Can Amer Hasan’s taxi app hit £100m in revenue by 2020?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard about London’s bitter taxi wars.
From Uber’s astronomical rise to black cabbie protests to Transport for London’s rulings, the UK’s £5bn taxi market is abuzz with conflict.
Making his way through this transport minefield is Amer Hasan, founder of minicab-booking service Minicabit, who did a stint as a minicab driver himself while studying at London’s Imperial College in the mid-1990s.
He then went on to work as head of apps at Vodafone and as a data product manager at O2.
Come 2010 Hasan launched Minicabit which became the first app ever to win investment offers on Dragon’s Den.
Today, Minicabit collaborates with over 700 private hire operators across the UK, with fleets spanning over 40 UK cities.
Back in December, Minicabit raised £1.4m in funding with backers including Adrian McAlpine, partner at construction giant Sir Robert McAlpin, investment firm Hambro Perks and Oakley Capital.
The app has also secured big partnership deals including Heathrow and London City Airports, Barclays Pingit, the O2 Academy Group, and Big Yellow Storage.
Hasan’s big plan is hitting £100m in annual UK revenues by 2020. Can he do it? We asked him:
Q. How did you come with the idea of setting up Minicabit?
I’d spent nine years working in various digital roles for Vodafone Global and O2, so knew how huge the mobile internet and apps were going to be. However, I’d also done a stint during university as a backup minicab driver on evenings and weekends. So in 2010 I could see how customers were booking all their other travel modes (flights, trains) online yet the cab sector remained distinctly low tech, offline and with little transparency in how they priced their trips. So minicabit was born with a crusade to enable customers to save cost and hassle booking great deals from cab firms UK wide across web and app.
Q. Where did you get the funding from?
I’ve probably taken every (legal) source of funding except Bitcoin! I seeded the business myself, then took a small bank loan, after which we were one of the first UK investments that Telefonica O2’s Wayra accelerator made in 2012. I was then invited by a BBC scout to apply for BBC’s Dragons’ Den – whilst Minicabit was the first app to win investment offers on the show, we didn’t conclude the deal off camera. An angel fund stepped in, and then after the broadcast of my episode in the Den in early 2014, I had so many people wanting to invest in us (even our cab firms and customers), we ran a successful crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs to harness their support. Then at end of last year we attracted over £1.4m Series A investment from major investors such as Hambro Perks and Oakley Capital. All throughout, my approach has been to attract ‘smart capital’, people who can add value beyond just the cash.
Q. How did you convince private hires to join you?
Even though there was no real online cab booking sector when we started, the smart cab bosses realised their traditional channels of advertising in directories and calling cards on the doormat would soon fade out, especially with the rise of the smartphone generation. They also liked the fact that our comparison technology from the outset shows quotes from cab firms based by the customers’ destination, not just their pickup area. This means more choice for the customer but also more work outside the cab office’s local territory which they wouldn’t have got over the phone. So word of mouth amongst the fleets began to spread that Minicabit could keep their drivers busy with higher value fares all week versus just the peak evening and weekend business they’re used to.
Q. Tell us about your experience with Dragons’ Den – why did you refuse offers?
The build up to prepping for the pitch was more nerve-racking than being in the Den itself. It was great to have the three Dragons each battling to invest in us, and it ultimately made for great telly. However, as so often happens with the show, the deal they wanted (35% for £75,000 equity) wasn’t an easy one to get past my shareholders and so we amicably parted ways off camera. That said, my pitch was broadcast straight after the first episode of the new series of Top Gear, then repeated nights later when the London tube strike was on – we’ll be eternally grateful to BBC license payers for that support!
Q. Who are your biggest competitors?
Nowadays, some people think it’s Uber but our proposition is pretty different. Otherwise, despite all the noise in our sector, we estimate almost 90% of cab bookings still involve customers calling up a cab firm’s phone number from a card left on their doormat or fridge magnet. So the old, inefficient way of booking a cab is our main competition…and our opportunity.
Q. Give us three reasons passengers should choose you over Uber…
We compare fixed prices, often with flash sales, from over 700 cab fleets versus one metered (sometimes surging) price on Uber that typically works in more central areas. With us, you can pre-book single and return trips with multiple stops up to 12 months ahead. And you can use Minicabit on the web and mobile web, not just app.
Q. What can the next London mayor do to help your business?
For starters, don’t make the cab sector a political football that pits minicabs, black taxis and apps against each other. Instead, evangelise the positives on how we’re all keeping London moving. Secondly, he/she should push both minicab fleets and taxi drivers to embrace technology that efficiently serves customers, whether they use our platform or others. Mandating taxis to support card payments is a step in the right direction. Finally, encouraging London’s minicab firms to adopt more low/zero emission cars would fit well with our mission to spotlight this choice to customers, as we already Carbon Balance every trip taken with the World Land Trust.
Q. What do you intend to do with the £1.4m funding?
We already compare several hundred rated cab fleets across 40 cities around the UK , we want to expand that to over 1,000 fleets in every corner of the UK. One in five of our trips booked are for business, so we’re launching a range of features to make it even easier for businesses, large and small, to easily book regular and executive cabs for any length of trip.
Also, the likes of Heathrow Airport, London City Airport, The O2 Arena, Wembley Arena and Olympia exhibition hall already offer Minicabit on a white labelled basis. We have even more brands wanting to collaborate with us, so look out for more, deeper partnerships.
Finally, we tested an ad campaign inside the Tube over Christmas which was a hit, so you might come across the Minicabit brand in more places…
Q. What do you think about Transport for London (TfL) and their regulations? Are they friend or foe?
TfL has have done some really progressive things in the past such as launching contactless payments on public transport or opening up some of their data feeds. However, their approach to the cab sector is a mixed bag. The five-minute delay in ordering cabs was rightly rejected as ridiculous but any initiatives that improve driver training (such as speaking English) are to be welcomed.
Q. Will the Night Tube affect your business?
Not materially, since about half our business is outside the M25 and customers & businesses book with us week round. If anything, the changes might boost us given many customers will still like to take a cab home from the Tube station late at night.
Q. How do you plan to hit £100m in annual revenues by 2020?
Simple – offering more everywhere. We aim to compare almost anything on four wheels (except, perh
aps, prams) – so cabs, limos, minibuses. Also, more tools for cab fleets to offer their best fares for trips that customers and businesses would have thought to costly or hard to book. Given our record single trip so far is from Snowdonia in North Wales to Surrey, we’re evidently moving in the right direction!