In 2011, Wai Song was just your everyday student.
He didn’t have a car and had to rely on other means to get around. Grab and Uber had yet to make their presences felt in Melaka, where he was studying.
“I felt very upset when I needed transportation, but it was too expensive for me to get a taxi and I felt embarrassed to ask for rides from friends frequently,” he said.
He often resorted to walking to get where he needed to, and the feeling of discontent grew.
For his final year project, he had to learn how to develop websites. But he found that the syllabus of website design used by his school was somewhat outdated.
What would a young enterprising student in the Internet age do?
Wai Song went online, and picked up a programming language by himself.
“It was very difficult to start from zero since it had nothing related to what our lecturer taught,” he admitted.
After a year of self-study, he wanted to develop something to see how far it could go.
Then he remembered the pain of his early student days and the struggle of getting around.
So he created Anemon Ride, a carpooling platform exclusively for university students.
In case you’re wondering, the name comes from the symbiotic relationship between anemones and clownfish, made famous by the Pixar hit Finding Nemo.
“This kind of relationship is exactly our concept. The driver provides a safe carpool and the passenger jumps onto the carpool they desire and shares the fares with the driver as a return,” explained Wai Song.
Only university students need apply to join Anemon Ride; for now, the universities available include Multimedia University, Sunway University, Taylor’s University, UTEM and UTAR.
In fact, as long as there is a minimum of 20 students from the same university who are interested to use the platform, their email domain will be added into the accepted university list.
Their Anemon Ride accounts are tied to their university emails. Without an email address from one of the recognised university domains, you can’t even register.
For potential drivers, they have to go for a more stringent vetting process which includes:
- Uploading their student ID, I.C. and driving license for verification.
- After verification, drivers have to complete their personal profile and upload their vehicle image, vehicle brand, car plate number, phone number and full name.
When users are requesting for rides, basic information like vehicle images are directly displayed in driver’s profile. Once they hit “join”, they’ll have to wait for the driver’s approval.
Sensitive information such as phone numbers and car plate numbers are only displayed to the passengers when drivers have accepted the ride.
There is also a rating system in place for both drivers and passengers to rate each other.
Anemon Ride currently takes no cuts from the transactions between passengers and drivers. Passengers just pay cash-on-demand once the ride is completed, but the fare is agreed on before the ride takes place.
According to Wai Song, Anemon Ride only monetises through ads on the platform.
“I’m trying to make this website a non-commercial project. I have users who suggested that I take a cut from each ride, since I put a lot of effort into this website.”
The Tricky Issue Of Security
From a pregnant woman being robbed at knifepoint to allegations of a driver raping a drunk passenger, ride-sharing platforms in Malaysia have not gotten much good press lately.
Wai Song understands such concerns, and told us about some security measures present on Anemon Ride.
For one, they have a Female-Only section. When registering, users choose their gender.
Female drivers are also able tick one extra checkbox that allows them to restrict their carpool provided to “for females only”.
Female users are then able to see the carpools that are provided by female drivers and only visible to females.
“If a man intentionally registers as female and joins the female-only carpool, his account will be blocked. This man will not be allowed to use our system anymore since each student only has one student email,” said Wai Song.
Looking At The Road Ahead
At the moment, Wai Song is a one-man team, playing the roles of founder, developer and system designer.
He told us, “I just graduated from Multimedia University Melaka Campus, with a Degree in Information Technology. I currently work full-time in Anemon Ride but I am struggling whether I should follow my mother’s expectations to find a nice job or continue to expand this website as my career.”
He’s currently working on learning a cross-platform mobile app development language with hopes that he can eventually develop an app for Anemon Ride.
Less than a month old, the sentiment behind the startup is nice, and university students would appreciate having a cheaper alternative.
However, there already are other carpooling apps that run on the same model where the “costing system only pays the driver enough to cover the fuel cost to-location”. Even the Female-Only section, while a good idea, isn’t unique to this platform.
Will Anemon Ride be able to survive in its current iteration?
Right now, it’s more of a passion project, but it does stand as a testament to what one person’s determination can build.