Posted on November 11, 2019 by staff

How iCabbi is leading fightback against Uber


‘Tech disrupters’’are often held up as shining examples of companies which are shaking up business sectors for the better.

In FinTech digital banks such as Monzo blaze a trail in showcasing new products and services, forcing traditional banks to play catch-up in meeting customers’ climbing expectations. But disruptive force can bring negative as well as positive change.

When Uber launched in the UK in late 2015, it heralded a sea-change in how people navigated the urban environment. But the ‘move fast and break things’ philosophy also posed serious questions around passenger safety, fair pay and unfair competition, eventually leading to its licence being temporarily suspended in the capital.

At the time of writing, it continues to operate under a temporary licence from Transport for London, while its losses are in the billions after an underwhelming stock market debut.

But what if you could take the seamless booking and rapid dispatch experience brought to the market by Uber into established taxi companies which are trusted by the population? Step forward iCabbi.

“In the taxi world, Uber and Lyft have disrupted the whole sector and brought massive change,” Philip Macartney (pictured below), head of marketplace at the Dublin-headquartered dispatch platform, tells BusinessCloud.

“iCabbi have found a space where it can help the local taxi and private hire companies really take this fight back. It has revolutionised the industry.”

Founded in 2009 by Gavan Walsh, Bob Nixon and Niall O’Callaghan, iCabbi provides taxi fleets in Europe and North America with cloud-based dispatch technology along with customer and driver apps as well as intelligent voice assistants. These local firms, which pay iCabbi per driver, per week on a subscription basis, may well be operating in places where Uber isn’t even available.

“They can be anything from 50-2,000 drivers in size,” says Macartney. “You can’t just expect local businesses, which have operated in a successful way for so long, to just ‘get’ innovation and change overnight. You have to bring them on a journey and prove each part of the journey is working for them.

“We start off with getting them more rides; improving the passenger experience; then helping them to understand services that might get them more drivers, and help them retain the drivers; have safer, happier drivers; then we might look at their back office and their processes.

“So over the space of two or three years, we’ll work with them to innovate in their town or region.”

Marketplace is iCabbi’s open source innovation arm which launched in May and is headed up by Macartney. It brings the partnerships API model popularised by digital banks to the mobility space with 53 commercial partners live at the time of writing. In essence, it looks at the most important developments in customer expectations, assesses the companies which are delivering them most effectively and plugs the service into iCabbi.

“We open it up and say ‘the best idea wins the day’,” explains Macartney. “For example we have smart data-led insurance, which allows taxi drivers to pay for insurance based on when they’re a taxi driver and not pay for it when they’re not.

“There are booking aggregators which push bookings directly into taxi fleets without the need for any receptionist, such as from the NHS or airlines.

“We’ve got a solution where you can watch your child being picked up from school in the taxi and taken right the way through the journey all the way to the front door. That could also be useful for more vulnerable people in society, such as those with mental disabilities.

“We’ve also got a brilliant partner which utilises taxi drivers’ time to do deliveries for the likes of the Co-op or Amazon. This is utilising cars on the road, and maximising the earning potential for drivers.

“It’s a really bold move and we’ve been very successful so far. We’re bringing these services and new ways of thinking to the industry to help them build their businesses to move into the 21st Century. It’s creating such a buzz that our rivals are now starting to make marketplaces as well. Imitation is the best form of flattery so I’m quite happy about that.”

In June 2018 Groupe Renault took a 75 per cent stake in the business as part of a strategic partnership while iCabbi has opened a development hub in Montréal alongside its base in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. Its total headcount is now almost 150, with around half involved in product R&D.

This year the company surpassed 500 million bookings on its platform, with CEO Walsh publicly targeting a billion within two years. It currently handles 750,000 bookings a day and is used by 75,000 vehicles. iCabbi says it now powers 40 per cent of the enterprise taxi market in the UK and lists eight of the top 16 companies as clients.

“It’s been a stratospheric rise to dominancy – not just in the UK and Ireland, but Europe, the US, Canada and Australia,” says Macartney. “An enormous amount of money is being invested in the mobility sector.

“When Renault effectively bought iCabbi, that really changed the landscape in terms of how iCabbi saw the world. So now instead of scrapping with some of these players over dominancy in the dispatch arena, iCabbi was able to take a broader view of the sector and say, actually, our mission should be to put taxis at the centre of mobility.”

Macartney, who is currently overseeing launches around the world, is quick to dismiss the possibility of autonomous vehicles taking away taxi jobs any time soon.

“There may be autonomous vehicles in San Francisco or San Diego now, but there’s no licensing for them, they’re incredibly limited, and there’s no uptake for them,” he explains.

“So let’s say it takes 15 years for even the notion of autonomous vehicles to start in tight urban areas in the UK. Look at the surrounding areas of a city like Newcastle: how many other places need to be mapped, tried and tested for autonomous vehicles to rival your firm’s coverage?

“But more importantly, you’re always going to need someone to operate those vehicles: they need to be dispatched, there needs to be someone overseeing customer service, customer satisfaction, and there needs to be someone cleaning them. Just because it’s the future it doesn’t mean people aren’t going to be getting kebabs on a Saturday night in Newcastle – you know they will be!

“This vision of the future, no one really knows it yet. But the more you look at it, the more you can see our role in it – and the local operators’ role as well.

“I think that the sort of scary Death Star type scenario of Uber and Google just rolling out cars all over the place, while it makes for a good movie, in practicality terms, it doesn’t really exist.”