Sequoia Capital’s Seven Questions With Ritu Narayan

Zum has the privilege of working closely with the team at Sequoia Capital since early on in our history — with the well known and respected venture capital firm investing in Zum as part of our Series A, B and C rounds. 

They’ve recently published an interview with Zum Founder and CEO Ritu Narayan here as part of their newsletter series “Seven Questions with…” where they interview startup founders about advice they have received or learned over the years.

Please check it out and let us know what you think.



Zūm in TechCrunch and Forbes today

Our partnership with Autogrid was covered in TechCrunch and Forbes today. Check out the news below:

TechCrunch: Zūm wants to use its electric school buses to send power back to the electrical grid

Forbes: Electric Yellow Schoolbus Will Try To Make Vehicle To Grid Power Work

We’re thrilled to be innovating to make school transportation more equitable, sustainable, and reliable for kids, parents and schools. If you want to learn more about our sustainability efforts please click here.

Exciting times ahead!


Launching Our Comprehensive Student Transportation Service

By Ritu Narayan

As the 2020 – 2021 school year comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on what this unique year has meant for kids, parents, teachers, schools and the education system as a whole. Students and teachers have spent much of the year away from the classroom, learning and teaching virtually, making this a digital inflection point and a once in a generation opportunity to reimagine the system as we know it. It starts the minute the kids walk out their front door and doesn’t end until they are safely back at home. 

Student transportation is the largest mass transit system in the U.S., yet it’s an antiquated model — in desperate need of an overhaul. The 80-year-old ‘one bus fits all’ system doesn’t work for today’s families, nor today’s needs. 

Today we’re thrilled to introduce Zūm’s fully integrated, real time platform for student transportation purpose-built for the needs of kids and the expectations of their families. Our new comprehensive service for student transportation is now available to schools and districts nationwide.

We’ve been on a mission to reimagine student transportation for some time, and have spent countless hours partnering with districts, drivers, parents, and students to create a holistic solution that meets the collective needs of all stakeholders. The result is a fundamentally new way to transport students safely, reliably, and sustainably with increased visibility and personalized care. 

We launched Zūm to modernize school transportation, in service of solving real problems for parents and their kids. It was born out of a very personal challenge of getting my two children to and from school and other activities, while working a demanding, full-time job. We know this challenge is felt universally and generationally, and it’s what inspires us to come to work every day — to continuously raise the bar for student transportation, drive positive change in communities, and reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

Simplifying the system for districts 

The new platform marks a significant change in our model. One that addresses systemic shifts that need to happen in operations for school districts, who can now rely on Zūm as an end-to-end resource to manage daily operations, track and plan vehicle use and driver profiles, and analyze performance and service data. Our service reduces costs for districts by deploying the best type of vehicle for each route including buses, cars, and vans. This multi-vehicle approach helps solve current industry-wide challenges like schedule, unpredictability and vehicle underutilization. 

The range of options we provide, including electric vehicles of all sizes, also reduces student commute times. And when coupled with our marketplace, the result is greater in-fleet efficiency and optimization.

Holistic support for drivers

With Zūm, every driver has access to an app, available on mobile and tablet, that provides real-time route updates, personalized information on every student’s needs, and the ability to report and resolve issues in real time. Because the entire platform is connected in the cloud, the real time visibility extends to district operations and families. This means more personalized care for every student, faster service, and quick resolution for any issues. 

Visibility and control for families

A cornerstone of our service is direct communication with families. The Zūm mobile app provides ongoing visibility into route updates, a child’s location, and the driver’s profile. Families can also use the app to share changes in schedule or pickup location, preferences, and feedback, as well as speak with the Zūm team directly at any time. More transparency, more control and better communication at every step in the process means families can worry less about how their kids are getting to and from school. This emphasis on personalized service and care is especially important for families where a child has a disability or special needs. 

Meeting the sustainability needs of tomorrow

As we look at ways we can bring positive changes to communities, an important area we’ve identified is addressing our industry’s impact on the environment. Sustainability is a core tenent of our approach and we’re committed to helping districts address the challenges imposed by current internal combustion engine bussing. Our multi-modal approach and cloud-based technology will make it possible to drive widespread adoption of electric buses, move toward zero-emission student transportation, and positively impact the planet. 

Solving the transportation dilemma for districts larger and small

This isn’t simply a vision for Zūm. These changes are happening today. The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is one of the first to adopt district-wide Zūm technology for all their transportation needs. OUSD started using Zūm when its students returned to the classroom this Spring and is already experiencing the benefits. 

Seventy percent of OUSD’s students using its transportation system previously spent more than one hour on a bus traveling to school each way, which has dropped to just 3% since Zūm implemented new, flexible routes. Inefficient routes led to long travel times for students and unexpected delays, which had a trickle-down impact across the district and community. For example, teachers have to slow down an entire class when a group of students are late, parents must juggle irregular drop off and pick up times, and drivers face inconsistent schedules.

Zūm’s safe and modern service has led to a significant increase in on-time arrivals, shorter student ride times, and reduced customer support calls.

“Transportation is a massive expense for our school district, and we needed a better solution that would provide enhanced safety and care, create driver efficiencies, and enable visibility into day-to-day operations with a more modern approach,” said Kimberly Raney, Executive Director of Transportation and Logistics at Oakland Unified School District. “Partnering with Zūm, allows OUSD to save thousands of hours of travel time for students, and increase visibility into our operations for parents, students, teachers, and administrators.” 

Zūm has been driving the industry forward since 2015 when we first launched to provide alternative transportation options for families. Throughout our journey, we discovered that solving the problem required a more holistic approach to the entire system. This is a big challenge and we see a huge opportunity to impact real change — not only for parents and students, but across the entire school transportation ecosystem. Today Zūm is defining a new era of safe, reliable, efficient and sustainable transportation, built for the students, parents, drivers, and districts who need it most.

As we look ahead to the next school year, we know students and parents have a lot on their minds. We’re here to take the stress out of a key part of it — getting kids to and from school. For parents and communities interested in learning more about Zūm, or if you’d like to join our team as we reimagine student transportation, visit us at If you are a school district planning for your students to return to campus, we’d love to talk. Reach out to us at 1-855-RIDEZUM.

Ritu Narayan
Founder and CEO at Zūm


Carpooling The Easy Way — No More Telephone Tag

One of my biggest challenges is being solved today, and I’m so excited to share it with everyone. For years, I’ve been bogged down with the need to create carpools for my kids but not having the bandwidth to do these quickly and easily. Email or (even worse,) text threads would go on and on and sometimes get lost, buried or just plain forgotten. Calling was a nightmare as no one was ever free at the same time and it became an endless game of “telephone tag”. Furthermore, who was going to drive, when (especially when nobody has the time)?

Finally, I’d had enough. So our team at Zūm did something about it. While we’ve been the leader in rides and care for kids over the last two years, for which carpool has been a part, we now make it super easy for parents to plan, schedule and change carpools. No more texts, emails or phone calls, we do it all for you in our app. One less hassle to deal with every day! And because of the great Zūm drivers taking the wheel, the “who’s going to drive” question gets solved too.

From my experiences, I knew that we had to make this streamlined, and easy to add/invite people to, so we integrated the carpool option with our regular ride and care booking. So when you go to schedule a ride, you just choose “Carpool Ride” and you’re off and running.

Setting up the carpool is a piece of cake, just like setting up a Zūm ride — select your rider, choose date, time and location and set up payment method. For our carpool option, you can split payments one of three ways — pay it all yourself, split evenly by child or split evenly by parent. So if one family has three kids riding and you have one, you can split it into quarters.

Once that’s done, you simply invite your carpool families to join and they do their work on their end (adding their kids and payment methods). We even made sure there is a way to set up recurring carpools (just like our single rides,) and families can even drop out of a carpool date if they need to due to conflict. You no longer need to worry about the scheduling or the driving!

Beyond that, carpools are just your typical Zūm rides — great Zūm drivers, complete transparency and visibility and notifications throughout the ride. From my perspective, it has saved me so much time and lowered my stress about planning and getting my kids where they need to be. For my kids, they’re having a great time carpooling with their friends.

If you have carpools for school, practices, activities or anything, I hope you’ll try our new carpool feature, it will make your life so much easier.

Ritu Narayan
Founder and CEO at Zūm

“Time Poverty” Here at Home

The Unpaid Labor Gender Gap Isn’t Just a Third-World Problem

Most of us had never heard the term “time poverty,” until billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates recently shone a light on the problem in her foundation’s annual letter. But reading her first-hand observations of how families divide unpaid labor, coupled with stark statistics of how women carry so much more of the burden, I realized that “time poverty” is simply a new name for a very old problem.

Worldwide, there is a significant gap between the amount of unpaid labor performed by women compared to that performed by men. Gates defines “unpaid labor” simply:

“Unpaid work is what it says it is: It’s work, not play, and you don’t get any money for doing it. But every society needs it to function.”

Cleaning, food shopping, childcare, cooking, and eldercare are all tasks that aren’t going away — but unfortunately the gender imbalance in who performs them doesn’t seem to be going away either.

The gap is widest in the poorest regions of the world, where women do as much as five hours more unpaid labor per day than men. In North America, women still perform two more hours per day than men [source: OECD 2014 Gender, Institutions and Development Database]. But when you consider that North America has a much higher percentage of both parents working outside the home, and that 25% of American families with children under age 18 are single mother households, it raises the question — how on earth do even first-world mothers find the time to do both paid and unpaid labor?

The Opportunity Cost

The problem of time poverty is not only one of fairness, or lack of leisure time, but of a large-scale opportunity cost to communities and the global economy. When women’s days are filled with unpaid labor, they find it difficult to learn new skills, advance in a job, or invent something new. Economist Rania Antonopoulos has argued that the gender gap in unpaid labor holds back economies (and societies) from reaching their full potential.

If women in the poorest countries were able to spend more time earning money for their families instead of working for free, that would have a powerful impact on their local economy. The same is true for the “overeducated” mom with a PhD, whose time may be better spent doing research and teaching than fishing socks out of the dryer.

Innovating Our Way to Equality

Despite the statistics, Melinda Gates is optimistic. She sees the time poverty problem as a consequence of persistent social norms, not a global conspiracy against women. She points out that technology may present an opportunity to short-circuit this stubborn cultural pattern:

“The solution is innovation, and you can help. Some of you will become engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and software developers. I invite you to take on the challenge of serving the poor with cheap, clean energy, better roads, and running water. Or maybe you can invent ingenious labor-saving technologies.”

The key to solving the time poverty problem may indeed be to shift some of the burden of unpaid labor onto technology, freeing up more time and energy for paid work, or at least giving us back a few hours a day to spend as we please. Technical innovation can also be used to connect women to each other, in ways that weren’t possible before the App Store and geolocation. When women who are starved for time can call on the services of women who need to earn extra money, we will all reap more rewards from our labor.

Ritu Narayan
Founder and CEO at Zūm

Flexible Work Can be Fulfilling Work Too

For many of us, there comes a point in our lives when holding down a 9–5 (or longer) job becomes impossible. Whether it’s because we have kids or aging parents who need our help, or we want to pursue a passion that doesn’t pay the bills (yet), at one point or another it makes sense to find work that has flexible hours and/or work-at-home options.

Unfortunately, this often means making a compromise: taking work that is lower paid, or beneath your skill set or level of education. (This point was driven home to me recently when my checkout guy at Trader Joe’s told me he was a PhD candidate in math). Those trade-offs are particularly hard-felt by older workers who may have decades of experience in their field, but need to augment up their retirement income with extra work.

Part-time work is on the rise

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data (January 2016) shows that 18.2% of employed workers are part-timers. That percentage doesn’t even include independent workers in the burgeoning “gig economy,” or self-employed independent contractors who work part-time. The percentage of workers that work part-time shot up in 2010 during the Great Recession, but the ratio of part-time to full-time work has continued to rise, despite the economic recovery.

As our economy becomes more service-oriented, and so many traditional job functions become automated, the trend toward part-time work and multiple “gigs” will continue to grow. But there is no reason why part-time work should equal less-valuable work, or why making meaningful contributions to an organization must entail sitting at a desk for 40–60 hours per week.

A “gig” with purpose?

When we started Zum, an on-demand ride service for kids, we knew that our success would depend on finding exceptionally responsible, professional, and personable drivers to work with the busy families who entrusted us with their children. That meant going way above and beyond the standard screening and interview procedures to find the highest quality candidates. This would be a two-way street, though. In order to hire great caregivers, we would offer above-average pay, flexibility, and control over one’s schedule. More than that, we would give our drivers (“Zumers”) the chance to forge meaningful relationships with clients, by assigning them to a consistent group of families.

We hypothesized that there were high-quality candidates out there, who were holding out for opportunities that would give them flexibility, better pay and a sense of purpose. But we’ve truly been overwhelmed by the number of amazing Zumers who have helped us grow from 10 to 100 providers in only six months. Our team of Zumers includes teachers, nurses, stay-at-home moms, grad students, and even part-time professionals.

One Zumer, Naira, appreciates the flexibility and also the opportunity to grow:

“Zum lets me choose my hours and has also given me a growth path to work on recruiting and training other Zumers.”

The same feedback loop that keeps our quality standards high also brings a sense of fulfillment to Zumers — many report that when they receive positive feedback from clients, it lifts their spirits and boosts their confidence in their other endeavors.

The “gig economy” is likely here to stay — but that doesn’t have to mean that work has to become impersonal and commoditized. After all, technology is most successful when it connects people to create value that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Workers who need flexibility are a rich, largely untapped resource, and employers would be foolish to marginalize them with low pay and shoddy benefits. They are also valuable members of our communities, which are strengthened when we’re all able to find fulfilling and respected work.

Ritu Narayan
Founder and CEO at Zūm

Working Parents Are Overwhelmed

A few months ago a friend of mine invited me to an after-work meeting of working mothers in Palo Alto, “but there are some ground rules,” she warned. My friend, a top lawyer at Google, was not one to mince words. “It’s not a forum for networking, talking about your kids, complaining about your husband, or crying on each other’s shoulders. We get together to talk about the challenges of being working mothers in tech.”

Being a startup founder myself and the mother of 2 kids, I was eager to meet these women and appreciated the no-nonsense approach. After a glass of wine and snacks, we gathered in a large circle and introduced ourselves. The moderator asked us to describe our “current state of mind” as we went around the room. All of the women held management positions at Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and myriad high-growth startups. And their state of mind? “Overwhelmed.” “Stressed.” “Exhausted.”

These women were being stretched to the limit, but their concerns were a far cry from the working mom headlines we’ve become used to from parenting magazines. Not a single woman at this meeting questioned their decision to have a career, or to have kids, or claimed to feel guilty toward their families, or even expressed concern about their earnings. What these women were lacking was time — time to simply get through the logistics of each day when meetings run late, kids need to be ferried to activities, and dinner must magically appear on the table. Many complained they didn’t even have the time to do the research and interviewing to get the help they need.

Most children today are growing up in dual-income households where the chief resource constraint is time.

This was a highly educated group of women in Silicon Valley, but their experience is representative of broader trends in American families. Fully 70% of mothers with children under the age of 18 work outside the home (Source: U.S. Dept of Labor, 2013). That percentage has essentially held steady for the last 15 years — it is the new reality, and is likely to rise as wages fail to keep up with increasing costs of living. So, most children today are growing up in dual-income households where the chief resource constraint is time.

In her bestselling book “Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time,” author Brigid Schulte identifies the number one challenge for working parents as finding uninterrupted blocks of work time, instead of the shreds of “time confetti” that leave us with a sense of having accomplished nothing at the end of the day.

Schulte, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post, interviews psychologists, time management experts, statisticians, and anthropologists to try to get to the bottom of why modern-day parenting has become a race without a finish line. But it was one of her personal anecdotes that really resonated with me.

One afternoon Schulte was working under deadline for a story about a Somali war criminal. She was interrupted by a call from her babysitter, informing her at the last minute that she would not be able to pick her 3rd-grade daughter up from school and take her to her ballet class at 4:30. “Without giving it a second thought, I began making plans to take her myself,” Schulte recalls. After a traffic jam, rushed snack, and argument over her daughter’s hairstyle, this working mom’s day was reduced to time confetti, with a work deadline still looming over the dinner hour.

Does it have to be this way? All this young ballerina needed was a ride from school to her lesson. Was it really in the best interest of Schulte’s career, or of her family life, to drop what she was doing to shuttle her daughter across town? With stress levels running so high, it’s unlikely that the drive was quality mother-daughter time.

The next generation of caregiving solutions will blend far better vetting and quality controls than the traditional caregiver networks, with the convenience and on-demand efficiency of an Uber.

I often feel like each day begins as a house of cards — meticulously planned and constructed, but if one piece falls out of place, the whole thing comes crashing down. In talking to that group of mothers in Palo Alto, as well as my own friends and extended family, I’ve discovered that what many working parents need is a Plan B and C for childcare, so when Plan A inevitably falls through every so often (after all, caregivers have complicated lives too), parents don’t need to risk their jobs to step in at the last minute.

Very few of us have the extended family networks of days gone by, and carpooling is fraught with conflicting schedules and being obliged to return the favor. What if technology could help working parents access a trusted network of caregivers, to guarantee that their kids get picked up on schedule, and ensure that their work time wouldn’t be interrupted? Internet companies like have been successfully matching parents and caregivers for years, but families with older kids might not need a dedicated sitter anymore.

The next generation of caregiving solutions will blend far better vetting and quality controls than the traditional caregiver networks, with the convenience and on-demand efficiency of an Uber. And since they will need to build trust with busy families, they will provide personalization, continuity, and consistency that families and kids expect.

Tackling the problems that face working parents will take a combination of societal change, better corporate policies, and political action, but many of us can’t wait for those slow-moving processes to yield results. In the meantime, thoughtful tech solutions may help solve some of the day-to-day logistics of working and raising a family, so we can focus on work at work, and on our families at home.

Ritu Narayan
Founder and CEO at Zūm