She was a single mom, and her children needed a ride. So she started an ‘Uber for kids.’

Stacy Shannon of Cary founded GoKart, an on-demand ride service for children.
Stacy Shannon of Cary founded GoKart, an on-demand ride service for children.

When Stacy Shannon moved back to North Carolina four years ago, she shed her entrepreneurial spirit and joined the traditional workforce. But as a single mom in Cary, transportation for her three kids became a problem. Two years ago, she turned that problem into a business, GoKart. She now employs more than 40 drivers and has 1,300 subscribers. Here she talks about providing a service for busy families and how she hopes to grow her business.

Q: How did the idea for GoKart come about?

A: I really struggled working 9 to 5 and having three kids. I was used to having my own business and working around things. When it got time for my son to go to practice, I couldn’t find a carpool option. I thought, “Why isn’t there Uber but for kids?” Like if Uber and care.com had a baby.

It was GoKart. My kids didn’t need babysitting; they just needed transportation. It’s become a passion of mine to help other parents just like me who needed help getting their kids to and from school, to practice, tutoring, anywhere they needed to go.

Q: What happened next?

A: I quit my paying job in May of 2016. I didn’t’ tell anybody except my kids. I didn’t want anyone to think I was crazy. I cashed out my 401(k) and was very lean with my household bills. There were some very lean months of living on mac and cheese, and my parents helped out when I needed it. That was a godsend.

Q: How long did it take GoKart to catch on?

A: ABC11 did a news story in September right after I launched, and people found me pretty quickly, I think, because of my Facebook ads. Right after that, I had a lot of people book. But I did not get good feedback from some. They were like, “You’re crazy if you think I’m putting my kids with a stranger.” I got some pretty scathing remarks. I think it was hard for parents to wrap their minds around it at first.

Q: How do you find reliable and safe drivers?

A: All of my drivers have at least five years of childcare experience. They have to know how to navigate a carpool line and talk to kids about their day. All of my drivers are parents or grandparents. (I also run) seven-year federal and multi-jurisdictional background checks and DMV checks. I personally interview every single driver. I ask, “Would I want this driver driving my children?”

Q: How much are rides, and how much do drivers get paid?

A: Parents pay $15 for the first five miles and a $1.25 per mile after. Drivers get 70 percent of the fare. I have parents ask if they can pay for the month and get a discount, but my business model is much like Uber or Lyft so the drivers get a percentage of each drive. I’m not going to pass that on so we take the hit. If the parent is going to book morning and afternoon five days a week all year, I’ll give them a volume discount.

Q: You have a new app that will launch in mid-August. How will it work?

The system I have now works; it’s just cumbersome, especially if parents need rides every day. The app will provide ease of booking, to see the ride live, just like Uber. Parents will get a notification that the driver is on their way, they’ve arrived and when they’ve delivered. Right now, I do all of the dispatch.

Q: How much has GoKart grown since it launched in 2016?

A: When I look back on 2017 and especially 2016, the growth is 100 percent higher than the previous year. I’d like to grow more. I can always handle more business.

Q: What’s your vision for the future?

A: We’re looking to expand to other markets. I am looking for funding. Right now, the entire business is bootstrapped. As we’ve made money, we put it back into the business. My goal is to be in small big cities in the Southeast — Charleston, Tallahassee, Jacksonville.

Know someone who would make a good Tar Heel of the Week? Send nominations to tarheel@newsobserver.com.

Stacy Shannon — Tar Heel of the Week

Born: May 28, 1969, in Memphis, Tenn.

Residence: Cary

Education: Millbrook High School in Raleigh; bachelor’s degree in sociology from ECU

Family: Children — Patrick, 16; Caroline, 14; Victoria, 11. Newly married to Jay Denning.

Fun fact: GoKart is her fourth business. Her former businesses were in pet care and catering.

Website: gokartnc.com