A few years ago, back in 2009 to be precise, taxi drivers in London (that’s the real-deal kind, the ones with the “knowledge”, not the guys with an Uber hire car and smartphone satnav), had a problem.
Why am I telling you this? Because, back in 2009, 3 drivers, in true intrepid Hipster, Hacker & Hustler style, upon realising they had a problem, set out to find a solution! On Tuesday night, one of those three, Russ Hall, was at Google Campus to tell us all about it – the perfect intro to our first GaP->GaS (Got a Problem -> Get a Solution) of the year!
Russ and his two colleagues saw the future – and the future was tech. At their own personal expense, they brought 2 developers into their team and built an app they called Taxi-Lite – the idea was to match taxi drivers with nearby fares; instead of scouring the streets of London searching for that final fare, drivers could connect with passengers looking to travel the same way the cabbie was headed.
Shades of Uber – in its way Taxi-Lite was way ahead of its time – but investors were hard to find. Russ pitched Peter Stringfellow while he was in the back of his cab; he tried applying to appear on Dragon’s Den. Finally, around the time of the 2012 London Olympics, he was approached by James Caan who wanted to invest – but by then it was too late.
In a coffee shop in 2010 the team of 3 cabbies found the three investors / businessmen who could really make the difference to their business; Taxi-Lite became Hailo, and over the course of the next few years the team worked out of a boat moored on the Thames near to Somerset House, then Somerset House itself, visited number 10 Downing Street (David Cameron calls Russ “Mr Hailo”, apparently), and attracted investment from the likes of Skype and Atomico founder Nikolas Zennstrom.
And that was just the beginning – since the first investment Hailo has been active across the East Coast of America, in New York, Boston, Montreal and Toronto – taking on the might of Uber – and in Tokyo, Barcelona and Madrid.
Today Hailo has more than 80k registered drivers across the world, 2.1m registered users, and a Hailo cab is booked every 2 seconds, somewhere on the planet. That’s an incredible achievement by anyone’s standards, and Russ, the gentleman entrepreneur to a tee, spoke emotionally of the debt he owes to his wife for sticking by him through all of tough times and whist he was away travelling for long periods. The journey, he says, is only just beginning; there’ll be more ups and downs, says Hall, but “life is life”.
We hear you Russ, and entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs!
Such an incredible and inspiring story really got our first GaP->GaS off to a flying start. But wait, that was only half of the evening’s entertainment – read on to discover more about some of the issues our beloved HHH founders are experiencing; maybe you’ve been experiencing the same thing and you’re looking for answers; maybe you or your company can help?
The New Forbes?
So first up in lieu of a couch (we did project a picture of one!) we gave the stage to Eugene, of The Yellow Generation. The Yellow generation celebrates young and ambitious entrepreneurs, like Reza Merchant, property developer and founder of The Collective, or Michael Hammond, founder of Property TV.
Founder Eugene wants The Yellow generation to have a similar profile to the Forbes 30 Under 30 lists – a touch of glamour combined with a real tangible benefit of making the list. “How can I do it?”, he asked our audience.
Audience member Steve noted that Forbes, for example, never uses the word “young” – they see it as an almost derogatory term – if you have entrepreneurial blood coursing through your veins – who cares what age you are! – sage advice, Steve. Respect.
Many more suggestions were forthcoming; use MeetUp, Eventbrite, Social media to boost your presence and make more people aware of your mission; don’t be afraid to share – the stage, events, media coverage – approach people you want to work with and give them, as well as yourself, an opportunity to shine. If you keep Paying It Forward, The Good Will eventually Out.
Next up we met Lucas, trying to promote an app that helps kids learn English as a second language – nearly 50% of London kids do not speak English as a first language, so there definitely a market here – but how can Lucas develop relationships with the primary schools he would most like to work with?
This one is easy if you know how, and this being a GaP->GaS, somebody obviously did! You can reach primary schools most easily by approaching local councils, working with them, sitting in on meetings – they can provide you with lists of local primary schools, introductions, and help ensure that decision makers will sit down with you and listen to your proposals. Big thanks to this (sadly unnamed) HHH’er. We hope to celebrate you in person next time!
Salman was running a marketplace 4 events whilst also working for Amazon to cover expenses – his founding team of three has hit a problem – one of the three left the day to day to have a baby, and seems to have lost interest in the project; what should / can they do?
This is an emotive one; regular Andrew felt that the time could be right to negotiate this co-founder’s exit from the business; perhaps she has just lost the passion since her life circumstances have changed? Others disagreed – how about working on a new deal, on that requires she contribute less in the short term but with the possibility left open for her to return to the team full time when she is ready to take on more work.
Give her more time, she has only been a mother 2-3 months! Hear hear, don’t start slicing up the pie just yet, says us.
More customers, please!
Al and Nina produce 90 second videos through their content company – they have built a big team, and now they need more work – how can they do it?
What’s unique about your service? Find out what it is current customers love about you and use that to create the right story about who you are and what you do. Love it! Check your pricing, warned another audience member – keep it between £500-£2k per video – sounded like a plan to us, also.
Burning the midnight Oil
Rob is working at a banks by day, creating his own start-up, Kite 9, by night. It’s a FinTech disruptor – Rob reckons he has the skillset to build the tools the financial industry needs to make it better again. But he needs funding and a proper start-up plan – where does he turn?
Obviously, to HHH in the first instance! Escape The City might be worth checking out, from a cultural re-adjustment perspective, but we also liked “take someone important who can help you out, out for dinner and pepper them with questions”, and “check out London’s accelerators”, like Level 39, Barclays Techstars and Startup Bootcamp.
We also rather liked this piece of advice from long time attendee and enthusiastic contributor Andrew L; “Don’t become a cost centre in your organisation – you can’t get anywhere in tech so long as you keep your mouth shut!” spoken like a true mentor, Andrew, you can put the sizzle in anyone’s steak!
Contacts, contacts, contacts
Sadly (sniff!) there was only time for one more piece of problem solving; Muriel. Muriel has developed a marketing, sales platform and booking platform for networkers who want to stay in touch after an event, and make the night last a little longer. What kinds of contacts should she be out looking for?
Facebook, MailChimp, Survey Monkey – all three platforms are the marketers friend – overheads are relatively low and it’s a great way to find out who feels what about your project. Are they willing to engage with you – the above services will tell you. As for the contacts themselves, well you may just have to scrape the web for that – it takes time, but it’s oh-so valuable!
Also (there’s always a suggestion from way out of leftfield every time we put this event on ; )), before you go too far on the project, take the “Mum test”.
Books have been written about it – the Mum test, explain it to your Mum and if she thinks it’s a good idea, then, well, it probably is. But more importantly, if she understands it and likes it, it means you must be pitching it right!
Remember, in the startup world, you’re better off asking Mum than keeping Mum. Say it loud: I’m lean, agile, and proud!
Another tremendous GaP->GaS folks – roll on next month – and make sure you don’t miss out on out next event on Tuesday 12th April – it’s called “f*ck up nights; Stories of horrifying start-up failures!” But don’t worry, in the bosom of HH, you’ll always be as safe as you want to be ; )
Keep on hustlin’