Although they launched their company only last December, Ornikar has already received quite a bit of attention for their Paris-based driving school. After their initial application for a license received an unfavorable recommendation from the Auto Ecole (“driving school”) license committee, Ornikar dug their feet in and began fighting to get approval to launch the first 100% online driving school, which they say will begin accepting students January 1st, 2015.
Their model combines a MOOC-like written education & an Uber-like on-demand driving instructor marketplace, allowing independent driving instructors to get in touch with students and set meeting points. Their mode undercuts the state average 1300€ (+ 50€/hour for additional driving hours beyond the 20 legally required instruction hours) with a 690€ (+20€/hour) price range, which the Ornikar founders believe will allow thousands more affordable access to driving school education.
Ornikar takes a 25% commission on all payments, leaving instructors earning 22€/hour, nearly double the minimum wage that many instructors are paid as full-time instructors. In a quiet courtyard located inconspicuously on Rue Oberkampf in Paris, co-founder & CEO Benjamin Gaignault tells me that, after seeing that the driving school lobby was run by driving school patrons (“owners”), and not instructors, who teach both the written and the behind-the-wheel portions, he has plans to create the first ‘driving instructor lobby,’ which he will use to improve working conditions for driving instructors.
The pre-launch press they’ve received concerning their struggle with regulatory bodies, including front-page treatment in the International New York Times last week, has put them in the spotlight, says Gaignualt, leading to the Minister of the Interior himself reviewing their application.
Gaignault’s fight has come to embody the opportunity for startups to bouleverser (“disrupt”) France’s oppressive regulations in traditional sectors. A recent court-decision led by a union representing pharmacy-store interests has succeeded in blocking 1001Pharmacies‘ ability to operate its on-demand pharmaceutical delivery service, despite its operations 100% legality.
The barriers to entry were stacked up against Ornikar, despite the lack of any financial cost associating with a driving school license (as compared to with Taxi’s, for example). Outdated requirements, such as the requirement to have a wheel-chair ramp to the office (which they will never use) or the necessity to have a car & a DVD player on-site (both of which they will never use), have all been met by Ornikar, and Gaignault says that discussions with ministers cabinets have led him to believe that the administration is genuinely interested both in reforming (i.e: lightening) outdated & unnecessary regulation, as well as ultimately finding a way to bring Ornikar online in a timely manner.
With the spotlight on them, Ornikar will be seeking VC financing before its January launch in order to move as quickly as possible and accommodate the hundreds of driving instructors and thousands of students who have signed up on their site.
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