’ There’s random signage all around the airport that had that on there. And I told them, ‘Look, I’m not asking for marketing. I’m not asking for y’all to put our name on a billboard. I’m asking for y’all to put our name right next to the same people that have paid for this application just like I have.'”

In February 2024, the airport included HERide’s signage to the airport, and bookings have continued to increase since the adjustment. Their ordeal wasn’t just a personal fight. The founders saw it as a crucial advocacy for the community. As a result, another rideshare company also received signage.

Photo Credit: HERride

“I think we get so serious and passionate about it because it truly does come down to equity,” Starks detailed. “This signage is directional signage. Signage that provides directions to consumers in the airport directing them to the rideshare area at Hartsville… We’re really excited that we have that opportunity to advocate for ourselves to be there. But now that we’re there, seeing what that’s done for the traction has been great, too.”

What’s next for the rideshare company? Its founders are looking to find an investor to lead a seed round. The company has secured $75,000 in funding, which includes $40,000 in grants coupled with family and friends’ support.

“We did all this while being bootstrapped. We’re not funded by anybody,” Anderson elaborated. “We don’t have any major investors. We did two family and friends rounds. I won a lot of grants. But we are doing this without major financing behind us. The two people that we’re up against, they started their game with a million and a half dollars in the bank. My biggest reflection point for this entire experience and what’s going on with the airport, what I’m building is that we really are doing it from the ground up.”

She concluded, “We really are paying attention to our customers. We’re paying attention to our drivers and what everybody wants and what everybody needs. And we actually care. So, if you’re an investor who has been looking to invest in a founder or invest in a team, we’re the team to bet on. We’re the team to bet on because, against all odds, we literally have made the impossible possible.”