There's just one blemish on Zipcar's rosy complexion: red ink. Although the privately held company expects to pull in about $100 million in revenues this year, up from $60 million last year, it won't be in the black until 2009, at the earliest. Simply put, Zipcar's all-in-one price scheme leaves it vulnerable to volatile fuel prices and other costs. "I lose sleep at night knowing I'm paying for gas for 225,000 people," says CEO Scott Griffith.
The solution, he says, is scale. The bigger Zipcar's customer base, the more broadly it can distribute its operating costs. That's one reason Griffith merged his company last October in a stock swap with Flexcar, a West Coast competitor backed by AOL (TWX) co-founder Steve Case. The deal won him much-needed geographic reach and lowered his per-car overhead. But expanding into new markets is costly, and saps income from already profitable older cities such as New York. "There's a minimum size you need to be to make money, to lower financing, insurance, and vehicle costs," says Neil Abrams, an auto rental market analyst. "The merger takes them closer," he says, but the business is still "a niche."
Zipcar is bolstered by $45 million in angel and venture capital. Most of it comes from Benchmark Capital, Global Capital Partners, and Greylock Partners."