Sober Xpress founder looks to expand, dominate
The Sobrio app, Guard Dogs and hundreds of freelancers are currently vying for the opportunity to corner the ride matching service market, and over the past year Lance Graziano, founder of Sober Xpress, has decided to join the fray.
Founded and led by Graziano, 6th semester communications major, Sober Xpress is making a strong argument to have customers call for their sober rides. He said he plans to up the ante with an expanded employee base, a data-analyzed model, and even a shiny new limo.
Graziano began Sober Xpress as a reaction to his first night on campus with his Saab where he witnessed hundreds of students walking on Hunting Lodge road with no safe way to get to and from their homes. His Saab, whom he refers to at "Elise," became the first Sober Xpress car, whose first night ended with the sign he attached the car being half swept away by the wind.
Today, however, the volunteer organization, which recommends donations of $2-4, looks much different from that night, with a 1992 silver limo and 17 other student vehicles in its armada.
"I started Sober Xpress just driving this Saab around, and what happened was we were getting so many requests for rides for anywhere from 10-15 people, at one point even a group of 30," Graziano said, "And most drivers have hatchbacks or sedans, and so I concluded that we needed to get something out here that can handle a bigger group of people."
Hence the new Sober Xpress limo. This silver 1990s carriage can hold eight people, with a driver in the front who controls the divider, radio, TV and DVD player.
"I want someone to get a Sober Xpress ride, and even if they're from another school, they will remember UConn and Sober Xpress, and when we're at their school they'll remember us," Graziano said.
Though the limo is a mobile publicity magnet, Graziano said the increased carrying capacity as well as the allure of arriving at a party in style has led to the carriage already paying itself off.
Furthermore, the limo represents another major powermove for Graziano and Sober Xpress; maturation of the organization.
"As far as a foundation to legitimacy, we passed that by the beginning of last semester," Graziano said. "We had a professional decal, handbook, application process and vehicle inspections-all of those were building to that foundation to legitimacy. Now it's just a question of taking that foundation that's wet cement right now, and solidifying the hell out of it."
Graziano said that the organization has struggled with legitimacy. For example, when a driver was pulled over recently for a traffic issue, police accused Sober Xpress of not paying taxes and endangering students.
"I wish this cop had seen me over the past two years; staying two hours over shift to make sure people were safe," Graziano said.
In the past month Sober Xpress has officially gone LLC, meaning they pay taxes, another step in the legitimization process.
Furthermore, Graziano has gained another edge in the ride matching service market: comprehensive diagnostics. Nights can be streamlined based on call patterns that correspond to weather, events, and hours. He has also broken the night into two waves: going out peaks at 9-11 p.m. and going home peaks at 12-1 a.m.
Diagnostics and concepts are compiled in the "Sober Xpress bible," which will one day serve as the training manual for future installments of Sober Xpress. Graziano's already large influence on UConn might someday spread to other college campuses.
He will be traveling to campuses this summer to scout out future managers interested in starting their own Sober Xpress's at their schools. These managers will take over many of the roles Graziano fills now, and will refer to the "bible," which not only informs them of management procedures, but also of company identity.
However, with all the exciting news of modularization and legitimacy, there comes the caveat of profitability. Due to its status as a volunteer organization, all donations are optional. Some nights, students walk away with only $26, just barely enough to cover gas for the night. Graziano says his bank account fluctuates between $500 and $0 in a week every few weeks, due to numerous monthly Sober Xpress costs.
Graziano drives top down in his Saab to Northwood Apartments on some weekends, and to scrape extra cash he will go through recycling bins for five cent cans.
"People just stare at me in awe when I go to the recycling bin and put cans into this bag." he said.
Sober Xpress may remain busy now, but with weather warming up, and rumors of Guard Dogs starting up again, the coming year will truly test its leader's power. But Graziano, like many successful entrepreneurs before him, knows all about being tested
While sitting outdoors, an old red SUV with cans jittering in the trunk chugs down the driveway past him.
"That guy is my competition," Graziano said.
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