Minicabster: How to drive towards success in a competitive market

October 13, 2014 10:26 am The UK Domain

With technology constantly evolving and competition becoming fiercer, what do tech startups need to do to bring their ideas to life and get noticed in a busy marketplace?

Leading UK cab booking app, Minicabster has seen remarkable growth since its beginnings in 2011. Today the business has 300,000 users with numbers rapidly rising as it expands across the UK. Head of technology for Minicabster, Irshad Khan, has had hands-on experience working with a number of successful tech startups including Just-Eat (an online food takeaway ordering service, set up in the UK and now operating in 13 countries across the globe). He shares his advice on how to succeed in such a competitive industry.

Tell us about Minicabster

“Minicabster revolutionises the traditional way of booking minicabs by using the power of your smartphone. It is a price comparison and booking app, putting busy people in touch with over 10,000 minicabs across major cities in the UK. The app provides an instant list of competitive minicab quotes and with the tap of a finger the user can book their journeys according to a price and time that suits them. They can also pre-pay which means there’s no need to carry around a huge amount of cash with you to cover your cab fare.”

What attracted you to work with Minicabster?

“I could see that Minicabster was an exciting startup to work on as it was helping to solve two problems: how to make it easier for the customer to get a cab, as well as giving cab drivers across the UK a useful tool to gain new business and stay competitive in an ever-developing mobile age. It also opened a new field in the market as it focused entirely on minicabs, as opposed to other startups, which operated for black cabs. A successful tech startup doesn’t have to launch with a brand-new idea. It can come from an already existing one as long as it offers a way to take that idea further, challenging the status quo to make it bigger and better. When you can identify that quality in a startup, like I did with Minicabster, you know you’re onto a good thing.”

Before getting involved with a tech startup what should you consider?

“I always ask myself three questions:

1. Who is or will be part of the management and investor team?
“A tech startup should ideally be supported not just by passionate and competent founders, but also by a tech investor with relevant industry experience. Investors who have experience in the tech world are familiar with product development procedures and often contribute a strong network of useful contacts. Collaborating business advisors like to know that there is a wealth of experience among the existing management team. I prefer to work with entrepreneurs who already have experience in starting up businesses, but if I can see that someone inexperienced is product focused and passionate about a strong idea, then I will set up an investors board and management team from my own tech network.”

2. What problem does the business solve?
“Although there were similar apps for small groups of local licensed black cabs and mini cabs when we started, the UK taxi market still presented problems that needed to be solved. There wasn’t a strong pricing data aggregator (the process of transforming scattered pricing data from numerous sources into a single useable source) that operated nationally and there wasn’t an app that functioned efficiently for minicabs. Minicabster offered a simple solution to these two gaps in the market by introducing an app that allows customers to book minicabs across major cities in the UK and using the data to learn from the market.”

3. Is there potential for future growth?
“A tech startup must have the potential to expand beyond its roots. Before joining Minicabster I did some research and found that in 2013, the Private Hire/Hackney Carriage market was worth in excess of £8 billion in the UK alone, which showed that it was already a very popular space to invest and suggested that the business, if executed correctly, had huge potential. The taxi market spans the globe, so I was very confident that Minicabster had potential for growth. The business has already expanded beyond London to Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester. We aim to continue to expand so we can provide coverage across every corner of the country, before we look to expand internationally in 2016.”

What challenges do tech startups often face?

“It’s really vital for first-time tech entrepreneurs to get help and advice from top technical business advisors and investors, but sometimes this can be a challenge. Startups are often unable to pay the high recruitment fees involved in hiring a high-level head of technology to help with their business. The best way to work around this is to network. Attend as many tech events as you can, from small student fairs to grand Silicon Roundabout social events and make as many contacts as you can.

As a tech startup you will also find challenges in finding the right partnerships for your business. While building Minicabster our major issue related to setting up the payment service provider. We wanted to ensure maximum security for our customers when paying for journeys through the app, which meant we had to eventually migrate to a much more robust payment service provider. This was a more costly process but meant a better and safer product for our customers. Lastly, remember every business hits a technical challenge, but how you deal with it is key to your startup success.”

What are your top tips for tech startups?

  1. “Ensure the product is easy to use. Know your audience and remember that not all generations are tech savvy – the product needs to be intuitive so that anyone can use it without having to think about it. If your gran, mum, friends and neighbour can use it, you’re on the road to success. But if it requires a guided tool, you may need to go back to the drawing board.”
  2. “Get there first. A matter of weeks can make a huge difference, so work fast to ensure that you release the product on the market before your competitors do.”
  3. “Customer service is key. It’s easy to get engrossed in the day-to-day technical side of the business, so make sure you don’t overlook the long-term success factors like customer service. Be diligent in maintaining customer loyalty by going above and beyond with your service.”

For further tips and advice on how other startups and entrepreneurs have excelled in today’s challenging market, read our blogs here.

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