Boston’s Fasten seeks to compete with Uber, Lyft

fasten

A new Boston company is out to disrupt the disruptors.

Fasten Inc., which unveiled its app and website last month, has set its sights on ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft. While those companies tussle with legislators and regulators, Fasten is hoping to succeed by following in their footsteps, but charging passengers less and paying drivers more, taking just $1 out of the total cost of the ride.

Both Uber and Lyft take at least 20 percent out of the cost of each ride, so the flat $1 could be a selling point for drivers and passengers. But because Fasten takes in less revenue, its success or failure will hinge on whether it can get the volume to thrive, chief operating officer and co-founder Vlad Christoff said. He’s confident it will.

“We are not taking as much as the others are,” Christoff said. “There’s so much in that 20, 25 percent that we can give both sides [passengers and drivers] what they want.”

Fasten is based out of the WeWork co-working space near South Station, and aims to expand to a nearby building. The company said in an April filing it aimed to raise $9.2 million, and Christoff said the company’s chairman Evgeny Lvov contributed that whole amount. Lvov has run a car service in Russia called Saturn for 17 years, said Christoff, who has lived in Boston and worked at other tech companies for nearly two decades. There are other Russia ties: Fasten has 80 designers, app developers, and other staff in that country, Christoff said, and plans to add to its nine-person staff in Boston.

The biggest challenge for any company seeking to compete with Uber and Lyft is building a network, which means recruiting both drivers and passengers. Like Uber and Lyft have done, Fasten employees have used competitors’ apps to summon drivers for a ride and use it as a pitching session. They also have “a handful” of billboards around town, Christoff said, and drivers are spreading the word. A test run calling for a ride from the Globe’s Dorchester offices at 10:39 a.m. Monday yielded a five-minute wait time both for a Fasten car and an UberX car.

The other side of the equation, of course, is passengers, who can be hard (and expensive) to win over. There are a couple promos going on. Currently, customers pay only $5 for any ride under 20 minutes, with the meter starting at that mark. (Drivers get paid the rate they’re promised, Christoff explained, with the company making up the difference.)

And a new customer is able to take advantage of a $10-off-10-rides offer — basically, $100 in free rides — that is supposed to be valid only for 100 sign-ups. The company posted it on its website more than two weeks ago. When asked if that meant fewer than 100 people had signed up, Christoff said more people learned about the app through word-of-mouth than from its website, and that “many, many, many, many more” than 100 passengers had signed up.

Fasten has some novel features, and if the app catches on, it will be interesting to see how they play out. According to its support page, instead of contributing $1 from every fare, Fasten drivers can also opt to pay $20 a day or $80 a week in exchange for keeping all of their fares. Unlike Uber and Lyft, whose demand-based pricing multipliers (“surge” and “prime-time,” as the companies clal them) are calculated by secret formulas, riders have a choice as to whether or not they want to offer more than other people around them — and the fare updates on a rider’s phone screen in real time, giving passengers a way to avoid rude surprises.

“Supply and demand is great. But because [Uber and Lyft] are commission-based, they fail to supply service and they charge more for it,” Christoff said. He added that demand-based pricing was too volatile and often left drivers feeling suckered: “By the time a driver makes a U-turn, surge is over.”

The fares on Fasten are calculated differently from UberX, and they’re not always cheaper. In midday traffic on a Monday, you’d pay $17.93 on Fasten to go from Alewife to Logan, compared to $18.35 with UberX (before any tolls). Franklin Park Zoo to Boston College costs $13.56 with Fasten and $13.48 with UberX, and it takes $26.87 to go from the Neponset Greenway to the Rose Kennedy Greenway with Fasten compared to $27.89 with UberX.