This post is part of a series outlining my learnings from interviews with a number of small and medium businesses exploring how they have benefited from a shared value approach. These case studies support a paper I wrote exploring strategic CSR (PDF 1.3MB). This case study is based on an interview undertaken in 2012 by Allison Heller, who at the time of publishing is Social Strategy Advisor for the City of Sydney.
The distinctive orange side mirrors of GoGet CarShare cars are an increasingly familiar sight across Sydney’s urban neighbourhoods, along with those in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.
Australians are notoriously wedded to their private vehicles. But attitudes to car ownership are shifting in inner city areas when good alternatives are available. A lack of private parking spaces in new developments, local government planning controls supporting reduction in private parking, and residents’ desire to not own a car are all driving this shift.
GoGet has both benefited from and actively supported this zeitgeist to establish and grow a highly successful car share business. The firm’s marketing is based on simple, common sense, rather than an overtly ‘green’ message. The appeal of the service is neatly captured in just a handful of paragraphs on the company’s website:
GoGet gives you all the benefits of a car—without the hassle and expense of owning one! As a member, you have access to a network of new cars parked locally which saves you time and money and lets you get more out of life…
GoGet is perfect for people who don’t need a car everyday or want to get rid of that second car. It’s also perfect for businesses or organisations that get the benefits of having a car fleet without the costs. 
GoGet CarShare is more convenient than car rental, cheaper than car ownership and a great way to help the environment. Just book any car online or over the phone, by the hour or by the day. Then, take a short walk to the car, unlock it using your smart card, jump in, drive and bring it back to the same spot when you’re done.
Each month you get an itemised invoice, much like a phone bill. What you don’t get are mechanical, insurance and registration costs, cleaning hassles and everything else that goes with owning a car. 
Census data for 2011 from City of Sydney, where the firm’s headquarters is based, shows a strong decline in household car ownership and declining figures for car-based journeys to work—a clear boon to GoGet’s business model. But it’s fair to say that GoGet co-founders Bruce Jeffreys and Nick Lowe were well ahead of the curve when established the company back in 2003.
Straight-talking Bruce, who hails from a marketing background, says the business model just made sense:
Aristotle talked about utility being from use, not from ownership. It’s about taking the surfboard out and gaining enjoyment value from surfing on the wave, not from owning and looking at the surfboard. It’s about being on the wave.
The strong demand for the firm’s product is growing exponentially, supported by property development trends and local government policies. Supporting City of Sydney Council’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 Strategy, for example, is a car sharing policy targeting uptake of car sharing to 10% of all households by 2016.
The firm had humble beginnings, grounded in the duo’s inner-western Sydney community ties. Starting with three cars in Newtown and 12 founding members, the business has grown organically to have 800 cars, 18,000 members and 22 employees in 2012. GoGet is now one of the largest car share companies in the world, according to Bruce, and the fastest growing in the English-speaking world.
This success is not only attributable to wider social and political trends, but to the firm’s common sense and ethical approach to business. In this sense, Bruce summarises GoGet’s brand differentiators as:
- Authentic: for example “if we take a marketing photo of a person for a brochure, it’s a real person, not a model from an agency”—early advertisements featured Jeffreys and his sister, for example, and
- Connected: internet/networked/engaged.
Starting small and growing organically has had advantages in developing GoGet’s market position. Bruce explains:
A large corporate is by nature global, superficial and disconnected. In terms of trust and values, these things are key. This is how we view our model, brand and success, from a brand differentiation point of view. It’s not rocket science.
It was a sustainable model from the start in relation to business finances. The business has grown organically without the need for external funding. We will continue to grow organically—in Sydney and Melbourne we are leading the market, and we’re interested in other Australian cities.
At the outset, the GoGet co-founders rooted their business decisions in market research. They saw the potential for car sharing through their community’s living patterns.
Our initial market research involved surveying 450 people in Newtown in one day, at the Newtown Festival. The survey was not about car sharing per se. We asked them about their transport patterns—Did they have a car they hardly used?
This was really important [to the foundation of the business]: the most important thing with any business is direct market research. You have to establish your first customers.
Now GoGet is going from strength to strength, Bruce provides a refreshingly straightforward take on the highlights so far.
There have been no real watershed moments. It’s about slogging away day by day. … The big highlight for me personally was the day that me and Nick [Lowe] didn’t have to be on call 24 hours [a day]—we could get a good night’s sleep. Also, putting in the place management team—one that we can trust, that’s delivering.
Like many small business owners, Bruce sees authenticity in relationships with suppliers is critical:
We look for straight-talking, ethical suppliers. Essentially, people we like dealing with.
Sustainability for GoGet is integral to our approach. It’s integral to how we do things; not an add-on. So if a supplier has sustainability as an add-on, it has no value for us. We are only interested in those that do it and get it. We’re just not interested in, for example, a supplier with a green standard as a mask.
The question is: do they fit? We need to discern that, for example, by looking at how a supplier approaches you. You want to have an honest and straightforward relationship with someone who can communicate well. So that when you need to have a discussion, for example, about whether something is too expensive, you’re not dealing with a defensive attitude.
He stresses that sustainability must be a fundamental value for a successful business today—but one that is inherent, beyond the promotional:
A business promoting itself as ‘sustainable’ is a bit like a business saying ‘I believe in world peace,’ when what they do is make pizzas.
It’s about embedding sustainability in what you do on a day-to-day basis, rather than a culture of window dressing. Resilience comes from aligning your values with what you do. And if you aren’t already doing it [i.e. sustainability practices] then what’s stopping you?
Well a lot of [shared value] is quite common sense. For example, GoGet is about wanting to lessen our impact on the ground, and you can’t do that unless these values are enshrined in local communities.
There is a lot of talk among large corporates of localisation and shared value etc. But it has to be in [the firm’s] DNA.
Bruce is keen to stress that GoGet’s fundamental business model and drivers, along with the day-to-day challenges it faces, are really no different to any other business.
It’s about marketing—to communicate simply what we do; communication; delivery of a seamless service that uses a lot of technology. For GoGet, there is incredible complexity to the system that operates in the background. In the foreground, we have to deliver on the promise of a seamless service. We take on the pressure of the systems; we take care of things so that members just have the driving experience.
It’s about process; systematising; training; feedback mechanisms. There is no special formula. We’re very focused on our market segment. We aim to continuously improve and refine production. We never stand still.
Technology has facilitated a growth in collaborative consumption, which Bruce notes is in itself not a new concept:
The internet is a major enabler of sharing, of cars for example—this market was ready to be opened up, and it’s an exciting time. … [Collaborative consumption] has always been there. Historically, we’re currently going through a whacky period, when Chinese-made things are so cheap, we’ve filled our workplaces and homes with stuff we rarely use.
Collaborative consumption to me never went away, but often there was no alternative to owning things. Now you have a choice about owning things, [alternatives to] buying something … expensive that you don’t use much, or buying a cheap thing that you will throw out.
Examining GoGet’s path to success demonstrates a reconception of products and services, applying what Vargo and Lusch term as “service dominant logic” (more on S-D logic: 1, 2) to deliver the utility value of a product with a radical reduction in the drawbacks—social, economic and environmental—of the traditional ownership model.
GoGet represents a Product Service System, a concept pioneered by Oksana Mont among others and highlighted by Rachel Botsman in What’s mine is yours: The rise of collaborative consumption. Such systems place a greater emphasis on the longevity and servicability of the products being produced and provided to users, and rely on and encourage stronger relationships with suppliers. They also enable the recouping of higher production costs of goods such as electric vehicles through greater operational efficiency.
The close community ties highlighted by Bruce in our interview extend to working closely with local governance bodies (such as councils) to provide car share spots and other infrastructure. This in turn helps strengthen local clusters where such shared services are highly valued in attracting talent. All in all, GoGet provides a terrific example of the three pillars of shared value as outlined by Porter and Kramer working synergistically to create business and societal prosperity.