By Mackenzie Nichols
Balancing school work and a D1 athletic schedule is a challenging undertaking. Northeastern graduate Lou Harwood accomplished that balance while at school, and he says the experiences in both computer science and rowing taught him valuable lessons of persistence in the face of adversity. Lou graduated from Northeastern in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and Business Administration. In 2013, he and three others founded Skedaddle, the convenient transportation app that helps big groups affordably travel together to events outside of the city.
In 2013 Lou was also still racing, and he recalls one particular race with fellow rower and co-founder of Skedaddle Brad Wentz who competed in rowing on a different team at Princeton. As the two pushed through the start of their company, they were also persisting through a challenging race in San Diego, and this time, on the same team.
“There were instances when we had to come from behind, and we put our heads down and worked through it and won,” Lou says. “When Brad and I were training, the coach would go frame by frame and movement synch to a fraction of a second. We we practicing 20 hours a week getting fit and building technique, all while being synchronized. You just have to put in the work.”
While Lou was rowing at Northeastern, he also co-oped as an Associate Software Engineer and IT Administrator at Ubicare, as a Software Developer Intern at EMC, and as an IT Desktop Support Intern at Picis. He says that his last co op at Ubicare was especially interesting because the small size of the team made him a critical member of the Engineering team and he learned how to build websites there. His co op advisor worked with him to find the best jobs that fit his experience level, and by his last co op he knew he wanted to work with Software Engineering.
“The rowing team was amazing, and that paired with computer science it teaches you persistence in the face of odds. It’s typical [to race] against Olympians, and you still have to race. You have to go at it as if you’re going to win.”
Using what both Lou and Brad learned from rowing and education, the two along with cofounders and brothers Adam Nestler of the University of Wisconsin and Craig Nestler of Syracuse built Skedaddle up in two offices located in Boston and New York City. It was recently announced that the company has raised $2.1 million dollars.
The idea behind Skedaddle, Lou says, comes from a market need for affordable and convenient transportation to locations outside of the city. Cofounder Adam Nestler, on his way to a ski trip with others outside the city, realized that it would have been much easier if all of the travelers could have conveniently and cheaply traveled together to the same place. With that in mind, the team had the idea to start working with bus companies to find the most affordable and effective deals for travelers heading to the same event.
“We try to help [the bus companies] automate their business,” Lou says. “We’re bringing them business and trying to help them. We’re trying to find the best deals and most reliable companies.”
The app is curated based on the user’s current location, and pubic routes are filtered based on event preferences indicated by the user, Lou says. There is an exploring option on the app that shows popular events outside the city, and users can create their own routes to see the pricing estimates if they have their own event in mind. For instance, if someone is going to wedding and has a group of 20 or more interested in traveling together, the user can get a free ride by creating the route, and can see pricing estimates. If it’s a public route to a concert or sporting event, the first ten people will get a discount on the ride.
“There’s a soccer fan group that started using us very early on and were so excited to travel together,” Lou says. “They didn’t have to worry about parking. There were hundreds of people moving, two to four buses worth. It’s been really cool to see that.”
At Skedaddle, Lou works with the backend team to run the IOS and Android apps as well as the website. He runs all of the engineering components of the company, and is less involved in the coding portion as other employees.
“We make sure that there is a balance between building features for the immediate future, and prepping to scale longer term in order to handle ten times or more traffic,” Lou says. “We’re preparing for the future.”
Moving forward, the team at Skedaddle is working to continue spreading the word across the country. They have an Ambassador program which encourages anyone to sign up and help get other people to create their own routes. They are not currently hiring for co-op positions, but are open to the idea. The company will start partnering with events, venues, organizations, and sporting teams, and Lou says that Skedaddle take a burden off of their shoulders. Traffic and parking at venues can be tough, and if professional drivers could drop off and go somewhere to wait, it would make the process a lot smoother for everyone involved.
“It was a cool idea to possibly run my own company, and what sold me was how serious [the other cofounders] were, how committed they were. They were extremely on board with the vision. I was really impressed by that.”