Recent college graduates often leave their institutions with a diploma, a massive amount of debt, and hopefully a job from nine to five. But instead of looking for a stable office job, three College of Charleston grads decided to start their own solar-powered golf cart taxi business, Golden Sun Taxi.
Matthew Coda, Jake Cotreau, and Taylor Denny originally came up with the idea during the fall semester of their senior year in 2013, when they took an entrepreneurship class together. "We all came together and wanted to do something more than a class project," says Coda. "We really want to do something that will make a difference and be a good business for us. We did the majority of it outside of class. It would be a few times a week, we would work on it. By the time we graduated, we had everything in place to start it."
But the guys didn't go it alone. Business professor Todd Ericsson helped them during the planning phase. Coda, Cotreau, and Denny would meet with Ericcson for hours outside of the classroom to discuss aspects of starting up the business. "We wouldn't be here without him. That was one of our biggest mentors, I'd say," Cotreau says.
Then they met with the school's Office of Sustainability. "They kind of threw out the idea of solar panels," Cotreau says.
"It helps us go an extra 20 to 30 miles if we're using it on a whole battery charge," Coda says.
Golden Sun Taxi currently has three golf carts with seven seats — eight including the driver seat. The carts have practically everything that a car has (except for the ability to go above 35 mph), such as seat belts, mirrors, headlights, turn signals, and license plates.
While their business plan evolved to become more sustainable, they also had to change their ideal location. The plan was to start the golf cart taxi business downtown, but that idea was halted by red tape from the City of Charleston. "It's a little bit of a hard market to get involved in. There's a case already where another guy tried to start a golf cart taxi, but he just showed up with golf carts and didn't go through anyone," says Cotreau. "They made an ordinance after that for no golf cart taxis, and you can't bring it up around any councilman right now because they're just like 'Nope.'"
The downtown idea fizzled, so the trio turned their sights to Folly Beach. Coda, Cotreau, and Denny aren't getting too comfortable on Folly, though — they still plan on expanding their services downtown. "Downtown is our biggest goal right now," Coda says. "We're shutting this down on the off season because there's not enough demand on Folly during the winter months. We're still working on which months it's going to be. But that's what we're going to work on during the off-season is expanding it — trying to outreach to people downtown."
For right now, Golden Sun Taxi is becoming a presence on Folly Beach as the trio shuttle tourists and party-goers to where they need to be. The boys originally thought their service would be the busiest during the day when beachgoers flock to the area, but the night-life on Folly has brought Golden Sun Taxi the most business. Because there are no sidewalks on Folly, Cotreau says it is dangerous for anyone to walk home late at night, especially if they've been drinking.
Coda, Cotreau, and Denny are on-call at night until 3 a.m. and then begin their day at 8 a.m. "It's tough, but we rotate. So it's not like we're always working the morning shift," Cotreau says.
But the guys don't have too many complaints. "We're just starting out, so we have to sacrifice some of our free time and sleep," says Denny. "So far, it's been fun though. Even waking up early, sometimes you hate it, but you're kind of glad you're up and out on the golf cart versus filing paperwork in a cubicle."
Coda adds, "It's never too bad. All you have to do is go out and drive a golf cart in nice Folly Beach weather."