First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Joanna McFarland: We’re doing well, thanks for asking. My two kids have started school virtually this Fall, so we’re navigating a new start to the school year, along with so many other families. We also recently adopted a dog, Liza, and that’s been a lot of fun for the whole family!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded HopSkipDrive.
Joanna McFarland: I started HopSkipDrive in 2014 with two other working moms. We searched for a solution that could safely get our children where they needed to go after school without compromising our careers or sacrificing our kids’ needs due to busy schedules.
HopSkipDrive had to be safe enough for our own kids, so we designed it with that in mind from the very beginning. For me, the question was always, “What would I need to see to feel comfortable putting Jackson or Sam in a HopSkipDrive ride?”
HopSkipDrive has grown to become so much more than that. We now operate in 8 states plus DC and contract with over 200 schools, districts, and counties helping arrange transportation solutions for students with special needs, students experiencing homelessness, and students in foster care.
How does HopSkipDrive innovate?
Joanna McFarland: Designed by protective moms, HopSkipDrive is the innovator in providing a safe, dependable youth transportation platform to connect schools, districts, government agencies, and families with professional, experienced CareDrivers offering their transportation services. The advanced technology platform and industry-leading operational expertise provide unparalleled flexibility, visibility, and safety. With the mission to create an opportunity for all through mobility, we have expanded to eight states and 14 major markets since 2014.
HopSkipDrive’s safety standards are known for being the most rigorous in the industry. From sophisticated technology that tracks every ride to the always-on Safe Ride Support system, our 15-point CareDriver certification process, and unique multi-step rider verification process, ensuring every child’s safety and the ride is at the heart of everything we do.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Joanna McFarland: The pandemic has affected our business in a number of ways. When schools closed, we knew our business would face challenges, but our entire team stepped up and showed incredible enthusiasm and hard work to innovate and expand our service offerings to support communities in need. We worked to support healthcare workers with child transportation solutions, delivering meals to students on meal programs and community agencies, delivering education technology to students who may not have computers or tablets at their home, providing transportation solutions to senior citizens to necessary appointments, and errands, and more.
HopSkipDrive also implemented COVID-Safe Ride Standards to promote the safety and health of CareDrivers, Ride Organizers, and Riders. In addition to complying with local regulations, HopSkipDrive engaged public health experts to set the bar for how to enhance safety features so that CareDrivers can deliver safe rides in the time of COVID. We believe these standards — some of which HopSkipDrive will be the first to implement — should become accepted practice within the youth transportation industry as a whole.
For example, no other student transportation solution in the country has stated they’ll require plastic dividers. We hope the HopSkipDrive COVID-Safe Ride Standards will spur others in the industry to go above and beyond. We also hope that our competitors will utilize technology that ensures compliance and build the best health practices into their workflows.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Joanna McFarland: Yes. I’ve had to make a number of difficult choices in response to COVID-19. Despite all the innovating and enthusiasm, we still had to lay-off a number of individuals in order to continue operating and ensure that we would be there for the schools, families, and kids once schools reopen.
We’ve always led at HopSkipDrive with empathy, both for our customers and our team and each other. That has been key in dealing with COVID-19 and moving to a remote workforce. It’s really reinforced that this is the right way to build and lead a loyal, high performing team and mission-driven culture.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and HopSkipDrive in the future?
Joanna McFarland: I like to wake up early, walk our dog Liza and do an early morning workout before anyone else in the house is awake. It gives me some time to reflect and to prepare for the coming day.
We’ve always been a company that is family-friendly and believes strongly in managing work-life. This is an especially difficult time for everyone, whether living by themselves, roommates, or caring for the family. As a company, we come to the table with understanding and empathy. Everyone is dealing with a lot right now, and I want to make sure that my team knows that I am there for them.
As we plan for future growth as a company, we look forward to supporting families, existing school partnerships, and new service offerings.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Joanna McFarland: I believe HopSkipDrive sets itself apart in the market because of our rigorous safety standards, advanced technology platform, and industry-leading operational expertise.
We are obsessed with safety – it is ingrained in everything we do; it drives our operational excellence and constant innovation. From the HopSkipDrive Safe Ride Support system to our 15-point certification process for CareDrivers to our COVID-Safe Ride Standards, ensuring the safety of every child and ride is our top priority.
We are also a mission-driven company. HopSkipDrive has always been dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children and families. We understand that the difference between success and struggle can sometimes be as simple as having the ability to get there, which is why our mission is to provide an opportunity for all through mobility.
Your final thoughts
Joanna McFarland: I have so much admiration for the strength and commitment that so many businesses, community organizations, and community members have shown over the past several months as we all navigate the complexities of COVID-19 and the way it impacts every one of us. Specifically, in the education and transportation industries, everyone has come to the table with a common goal of finding solutions to support our communities in this incredibly challenging time.
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