Start-up Q&A: Jay Bregman, Hailo

The eCourier founder is back with a new business: Hailo. Here's how Bregman's shaking up the taxi industry and making the old-fashioned 'arm out' a thing of the past.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

Jay Bregman founded hi-tech delivery firm eCourier back in 2003 with his pal Tom Allason. The business completely reinvented the way that parcels and letters were delivered in London. But now Bregman and Allason have moved on to new projects: Allason to Shutl, a new kind of delivery firm that can deliver a retail order in under 90 minutes, and Bregman to Hailo, a virtual hailing app for taxi drivers and consumers. MT caught up with Bregman at Le Web to find out more about his start-up - and how it feels to have a second bite at the cherry.

MT: What is Hailo, in a nutshell?

Jay: Hailo is an app that lets you virtually hail a cab from your phone. 'Two taps to taxi,' we like to say. We are a service for every cab driver and everyone who takes cabs. So, virtually the entire population.

Are you up and running already?

Yes we are. The first cab was hailed through the app on November 1, 2011, and we now have 20% of London's 23,000 cabbies on our books. Our soft launch in London has been such a success that we've already expanded: we currently have 1,000 cabs in Dublin, and are working on Hailo New York, Boston and Toronto.

Why are cabbies signing up? What's in it for them?

This is the beauty of Hailo. We realised that in order to give the consumer a great taxi experience, we had to really service the drivers themselves. So, for taxi drivers, Hailo is a social network, as well as being a payment and productivity tool.

With the app, drivers can take card payments quickly and easily, without charging passengers an extra 12.5% like many of the existing payment technologies. The app also lets them record targets. Many cabbies think, 'Right, I need to make £200 before I can clock off this shift' and then keep a diary and pencil in their fares. The app does this in real time. It can also generate hints about where to go to be more efficient, showing which taxi ranks are empty, and which areas to avoid because of slow-moving traffic.

And what's the social element?

Cabbies can share events and facts about the city that are relevant to other drivers. This creates an up-to-the-minute live traffic feed. We get updates before the BBC does. And drivers also share high-demand hotspots. If there are 30 people waiting outside the Royal Albert Hall, this will be shared. And we've found that drivers really do like to help one another. Their candle doesn't burn any less bright because they're helping their fellow cabbies.

How do you convince old-school drivers, still hanging onto their Nokia 3210, to upgrade to smartphone? 

Cab drivers in London are remarkably technology-forward. More than 60% already have a smartphone. And we support both Android and iPhone, so it doesn't matter which platform they choose.

What's your business model?

It's pretty flexible - each city is different. In London, fares are pretty high compared to Chicago, say. So we take a 10% commission on each fare. It works because Hailo creates more opportunities, which means more money for cabbies. Without Hailo, taxi drivers can experience 30-50% downtime. We are creating $0.5m in incremental fares for them every week. Those a paying customers that they could not have found without us. 

In the US, where fares are lower, customers may be charges a virtual hailing fee instead. We're still working out what works best.

Why do you think Hailo will be a success?

This is a globally scalable business and, now that the app is developed, our overheads stay relatively low. Virtual hailing could completely change people's behaviour. Women don't have to stand on dark streets at night waiting for a yellow light. She can hail a nearby cab instantly from the party and see it moving towards her on the app, in real time. We have also been a huge hit with people with disabilities that don't want to pound the streets looking for a cab.

You've already founded one successful business. Does that put you under additional pressure to succeed with this one?

Entrepreneurship is like childbirth, if you really remembered it you’d never do it again. As an entrepreneur, you tend to gloss over the times you couldn't raise money, when everyone was saying no, the times you couldn’t make people believe, or the guy wouldn’t take the job. Disappointment is the byproduct of high expectations.

But this probably won't be the last time I start a business. The world is an unbelievably inefficient place. I feel fuelled by a desire to try and find ways to try and make markets more efficient and available. So my work will never be done...

Find out more about Hailo

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