Raven Hernandez got her idea for a green transportation startup when she was a student at Pepperdine Law School in Malibu, California.
Hernandez, 26, from Nashville, said moving to Los Angeles opened her eyes to the world of organic food and sustainable clothing. But this emerging health and environmental awareness didn’t sit well with the school’s proximity to Los Angeles International Airport and the dense, gray air she breathed every day — pollution largely due to the many cars cruising the city.
“As I watched Pepperdine’s LAX every day, I thought, ‘What does all this food and clothing even mean if the environment around me is polluted?'” Hernandez said. “That’s when the desire for electrifying rides arose – for a change that would benefit us all.”
In October 2020, she founded Earth Rides, a ride-hailing app whose entire fleet consists of electric vehicles from Tesla, Mustang Mach-E, Polestar 2 and several other manufacturers. Since its inception, the company has served more than 300,000 passengers in Tennessee and Texas, which Hernandez says has offset 230 million grams of CO2 in the past year alone. It now has a dozen full-time employees working on the technical and business side and nearly 100 drivers. This year the company expands to California and Arizona.
In addition to fighting climate change, Hernandez, whose family immigrated from Panama, also wants to revolutionize what she calls a patriarchal industry with a troubled work history. Unlike Uber and Lyft, drivers for Earth are employees, not independent contractors. Women or people of color make up 40% of the driving force and 50% of the leadership team. These measures, Hernandez said, aim to make EVs more accessible to both groups, since 75% of cars are bought by men.
“We wanted to start a company that would benefit not only the earth but the people of the earth,” she said.
How did you come up with the idea for Earth?
Add to that a few bad experiences on other ridesharing platforms and the fact that drivers weren’t valued. The market has really indicated that autonomous cars will make ridesharing profitable — which means these companies can’t wait to get drivers out of the driver’s seat. But drivers are real people with real families and bills. We wanted to create a company that offers transparency, especially when it comes to withdrawals. In fact, many drivers don’t know how much they’re making or the margins on trips. It’s pretty predatory when you look at it from that point of view.
The ride-sharing industry is full of workers disputes and lawsuits and is often criticized for exploiting gig workers. What makes the earth different?
From our point of view you have to concentrate on the drivers. We hire our drivers. We also allow people who own their own electric vehicles to drive on our platform. This is unlike other models that do either one or the other. The challenge here is how do we get more people into electric vehicles in the gig economy. From a fair perspective, we look at the question, “How do we build financial health tools that allow drivers to buy their own EVs?” We also focus on not having extreme price hikes to ensure reasonable pricing of our rides. When you rely on us to commute to work twice a day, five days a week, you want to be able to budget for the cost of your trips.
We want to revolutionize this industry to create better practices across the board that allow drivers to come first. There are 16 million Americans participating in the gig economy. That’s one in three Americans. You must have fair payouts.
They wanted to bring electric vehicles to Tennessee and the United States South, where EVs aren’t as common as in places like California. What challenges have you encountered?
It was fun because people are excited to experience electric vehicles for the first time. Tennessee has four automakers that produce electric vehicles there, so it’s a production leader. Now we must guide the purchase from them. It busts typical myths about electrification that we’ve seen across the board, which starts with charging. Our drivers are trained and know how charging works. We’ve found that as soon as people get in their cars, they bombard our drivers with questions about the car. People are excited about this movement. We are proud to lead the adoption of green technologies by electric vehicles.
There aren’t many Latina women, or women and people of color in general, in the ridesharing and EV industries. How did you gain a foothold and build connections?
Something I really appreciate coming from the south is learning to be respectful and always say hello to your neighbors. That’s something I’ve taken into business: Regardless of whether you’re in this space, the ability to network is vital to any entrepreneur. As a first-generation American immigrant, I had to work harder because I had no connections in the industry. It’s all the sweeter when we have these wins.