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Sunil Paul
Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul.

Sidecar may not make quite as many headlines as Uber or Lyft, but the transportation startup is certainly still finding success.

That was made clear today with San Francisco company announcing a new $15 million round as it prepares to expand nationally. Sidecar, which had brought in $20 million previously, raised the fresh funds from existing investors Avalon Ventures and Union Square Ventures, while Virgin Group founder Richard Branson participated in the new round.

“I like companies that are innovative, offer exciting customer experiences and make the world better,” Branson wrote. “Transportation has been ripe for disruption for decades. An entrepreneurial company like Sidecar can take on the big guys with innovation and big ideas, not just big bank accounts.”

Sidecar lets riders pick their drivers, who in turn can set their own prices.
Sidecar lets riders pick their drivers, who in turn can set their own prices.

Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul, who is speaking at our GeekWire Summit in Seattle on Oct. 2, wrote in a blog post today that his company will use the $15 million to launch in new cities across the U.S. — Sidecar currently operates in eight metros — and also continue building out its “Shared Rides” feature.

“Our vision since the early days of Sidecar is unchanged,” Paul wrote. “We want to create the largest transportation marketplace in the world. We believe we can do this by building a system that is so affordable people will use it daily just as they do the bus and metro.”

Sidecar competes directly with Uber and Lyft as it allows everyday people to use their own vehicles to offer rides, but the company has unique features that differentiate itself from the two giants that have raised much more capital — Uber has reeled in $1.5 billion; Lyft has raised $333 million — and are in more cities (Uber at over 205; Lyft at over 60).

Back in February, Sidecar shifted to a marketplace model where drivers set their own prices and riders get to pick their own rides based on cost, vehicle quality, and other options. Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, still dictate fares and assign drivers with passengers.

While those two heavyweights have thrown public punches at one another for the past year, Sidecar has quietly stayed out of the ring. Yet the San Francisco-based startup is still growing fast and has kept its prices competitive with Uber and Lyft.

sidecar212“Sidecar differentiates themselves with innovation,” wrote Avalon Ventures Partner Rich Levandov. “Most notably, they were the first to add the option to split a fare with a second rider, and the first to allow you to choose your driver and your price through Marketplace. As happens in a highly competitive market, other players in the industry were quick to follow.”

“Shared Rides,” which is live in San Francisco but will be rolled out to other users soon, lets riders carpool with others who are riding on similar routes. Uber and Lyft began offering the same service in August, but Sidecar had quietly been testing Shared Rides well before.

Paul noted that Sidecar is “currently matching thousands of these rides a week” and expects to reach 500,000 Shared Rides in one year.

“We’re making a big bet on Shared Rides, just as we did with instant rideshare,” Paul wrote. “We believe they are the ticket to building Sidecar into the world’s largest transportation system. A system that is so smart and so affordable it will be accessible to everyone, everywhere and everyday.”

Levandov noted that this new transportation market is not a “winner-take-all” arena, despite the fact that some have called ride-sharing a “zero-sum game.” In an interview last month, Paul told us the same thing and noted how there is lots of room for successful companies in this transportation space.

“That is a very narrow view of the world,” Paul said. “There will be lots of winners in this category.”

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