Penn State Alums Make Cross-Country ‘Transfr’
When Penn State alumni Kody Amburgey and RJ Napolitano quit their jobs on Wall Street last summer, they moved to Los Angeles with big aspirations, unrelenting hustle, and an idea to make transportation more accessible.
Amburgey, who graduated Smeal in 2016, and Napolitano, who followed suit a year later, left the comforts of investment banking to take a chance and found Transfr, a car-sharing service where users park their cars for free at airport lots and earn money when others rent them.
Transfr pays the parking fees for the days a car isn’t being rented. When a car is rented, renters pay a flat rate depending on vehicle class that’s updated weekly. The actual owner of the car then gets a standard portion of the rate regardless of vehicle age or type.
Because Transfr only partners with lots and doesn’t actually own any, the service is able to minimize overhead costs and provide cheaper rates than traditional car rentals like Enterprise and Hertz. Compared to its best-known competitor Getaround, Transfr rents cars in a way that’s even more hands-off for users.
The current flat rate for economy cars sits at $29 per day, while the daily rate for an SUV, pick-up truck, or luxury vehicle is $49. Additionally, there are no added fees for collision protection or for renters younger than 25. The company’s website estimates car owners earn about $10 a day when their vehicles are in use and can save as much as $240 by parking their cars with Transfr during an eight-day trip.
“We want to be the solution that’s providing people with better car parking, storage, and renting experiences,” said Amburgey, who started his career with Bank of America-Merrill Lynch before working in venture capital with an equity crowdfunding platform.
“We want people to be able to make money from their vehicles instead of always incurring more costs for things like parking. Vehicles should be seen as assets and ways to generate income.”
The idea behind Transfr spawned from an experience Napolitano had shortly after graduating. While living in New York City, where public transportation can get you seemingly anywhere pretty efficiently, there was no need for him to have a car. However, when he wanted to visit his girlfriend, who was still a student at Penn State, he had no easy way of getting to State College.
Renting a car for a weekend usually costs between $120 and $160. The MegaBus that goes between Manhattan and the North Atherton Walmart can cost more than $100 and takes about six hours each way — although the stop for a quesadilla at the legendary J. Zapata food truck outside of Hazleton makes the trip worth it.
At the time, Napolitano had been considering ways to bring in extra money through a side hustle. As an analyst with Goldman Sachs, he didn’t have time to do something off-hours like drive for Uber. Instead, he was looking for an additional way to bring in a passive income. That, coupled with the challenge of traveling to State College, got Napolitano thinking.
“I remember saying to Kody, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could own a vehicle and someone could manage it for me and rent it out?'” Napolitano said. “We had always talked about different startup ideas and being able to solve problems for people. And then we finally found one that we thought could make a difference.”
Soon, they were trading their secure incomes and offices in towers named after their employers to work out of their apartments between 80 and 125 hours per week and not take a pay check while bringing their idea to life.
Instead of Midtown Uniforms, Amburgey and Napolitano now wear a variety of hats. As the only two full-time employees, any given day can include updating investor pitch decks, planning marketing campaigns, improving projection models, and cold-calling potential customers.
It was a complete 180 from their lives in New York, but within four months, Transfr was open for business at LAX’s WallyPark Premier Garage.
The grit needed to be okay with doing a little bit of everything and working around the clock was born out of the founders’ experience with the Nittany Lion Fund. Under the guidance of advisor Dr. Joseph Woolridge, Amburgey and Napolitano were held accountable as enthusiastic yet callow teenagers while helping manage Penn State’s student-run hedge fund that’s valued at more than $7 million. Woolridge and the older students instilled a professional work ethic in them and laid the foundation of what it takes to get into Wall Street, something they’ve now taken to the West coast.
“From a very young age, we learned how to grind. We were kept to a very high standard and that helped shaped our mindset as entrepreneurs,” Amburgey said. “We learned how to hustle and not ask questions. That’s the mindset you need — be willing to work late nights and early mornings and push yourself to the limits.”
The experience on Wall Street by way of the Nittany Lion Fund has paid dividends for the two founders. As “numbers guys” by trade, Amburgey and Napolitano have a firm grasp on the operations side of their business. They’re able to build their own internal projection models and fully understand how to work with financial statements. Additionally, Napolitano’s experience with sales and modeling while with Goldman Sachs has been particularly useful for when they met with investors.
Amburgey’s and Napolitano’s finance backgrounds may have paved the way for them to set up shop at LAX and in the coming months, two additional airports. But what they needed most to make Transfr and their bold move across the country work was the ability to trust their guts and each other.
“Anytime you’re under taking something like this and leaving a paycheck behind for something that might not work out, it’s gonna be scary and is going to take a leap of faith,” Napolitano said. “But we’ve always believed in the business and in each other and that’s made everything so much more palatable.”
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