Amer Hasan wasn’t always an entrepreneur. Before he introduced minicabit to the nation, he was at the helm of a digital wing at Vodafone.
Even then, Hasan noticed a market opportunity in the cab industry. Shedding his corporate armour for the life of an entrepreneur, Hasan talks us through his growth journey and what he’s learned along the way.
How did it all begin?
Having been head of apps and internet partnerships for Vodafone globally, I knew the digital space well and noticed how established the travel space was on web and mobile. On top of that, I also had the benefit of having real-life experience in the cab industry, having worked as a backup cab driver on evenings and weekends during my time at University. Even back then, I noticed cabs were under-utilised yet overpriced for out of town trips, with little price transparency for customers and the cab fleets.
So in 2010, I was itching to set up my own cab price comparison company that addressed the technology and digital issues as well as addressed the market for the 30 million out-of-town cab trips taken every year.
Why did you decide to bootstrap your business in its early days?
When minicabit started in 2010, the funding landscape was quite different – corporate accelerators, crowdfunding and tax incentives to seed investment in start-ups were very nascent. So I decided to fund the business myself which certainly provided even more motivation to succeed!
I was approached by investors in my first year but decided to hold out for more suitable offers from those who could really understand our mission and passion beyond just the value of the deal. It was important for me to secure the right backers who could add expertise and contacts, as well as financial support.
I’m pleased to say this approach has paid off and I was excited when last year Hambro Perks, Oakley Capital, KKR buyout boss Dominic Murphy and Marek Gummieny, ex-Chairman of Candover Partners all invested in minicabit.
What was the best business decision you have made so far?
This would have to be the decision to establish a UK-wide platform, rather than just focusing on a select number of big cities. minicabit now compares cab quotes from over 800 licensed Cab Operators across 300 UK towns and cities – that’s over one in eight of the market. Building on this, we’ve also introduced a pet-friendly option on our booking platform and low-emission Tesla cabs for those who want to show their green side.
What was the biggest challenge you have faced?
The toughest challenge I’ve had to overcome was convincing key stakeholders to embrace our vision – it took us months, even years to convince some sceptics. Right from the start, I engaged with key concert arenas and airports to offer minicabit’s booking platform on their website and app.
Whilst we attracted the likes of Blenheim Palace and London City Airport as partners way back, it took longer than I initially expected for Heathrow, Big Yellow Storage, Portsmouth Port and others to offer minicabit. It was finally when we were able to demonstrate the customer shift towards online cab booking that we turned them around and formed such successful partnerships – and they still continue today.
A lot of industry experts call Uber the cab-killer. What’s your opinion?
The term ‘sharing economy’ only started gaining traction 2 years ago, and the concept is fast becoming the norm for millennials and younger generations. I think its central idea – that it is about commerce and human connections – is very dynamic in nature and has meant players across different sectors and industries have had to be even more agile, but safeguards must be in place to protect the customer and supplier.
I don’t see Uber as a negative force as they’ve brought real competition to what was a pretty complacent cab sector. But I can see areas where our attitude and approach differs, and even markets that appear as crowded as the cab sector can still present opportunities for newcomers.
minicabit differentiates itself from Uber in so many ways – from price comparison to a strong web presence, flash sales pricing models, to UK wide pre-booking available beyond city centres – so we can carve our own niche in this competitive market.
What’s next for minicabit?
We’re always looking for ways to innovate and introduce new services and products for our customers. We recently launched ‘chauffeurit’, a premium transport service which enables customers to travel in style and comfort from a Mercedes S Class or even a Rolls Royce. Until now, customers, business and Executive car fleets in the UK have missed out on the online innovations seen in the cab sector. And given that one in five of our bookings are for business, launching chauffeurit formed part of our wider strategy to extend our platform and business model into further high growth areas.
We’ve also announced our commitment to ensuring 25 per cent of the cab fleets on our platform have low/zero emissions by 2020. minicabit has always had an ethos to build an environmentally sustainable business, and it’s really satisfying to see such high customer demand for eco-friendly travel in the UK too. Our YouGov survey showed that nearly 50 per cent of consumers would book an eco-friendly cab over a non-eco friendly cab if given the choice; this figure is even higher for millennials. Longer term, our vision is for the entire cab industry’s vehicles to be low/zero emission, and introducing Model S Tesla cabs onto our platform is the first step in fulfilling our pledge.
What about the prospect of driverless cars? How will it affect the cab industry?
There’s no denying that driverless cars can be a game changer, but this need not spell out the death of the cab industry. In reality, as the conversation around driverless technology starts to mature, I think cab companies are well positioned to respond and even collaborate.
In the short term, driverless cars won’t kill off the premium appeal of customer service. In much the same way that customers will still queue up to pay for higher quality coffee served by a barista at a café rather than a cheap vending machine, taxi cabs can offer the best customer service to those vast segments of consumers who still want the human touch.
We also have to bear in mind that there will be a long transition period to a driverless car future, and this transition won’t happen overnight. It will be a slow process over many years and at a differing pace across various cities and countries. It may not even work in some places. Something else to keep in mind is that while the technology might be ready now, road designs and traffic systems today are built around the needs and behaviours of human drivers. Driverless cabs will be so new to the market, they will perhaps only take on low value, repetitive cab fares on low traffic routes, such as the £5 fare between a business park and its nearby rail station. Whereas the more complicated routes that need a trusted driver will still be taken up by ‘driven’ cabs.
Looking even further ahead – perhaps 15 years from now – the role a cab driver plays day-to-day may change. Certain segments of society may still pay for the reassurance of a ‘driven’ car, a human cab driver behind the wheel, such as families or the elderly where the cab driver could help customers into and out of their car.