People 26 July 2018
Maven is the new car rental service in town, and it has raced to the front of the automotive industry in record time. It provides an expeditious rental process by means of an app. Once you find a rental near you, instead of having to go through the hassle of signing paperwork on site and picking up keys from a desk, Maven allows you to unlock and access it with a simple few clicks on your phone. You can then connect your car to your phone so that you can play all of your favorite tunes or listen to your latest podcast obsession. At the end of your ride, you return your rental to wherever you picked it up, click “End Trip” in the app, and that’s it. It seems too good to be true.
"Maven was born because we saw a need, we saw a demand, and we saw people really in the cities asking for it"
Photo courtesy of maven.com
So who should we be sending our letters of gratitude to? Julia Steyn, the Vice President of Urban Mobility at Maven. Steyn dreamt of moving to the Big Apple to work on Wall Street after finishing up business school. A lofty dream, but she actualized that long-founded fantasy by joining Goldman. “I was obsessed with Wall Street movies, and so I was dreaming of coming to New York and was gung-ho about only going to one place,” Steyn explains. “That place was Goldman.” Steyn’s fantasy grew astronomically, as she worked for Goldman for seven years not only in New York City, but also in London, after she married her husband.
“To me it was always the challenges that were interesting. So with investment banking, every transaction is a new challenge. You learn all the time, and I love learning.”Her love for investment banking was then trumped by her love for advising and working on the client side of things, so she switched gears and ran corporate development at an aluminum company in NY. One shift led to another, and before she knew it, Steyn was agreeing—with some reluctance—to meet the General Motors (GM) management team in Detroit. “I was very skeptical,” Steyn admits, having no background in automotives. “I was like, ‘Well, cars, Detroit...I don’t know how I really feel about it.’” Steyn met with the previous CEO of GM to talk for two hours about its history, and as she describes it, they “basically held [her] hostage,” her new career trajectory initiated with rapidity.
“It’s really the best decision I’ve ever made because automotive has been on the cusp of so much change even in the six years I came to run a new team. It was fun to bring all these people who are deal makers inside the company, organize and build a completely new team, and really be on the cusp of corporate strategy.”
The idea for Maven was born two and a half years ago when Steyn thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we were partnering with some real-estate companies? Wouldn’t it be nice to have access to a vehicle just in your garage?” Based on all of her success, it’s clear that others thought that would be nice too. She worked with engineers and software developers to figure out the simplest thing to download onto your phone for reserving a car—efficient and seamless.
Steyn began testing the idea’s efficacy by putting a few cars in Manhattan with Stonehenge as a partner because they were looking to create new customer environments for renters. People from neighboring buildings grew interested in renting as well, so Steyn started the brand and gave it a name. “Well, I think the industries where you have hard assets that are idle and that sit idle like a house, or a vehicle, that is a perfect place to disrupt because you want your asset to work for you in a way,” Steyn says. “That’s something that you don’t want to stand your balance sheet for and so that’s how it really Maven was born because we saw a need, we saw a demand, and we saw people really in the cities asking for it.”
“Don’t shy away from a challenge. Even if you don’t succeed, you’re going to learn something. Also learn from challenging people around you because if you’re constantly coddled you don’t have room to grow. Having an opportunity to work with someone who is going to give you constructive criticism, it’s going to push you forward"
Fear not if you have strict preferences when it comes to automobiles. Maven offers electric cars, SUVs, compact cars, and sedans. If one of those suits your fancy and you’re in a travel bind, Maven could be your saving grace. It has locations in 15 major cities across the states, including Boston, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, DC.
“The majority of the population ends up living in cities and it’s so constrained you have a whole bunch of space constrained from parking to where you live, to where you eat. So, it ends up that you have to do it.”Maven is a subsidiary of GM, currently making GM the sole shareholder. “[GM] has funded us with millions of dollars over the years,” Steyn reveals. “So it has supported outgrowth. And we’re actually hugely additive to the core business because we’re tapping the audience that doesn’t interact with our brands.”
Out of there 6,000 vehicles, by the end of this year, a whopping 2,000 of them will be Electric. So ⅓ of Maven will be pushing for a more sustainable future with far less noxious gas emissions polluting the air, making Maven the largest electric fleet in the United States. Steyn believes that electric cars will eventually dominate the streets, though many U.S. cities are not conducive environments for that change. “We’ve been promoting the electric cars,” Steyn says. “In Boston there is only one fast charging system. So, working with cities to give them the preview, to be a procreator of what needs to happen for this to be adopted is a fascinating endeavor.”
Being a foodie, mom, pianist, and woman with wanderlust, Steyn has plenty of passions to pursue when she is not working. “I travel a lot now, personal and professional,” Steyn says. “I have a ten year old boy, and I was a concert pianist when I was young, so now I torture him with the piano. I also take my creative energy and put it into cooking. It’s really soothing.” Steyn is clearly a woman of many trades, eager to challenge herself in the workplace and outside of it. As a big believer in accepting challenges and not being deterred by the gripping fear of failure, Steyn offers fellow female entrepreneurs some advice. “Don’t shy away from a challenge,” she insists. “Even if you don’t succeed, you’re going to learn something. Also learn from challenging people around you because if you’re constantly coddled you don’t have room to grow. Having an opportunity to work with someone who is going to give you constructive criticism, it’s going to push you forward.”
Steyn took her own advice by jumping headfirst into entrepreneurial waters, brave and ready to face whatever challenges may come—and it did wonders for her. Maven’s success has granted her a rightful place of esteem in the automotive industry. Now Maven has over 130,000 customers and counting, growing 10x month over month this past year alone. One can only imagine the increase in growth and popularity to come as more city-dwellers search for the quickest way to rent.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.