John Doan - Mobility4All
Navy Reserves Veteran Launches “Kinder, Gentler Uber” for Seniors and People with Disabilities
When John Doan’s older brother Roy was diagnosed with dementia and multiple sclerosis in his early 30s, Doan became determined to solve one of Roy’s new challenges: transportation. That determination became the basis for Mobility 4 All, a Minneapolis-based transportation startup for seniors and people with disabilities.
Prior to the onset of his illnesses, Roy had been the one to help John with mobility, from teaching him to ride a bike while their single mother was at work to teaching him to drive a car years later. Now, the once independent, world-traveling Roy was faced with both mental and physical barriers to transit.
Roy is not alone in those barriers. Seniors and people with disabilities are less likely to have smart phones that they can use to hail Uber or Lyft, and they often have special needs including help getting to and from the car that a ridesharing driver is unable to provide due to restrictions against touching passengers. For vulnerable adults, taking a standard taxi or bus ride can also introduce too many risks to be a viable option.
The need for a more accessible transportation solution is sizable and will continue to grow as Baby Boomers become an increasingly large portion of the population. The state estimates that 15 percent of Minnesotans are age 65 or older and by 2030 that number will grow to a fifth of the population. Meanwhile, approximately 1 in 10 Minnesotans (593,700 people) reported one or more disabilities in a 2015 census survey
John, a former Navy Reservist, was uniquely qualified to take action. Doan holds a masters degree in public policy and urban planning from Harvard and works in the transportation sector for Hennepin County. He previously served on the Met Council, which is responsible for Metro Transit and Metro Mobility, a shared public transportation ride service for people with disabilities who can’t use fixed-route public transit options.
Doan first launched a nonprofit that lobbied the legislature and federal government to ensure that as self-driving technology developed, people with disabilities were kept at the forefront of user experience design. Doan quickly realized that lobbying was not enough, at least not at this stage. “We can advocate all we want, but until we have market power, the industry is not going to willingly serve seniors and people with disabilities,” he said.
Doan created that market power and a shorter term solution by founding Mobility 4 All, a company branded as the kinder, gentler Uber for seniors and people with disabilities.
Mobility 4 All allows people needing rides or their caregivers to book rides using an app, an online portal, or a phone call. Drivers have special transportation services certifications from the state and provide “door-through-door” service to ensure riders are safe along every leg of their journey. If a rider has favorite drivers, Mobility4All will send rides that prioritize their driver preference rather than the absolute nearest driver.
In 2017, Doan became a member of Bunker Labs’ second Launch Lab Cohort (then named EPIC) and won the cohort’s pitch night winner. He found significant value in the discipline the program provided and credits it with putting Mobility 4 All on a path toward their February 1, 2018 soft launch. Doan and his business partner Sebastien Tavenas have signed on two senior living organizations, and are aiming for a full launch in June consisting of 30 customers across the Twin Cities.
While in the Bunker Labs accelerator program, Doan enjoyed working alongside other veterans pursuing entrepreneurship.
“I don’t necessarily put it out there that I am a veteran, but when you meet other veterans and talk, there’s a sense of camaraderie that is innate to having gone through that experience of serving your country in the military.” - Doan
The community aspect also helped him make a better product, he said. “If you’re just working on your own thing, the world can close in and you can lose touch with who you’re trying to serve or how to serve them. You tend to make better decisions when you have people to bounce ideas off of.”
Doan took advantage of the free six-month membership to COCO, since rebranded as Fueled Collective, a downtown Minneapolis coworking space.
“It’s great for team morale to know you have a place you can access rather than trying to meet at a coffee shop or Perkins,”
Within the next six months, Doan is focused on growing Mobility 4 All in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. In five years, he hopes to have drivers across the country and and to have integrated self-driving cars into his fleet of services.