Turning a Frustrating Commute Into a Profitable Business


It was January of 2006, the morning after Josh Crandall had endured a hellish commute to his home in Montclair, N.J., from his office in Manhattan. He was standing on the train platform, waiting to go back to work, surrounded by fellow commuters, all of whom were tapping away at their BlackBerries (Stock Quote: RIMM).

Josh had a thought.

“It dawned on me that we are technically all connected,” he says. “I wondered: ‘Could we have helped each other last night?’”

This was the genesis of what would become CleverCommute.com, a free Web site and online community that connects thousands of commuters and allows them to update one another on the status of mass transit services in real time.

Josh approached five guys who he “kind of” knew from around the neighborhood and they put the plan into action. Josh would create a kind of a private online newsgroup. Members would e-mail commuter updates to a single e-mail address and every member of the group would receive it. Trains running late? Bus stuck in traffic? Every member would know as soon as one knew.

At the time Josh was working as a VP at Morgan Stanley (Stock Quote: MS) in the office of the Chief Technology Officer, so he had the skills to build the site himself (his technology is patent pending).

Since 2006, the site has grown in an organic, viral sort of way, from five guys in Montclair to more than 6,000 members across New Jersey, New York City, the suburbs north of the city and Long Island. Additional cities have been added to the network too: Portland, Ore., Boston and Chicago. Each transit line has its own group, including buses, rail, light rail, subways and even highways.

Since its inception, the site has gained both a formal name - Clever Commute - and a business model.

“As 2008 wound down, two things dawned on me,” said Josh. “One, each message we send is an opportunity to advertise to a very affluent demographic, [and] two, Clever Commute has a unique insight into the state of the commute since we have an army of people deployed.”

In fact, Josh conducted a study with the help of some Columbia University graduate students and learned that the average salary of a Clever Commute subscriber is $178,000 per year. 25% of subscribers earn more than $300,000 per year. 94% are college grads. These are stats that advertisers like to hear.

This realization happened to coincide with Josh’s job at Morgan Stanley being eliminated, so he was able to throw himself into Clever Commute with full force.

The business makes money in two ways.

First, and most predictably, they sell ads. Most commuter-update e-mails contain text ads in the body of the message. In fact, the actual commuter alert appears in the subject line, so the only content in the content is ad copy and links back to Clever Commute. The ads target the communities that live on the transit line associated with that particular group.

The second revenue stream is licensing. Currently, WCBS Radio licenses Clever Commute’s data stream to provide their listeners with up-to-the minute commuting information. He is in talks with several other news organizations who he says may be looking to establish similar relationships.

Josh says the company is profitable and though he’s not making as much as he did when he was on Wall Street, he feels great about the product and the discussion he’s in right now. If you visit the Clever Commute blog you’ll find post after post documenting how his community gets the news out faster than his competitors.

“August 10th, 2009: Our folks shared the news 10 minutes before [the Long Island Railroad] did:

Clever Commute [6:05 AM] - 600am from Fdale…cancelled…equip trouble

Metropolitan Transit Authority  [6:15 AM] - The 6:00 AM from Farmingdale due NY 6:50 AM canceled due to equipment trouble…”

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