Finally, relief for taxi users

  • MyTeksi to give passengers certainty of arrival and driver details
  • Product born out of a Harvard Business School business plan competition

Finally, relief for taxi users
IT may have a cute tagline -- MyTeksi, “so Seksi,” – but it was born out of a serious business plan competition that was part of a Harvard Business School program that three Malaysians happened to be attending last year.
To their surprise, the idea won second prize. That got the founding trio thinking that there could be some legs to their idea of giving long-suffering Malaysian customers a lot more certainty when hailing a taxi. No more lame excuses that come after you tell them where you want to go, or no more empty cabs driving by with the drivers seemingly oblivious to your furious arm signalling under the blazing sun.
But the three became two when it came to acting on the idea and then the two came up against reality.
One, Anthony Tan, had to heed the call of duty and join the family business while the other, Hooi Ling Tan, was on scholarship and had to fulfil her bond with top-tier management consultancy McKinsey & Co in one of its US West Coast offices. [Updated]
Finally, relief for taxi usersThis is where the two current co-founders came into the picture. Chew Wei Chuan (pic, right), an ex-McKinsey & Co and ex-General Electric manager, and Aaron Gill (pic, left), who runs his own software start-up and is the chief technology officer (CTO). [Edited]

In a unique arrangement, because both Chew and Aaron came in last September into the company, they have been promised a stake at the end of one year and a more substantial one at the end of four years. Chew is a colleague of the McKinsey-based founder.
Neither has put in any money and both will be earning salaries. The original founders have invested something to the tune of RM350,000. Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd also liked what it saw and awarded them an additional RM150,000 in funding.
This does not make their jobs any easier. The purpose of highlighting the background to their joining MyTeksi is to demonstrate that if the original founders cannot for some reason stay on the journey, there are ways to bring in other founders without breaking the bank or killing the dream!
Today the taxi-hailing mobile service, using smartphones, is operating with over 130 cabs, with Comfort Taxi stepping forward to be its pilot customer. Such has been the success of the pilot that Datuk Aslah Abdullah, chairman of Comfort Communication Sdn Bhd attended the media launch of MyTeksi earlier this week.
“We have been using MyTeksi since last September and passengers are happier with the better service they receive,” he says.
Comfort plans a full rollout of the service, touted as the country’s first hailing service. Others introduced before this have been booking services which typically happen in advance of needing a taxi.
Passengers are happier as they get a confirmation which includes taxi licence plate, name and handphone number of the driver, even estimated time of arrival and estimated fare.
Aaron tells Digital News Asia that MyTeksi had approached a number of cab companies last year to pilot the service but only Comfort was brave enough “to take the initial risk and pain that comes with all pilots.”
Timing also played a critical role as Comfort had been using the same booking system for 20 years to match passenger calls to drivers, and was looking to upgrade when MyTeksi came knocking. However the relationship with Comfort is not exclusive, Aaron is quick to clarify.
The business model is straightforward. “We do not charge the passenger but rather the taxi company and for independent drivers, via a pre-paid method with monthly deductions.”
For the drivers, the value of taking bookings via their smartphones has proven such a boon that some have started returning the radios they rent from the company. Depending on the cab company, these typically cost between RM120 to RM240 a month to rent, Aaron estimates.
Another surprise was that within a week of the drivers using their smartphones, they were telling MyTeksi about the various cool apps they were using. “Chief among them was Viber and kakoatalk, a What’sApp-like app but with emoticons. The drivers are now happily calling each other for free now,” he says.
In fact, Aaron says one driver, after getting his smartphone and setting it up, immediately made a call to his daughter studying in Australia. He had previously been unable to afford to do so regularly.
The smarphones are paid for by the drivers with MyTeksi installing the necessary app and optimising the phone for the app. “We get it cheaper for them as we bulk-buy. There is a two-hour training which includes lunch and the drivers are off and running.”
Finally, relief for taxi usersMaxis Bhd has also quickly positioned itself as “the technology partner for this innovative start-up,” says Fitri Abdullah (pic), head of Maxis Business Services.
“We were involved in providing technical and technology consulting from the business concept to technology development,” he adds.
MyTeksi approached all the telcos but it was Maxis that was the most eager to work with them, says Aaron.
On the app itself, Aaron says that it has been hard work getting the system to respond in real time. Months of development work went into the app with a further 10 months of refining the product during the time it went live with Comfort.
“It took 10 months to get the real-time solution working,” he says.
Preferring to be cautious, MyTeksi promises users a response within three minutes from the time they use the app to hail a cab from the comfort of their home, office or wherever they may be.
The request is relayed to a server which then looks for any taxi that is within a 5km range of the passenger. This is done using the GPS built into the cab driver’s smartphone. From the time a cabbie gets the prompt that they are within the vicinity of the customer, they have 30 seconds to respond -- after which they system automatically picks the taxi which is closest to the passenger.
Two things are important to note here. First, it is not the first driver who responds who gets the customer, it is the one who happens to be nearest. Second, the system picks the taxi and no human intervention or favoritism is involved.
“Something else that is very important is this – the drivers have to receive the alert almost simultaneously. Can you imagine if four drivers happen to be having teh tarik (pulled tea, a Malaysian favourite) and they get the alerts at different times? That would be the end of our business,” says Aaron.
MyTeksi has gotten around this with the 30-second response window and by picking one mobile network to work with. The app works on iOS and Android phones.

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