Palo Alto, California-based Yoshi
is a startup that facilitates the refueling of vehicles wherever they are parked as part of an on-demand service. Yoshi has raised over $15 million in funding and also participated in the Y Combinator startup accelerator program in the summer of 2016.
Yoshi charges the car owners $20 per month for a subscription along with the cost of regular or premium gas. If drivers want extra services like car washes, oil changes or new windshield wiper blades, then they can order that through the Yoshi app as well. Yoshi also recently partnered with Firestone to check the air pressure on tires and refill them for free.
A big part of Yoshi's growth is its referral program where users can earn free fuel by telling their family and friends about the service. To learn more about the company, I interviewed Yoshi CEO Nick Alexander.
Alexander told me that he studied computer engineering in college. And during a summer internship, Alexander said he met Y Combinator founder Paul Graham and began reading his essays. After graduating, Alexander ended up joining Y Combinator.
When I asked Alexander to describe his experiences at Y Combinator in 2009 and 2016, he pointed out that it is still "a magical place." Alexander said that the secret of Y Combinator is that you learn "as much, if not more, from all the other founders around you than you do from the partners' advice."
"Seeing the Airbnb guys knocking on strangers' doors with a sleeping bag, asking to spend the night, or watching Fred Turner (of TL Biolabs) out in the field collecting cow saliva and then explaining to farmers how DNA works still leaves vivid impressions in my head when thinking about how we can get closer to experiencing our customers' pain points," Alexander recalled. "You get glimpses like this from hundreds of founders in a short period of time which you take with you well after you leave YC."
Alexander was the youngest one in the batch and he said he learned a lot from the other founders. Alexander sold his first startup Freshplum to TellApart (acquired by Twitter) and then decided to go to business school at Harvard to further his education. At Harvard Business School, Alexander and the other founders of Yoshi were interested doing something entrepreneurial that could have a major impact.
While in Boston, Alexander had called up his friend Dan Hunter -- who he considered to be a "mechanical genius." And Alexander asked him to build whether it was possible to build a truck that could drive into a parking lot and fill up all the cars. Hunter said that he could build that type of truck over a weekend. After it became clear that this could become a viable business, the Yoshi team built the front-end and back-end of the service.
Yoshi's Field Technicians go through a thorough training program to equip them with everything from delivering gas, changing wiper blades, to interacting with customers. And the company's partnership with ExxonMobil has been critical in providing high-quality fuel and oil at the scale that is needed.
Yoshi launched in the summer of 2015 and started its first fill-ups in Palo Alto. Later that summer, Yoshi launched in its second market which was Nashville. The company was accepted into Y Combinator in early 2016 and the main takeaway from being in the startup accelerator program was to transition from "gas delivery" to "everything your car needs, delivered while you park."
Yoshi partnered with GM and ExxonMobil in early 2017. In late 2017, Yoshi raised $13.7 million in Series A funding from GM Ventures, ExxonMobil and Kevin Durant. And then in early 2018, Yoshi launched its service in its tenth state with plans to aggressively expand further this year.
Alexander pointed out that working with GM and ExxonMobil has been an amazing juxtaposition after being surrounded by startups for so long. "Things work much differently inside large companies, and for good reason – selling 10 million cars a year, or 5 million barrels of oil per day, requires a different organization than building a new app and discovering product market fit does," Alexander pointed out. "And so as we begin to scale from a start-up to a larger company with more reach and impact, it's been very valuable learning to see inside of two of the largest and most well-run companies."
What are some of Yoshi's future company goals? "Yoshi wants to make every vehicle a self-fueling, self-servicing vehicle. You should never think about how, when, or where to get gas, change your oil, check your brake pads, etc." Alexander concluded. "Because Yoshi comes by every week and is always checking and servicing your car as needed." Update: This article has been corrected for accuracy purposes. Read this article on forbes.com ->