Shaun Stenshol came up with the perfect business model: provide high-demand rental cars to tourists in his local Maui, HI, and make them all run on biodiesel.
April 18, 2014
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good. We’re so excited to have Shaun Stenshol on with us today. He’s the founder and president of Bio-Beetle Eco-Rental Cars. Welcome to Green is Good, Shaun. SHAUN STENSHOL: Great, thanks for having me. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Shaun, you have a great background and you’ve been very green ever before you founded this great eco rental car company, Bio-Beetle but share a little bit of your life and your journey leading up to Bio-Beetle Eco-Rental Cars. SHAUN STENSHOL: Well, you know, I was in Kansas City. That’s my home. That’s where my family lived back in the early nineties and I was actually managing a convenience store and the Gulf War was happening at the time. This was ninety, ninety-one and I just felt like I wasn’t doing quite the right thing so I ended up quitting that job and it happened that Greenpeace had an office in Kansas City at the time and they had an ad in the paper for a job so I was curious what Greenpeace was doing in Kansas City since there’s no whales to save in Kansas City so I went there and I started working for Greenpeace and that’s where my environmental life began and my activism. I focused on stopping nuclear weapons testing in the Nevada desert and I was opposed to nuclear power and focusing on renewable energy, solar, wind, things like that and I was really focused on that and then I learned about biodiesel. One of my friends at the Greenpeace office turned me on to this story about these five women who drove across country in a diesel van and made their own biodiesel as they went along, which was just amazing. They drove three thousand miles across the country just stopping at restaurants. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Unbelievable. SHAUN STENSHOL: Then I worked in Austin, Texas, working for Greenpeace there, doing other forms of activism for about six years before I moved to Maui and I moved to Maui and I just was really fortunate because like, the month before I moved to Maui, a local company started where they started making biodiesel out of the used cooking oil from the local restaurants so I thought, you know, ‘I’m in Maui and there’s a lot of tourists that come to Maui,’ so I thought it would be interesting to rent diesel cars to the tourists that come into Maui. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And also, you were involved in the recycling business too, right? SHAUN STENSHOL: Yea, well when I moved here, I didn’t intend to necessarily live here when I came here but if I decided to stay, I’d stay and I ended up looking for a job and there was a local recycling company that was looking for people and got that job and Maui Recycling Service is the name of that company and several years later, I ended up buying that company from the two owners and you know, because obviously that goes hand-in-hand with everything I’ve been working on and then we started running our diesel trucks on biodiesel with that company as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect. And then you started Bio-Beetle Eco Rental Cars. SHAUN STENSHOL: Yeah, my partner, Pam, who moved here in 2002, I bought a car before she had moved here with the idea of starting Bio-Beetle. I bought a used 2000 Volkswagen Beetle Diesel and I just bought it because I just saw it at the dealership. It was available and I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to buy it and I’ll just figure out how to start the company from there,’ and we ended up starting the company with one car, believe it or not, and we actually had a local rental car company here manage the cars for us until we grew to be big enough to manage our own cars. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So now, I’m on your website. For our listeners out there, we’ve got Shaun Stenshol on the phone. He’s the Founder and President of Bio-Beetle Eco Rental Cars and it’s www.Bio-Beetle.com. I’m on your website. This is great. I gotta mention this. Shaun’s in Maui in Hawaii so this great company is in Hawaii. Unfortunately, there’s not a Bio-Beetle today all across the United States of America but this is in Maui so if you’re going there, I would definitely look up Bio-Beetle.com and Bio-Beetle Rental Cars. Talk a little bit about what’s so different about your company as opposed to the big names that we all grew up with, you know, Avis and Hertz and all those great companies. SHAUN STENSHOL: Our focus is being the greenest rental car company on the planet. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And what does that mean? Share with our listeners what that means to you. SHAUN STENSHOL: Well, from the cars perspective, you know, cars are not green by their nature and so my purpose in starting the business was to take an existing business and make it green, as green as you can so with Bio-Beetle, we have the biodiesel cars, which run on biodiesel, which is used cooking oil, which is collected from local restaurants. Also, we don’t use chemicals. We use natural cleaners when we clean our cars, things as simple as vinegar and water. We offer to our renters when they come in, we have coolers and reusable shopping bags, things that they can borrow so that they don’t feel like they have to buy something that they’re just going to toss away when they leave Maui. Things like that. And from a service perspective, it’s a lot more personal because it’s me and my partner, Pam, who deal with all of our renters and we pick them up at the airport, we drop them off at the airport and they’re not waiting in line like they would with one of the big rental car companies. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s nice. And how many cars do you have right now in service? SHAUN STENSHOL: Sixteen. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And what kind of cars are there compared to- you know, some people might have a larger family. Some people might want a two door or a four door. What kind of cars do you have to offer the people that want to be in Maui and be green while they go around the island? SHAUN STENSHOL: We started with the biodiesel cars so we have Volkswagen Beetles and Volkswagen Jettas. We also have a Jeep Liberty so that’s our biodiesel line and then back in around 2009, we decided that we wanted to offer the Toyota Prius, since it’s the most fuel-efficient car sold in the U.S. and then in 2011, all of a sudden, there’s electric cars that became available. We got a Nissan Leaf and in 2012 we added the Chevy Volt. We want to add the greenest cars that become available. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so amazing. And what do people ask for the most? What’s the hot car now? What do people want to drive? SHAUN STENSHOL: Well, people who contact us, most of them want the biodiesel cars. They want the Jetta. The Jetta’s a great rental car because it’s a four door Sedan, it has a large trunk so it’s really accommodating. Some people, though, want a smaller car so the beetle works really well for them. The Jeep is a little bit bigger, four wheel drive, much better clearance on the roads. It just depends on what their individual needs are but the Jetta seems to be the most popular one we have. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Shaun, is this a new paradigm that you could roll out if you want to different cities across America? Are there other Shaun Stenshols across America that are doing eco green car rental one-offs? Is this a major trend that you start seeing or is this something you could literally brand and say, ‘I’m going to go do this in L.A. I’m going to go do this in Kauai. I’m going to go do this all across the United States’? SHAUN STENSHOL: It definitely has potential. We’re the only ones who rent biodiesel cars, for example, and some of the other big rental car companies are renting the electric cars and the Priuses but it’s hard to book those cars with those companies for some reason so I think there definitely is the opportunity to grow. We have tried renting cars in other areas but managing rental cars in L.A. from Maui- We did that for two years. It was a little challenging so we stopped doing it but our goal is to expand and other people certainly could cut off of the same thing because it is unique, especially the biodiesel cars. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk about biodiesel fuel. Is it hard to find? If I rent one of your biodiesel cars in Maui, where do I fill up? Is it tough to find biodiesel? How does that work? SHAUN STENSHOL: Well, there’s two biodiesel stations in Maui, one around the corner from our office in Kahului, which is central Maui, and one on the far west side of the island in Lahaina and the real advantage of our biodiesel cars is, for example, from the biodiesel station in Kahului, the furthest you can drive from the biodiesel station is maybe sixty-five miles. Our cars get well over four hundred miles on a tank of fuel. It’s not an issue. Electric cars present different issues from a range but, you know, we’ve found that a lot of people are concerned about the biodiesel cars because of range but we have to tell them that it’s just not an issue at all because the cars are really fuel efficient. That’s a side benefit of diesel cars is that they’re a lot more fuel efficient than a gasoline car. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How about the cars that you charge? If I rent one of your charge cars, where do I charge it on the island of Maui? Is that a hard thing to find places to plug in to? SHAUN STENSHOL: To a degree, depends where you’re going but a lot of the hotels and shopping centers have charging stations. There’s also a Japanese group that’s installing fast chargers for the Nissan Leaf here on Maui. That’s not fully installed yet, but that’s happening and a lot of our renters for the electric cars, if they’re staying at a place that has an outlet, the electric cars actually come with their own chargers that can do a standard outlet so if they charge overnight, they generally have a full charge when they wake up in the morning. JOHN SHEGERIAN: The shopping malls or the hotels or this new Japanese company, is there a charge to charging your cars? SHAUN STENSHOL: For most cases, no. It’s free to charge at most charges. There’s some that charge small fees, like they might charge a dollar fifty an hour or two dollars an hour or something like that but the fast chargers are all free right now and there will be a small charge for them in the future but that’s another side benefit of the electric cars is that, if you do it right, you can actually drive them for free. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Help me through this with regards to electricity. If electricity is made from fossil fuels, are we really saving that much if we’ve got to create electricity to charge the electric cars? What’s the cost-benefit analysis or is that just silly old thinking that I’m bringing up? SHAUN STENSHOL: Well, it depends where you’re located. Maui has two large wind farms and a lot of solar electricity installed around the island and every week that passes, there’s more solar being installed so over time, electric cars become greener just because the grid is becoming greener. But the other thing is, even if they are charges just with fossil fuel electricity, they’re still more efficient because electric motors are super efficient and the electric grid itself is a lot more efficient than, say, a gasoline car engine by itself. Right? That makes sense so overall, even without the renewable energy it makes more sense but, like I said, over time, not just on Maui but everywhere, is becoming greener just because of all the renewable energy being installed, solar and wind. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Speaking of greener, we’ve got about four minutes left. You also own Maui Recycling. Is that the leading recycling company on the island of Maui? SHAUN STENSHOL: We’re the biggest recycling company on Maui. There’s a few other haulers but the other haulers, their main business is trash so we do a small amount of trash but the vast majority of our business is recycling. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How do you have the time? You’re running now a growing rental car company, up to sixteen cars. You own the largest recycling company on the island. I mean, my gosh! If someone deserves Sustainability of the Century Award, it’s you and how do you have the time to run both? SHAUN STENSHOL: It’s busy. You know, yeah, so I do what I can. JOHN SHEGERIAN: In regards to your growing Eco Rental Car Bio-Beetle- and for our listeners out there it’s www.Bio-Beetle.com – sixteen cars doesn’t get cheap. Are you raising money to grow this or are you just doing it organically from the profits you make? How is that working? SHAUN STENSHOL: Well, to date, we’ve done it organically. We’ve had some individuals who really like what we’re doing and they’ll give us lower interest loans than what we could get from, say, a bank but that’s really how we’ve operated ever since we began. We haven’t brought investors in yet and that’s something that could happen but yeah, we’re just kind of seeing where it goes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Two minutes left. What’s the future of Bio-Beetle? What’s your goal? What’s your dreams? What do you want to do with it? SHAUN STENSHOL: Well, we want to have cars on all four main islands, Kauai, Oahu, the big island, and Maui, of course, and possibly expand to the West Coast, at least. There’s certain cities on the west coast that would be a great fit for Bio-Beetle and then we just keep offering the most fuel efficient greenest cars that become available, whatever they might be. It could be hydrogen cars, who knows? The potential is enormous and I think that people like us who are committed to the environment first, we really have an opportunity because other companies, that’s just not their focus. Their focus is profit for the shareholders and obviously, we need to make money too to be successful but that gives us an edge that we’ll always have that focus on the greenest cars. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Any last thoughts? There’s a lot of young entrepreneurs out there, not only in the United States, but around the world because this show now gets broadcast everywhere. You’ve done this now from Greenpeace to Maui Recycling to Bio-Beetle Eco Rental Cars. You’re a serial sustainability superstar. Any final thoughts for the young people that want to be the next Shaun Stenshol? SHAUN STENSHOL: Well, they’ve got to follow their passion. In your life, ideally you want to do things that you enjoy doing and my advice is that most corporate business in the world is not focused on sustainability and so that means there’s enormous potential for people to say, ‘Here’s a business’. It could be any kind of business. They could say, ‘I want a biodiesel tow truck company’ or something like that. Just pick a business that is something you would like to do and make it green. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love it. That’s great. SHAUN STENSHOL: Just put everything you’ve got into it and make it work. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Your heart and soul. Well, obviously, you’ve made it work. Shaun, thank you for your time today. To learn more about Shaun or Bio-Beetle Rental Cars or rent his cars when you go to Maui, go to www.Bio-Beetle.com. Shaun Stenshol, you are a sustainability superstar. Thank you for your leadership for Bio-Beetle Rental Cars and Maui Recycling and you are truly living proof that green is good. SHAUN STENSHOL: Thank you.