Meet the Secretive Startup Trying to Steal Uber's Top Drivers

'Juno drivers are basically the best drivers that Uber and Lyft have,' CEO claims.

learn more about Polina Marinova

By Polina Marinova

Andrew Harrer © 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP

This story originally appeared on Fortune Magazine

Juno, a 100-employee startup still in stealth mode, is launching a ride-sharing app in New York City sometime this spring. And when it does, it's going after the 800-pound gorilla: Uber.

So is everybody else, of course. In New York alone, there's Lyft, Via, Gett and Arro. There was Sidecar, which recently folded, and Hailo, which fled with its tail between its legs. And those are just the ride-sharing services; Uber's latest moves could give food delivery and courier businesses a run for their money as well.

Still, if anyone has a chance against Uber, Juno founder Talmon Marco isn't a bad bet. The Israeli-born entrepreneur has struck gold in difficult markets before: two years ago, he sold Viber, the popular messaging app he created, for a cool $900 million.

That's one reason he feels he has a chance, though he admits it won't be easy. "You have to make sure you have sufficient funding," he says. "We've been blessed that we don't have to start from zero, which is a definite advantage compared to your average entrepreneur."

As Uber continues to take heat for cutting fares and faces tough conversations about the way it classifies workers, Marco sees an opportunity to create a more driver-friendly service. He claims Juno will take a low 10 percent commission on every ride (Uber takes 20 percent) and offer drivers equity in the company. Drivers who work for multiple ridesharing companies will be contractors, and drivers who work solely for Juno are eligible to be full-time employees.

Marco's recruitment strategy at Juno is aggressive: he's going after Uber and Lyft by using their own rating systems as vetting tools. The only drivers Juno will consider are Uber and Lyft drivers who have a satisfaction rating of at least 4.7 out of 5 -- no one else.

"Juno drivers are basically the best drivers that Uber and Lyft have," he says.

To drive for Juno, a person also needs to be in compliance with the Taxi and Limousine Commission of New York, be able to speak English and "seem to be an "OK person,'" he adds.

Right now, Marco says the company is paying thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers $25 per week just to keep the Juno app on while driving their normal routes. This allows Juno to collect data about location, speed and traffic, which will help as it prepares for launch.

Marco claims that the drivers who have already signed on with Juno have done so purely through word-of-mouth. But just because drivers may be on board does not mean passengers will follow. While he wouldn't go into detail, Marco says there will be "a few" incentives for customers to try the service.

Marco doesn't seem too worried about joining a crowded industry. He points to his two previous ventures, Viber and file-sharing service iMesh, saying he was never the first to market in either case.

"I think what's most important is not whether you're the first," he says, "but whether you're the last."

Polina Marinova

Deputy Editor of Fortune Venture

Polina Marinova is the deputy editor of Fortune Venture.

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