VOL. 131 | NO. 157 | Monday, August 8, 2016
Former Start Co. Company Expands to Help Taxis Take on Uber and Lyft
By Andy Meek
Helping legacy taxi cab companies compete against entrenched ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft was always going to be an uphill battle for Cabsolutely, a startup that went through one of the Start Co. accelerators in Memphis in 2014.
A few years on, though, from graduating from the Upstart accelerator, which focuses on women-led enterprises, Cabsolutely is still plugging away and signing up partners for its technology that’s meant to help cab companies become more competitive.
The latest news is the company, which lets riders request cabs on demand and pay for rides using their smartphones, has expanded to Oklahoma City via a partnership with a company called Thunder Cab. The startup brings a cloud-based taxi dispatch and rider app to bear for companies like Thunder Cab, with a goal of helping them compete against the major on-demand ride-hailing services that have upended the personal transportation industry.
The company expanded to Oklahoma City after also partnering with three fleets in Nashville and processing more than 51,000 rides so far. “Don’t just compete with Uber and Lyft,” the company encourages taxi cab companies on its website, www.cabsolutely.co – “Beat them.”
Co-founder Virag Reti is quick to point out that it was the act of going through the Upstart accelerator that helped get the Cabsolutely team into the position it finds itself today.
“Back then, we only had an idea,” Reti said about her startup, which for cab fleets has a cloud-based dispatch infrastructure that provides a real-time view of all cabs on the road.
For riders, payment information is securely encrypted, and Cabsolutely also does not implement the surge pricing model sometimes used by ride-sharing apps during busy times.
“(Start Co.) helped us make an idea an actual business that generates money,” Reti said. “We learned how to test our idea and pivot our idea. How to make sense of the business plan. They also taught us how to tell our story. How to pitch.”
The Upstart accelerator that Reti and her crew went through is one of several similar Start Co. programs narrowly tailored to specific kinds of entrepreneurs. They also include programs for entrepreneurs focused on software and hardware as a service for enterprise customers, as well as a social impact accelerator focused on businesses that address challenges in the Memphis metro area.
The teams in each accelerator get access to mentors, industry partners and investment capital, among other things. The programs also culminate in a Demo Day, at which the teams pitch their ideas to investors.
Cabsolutely started a full dispatch system rollout after initial tests of the service that started in Memphis. The platform is currently live in Nashville and Oklahoma City.
That, said Reti, is because the company is trying to start at the moment with midsized, midmarket cities where it can have a greater impact. But she’s thinking much bigger: “Long-term, we’d like to put our technology in all the available taxi fleets not just in the U.S. but all around the world.”
Cab companies have been losing passengers to alternative services over the last few years as ride-hailing ventures rose in popularity. With Cabsolutely’s service, users open the app and use the “request ride” button to call the closest cab to their location. After the cab picks them up and takes them to their destination, the user pays from the app, so no cash or credit card is exchanged – just like companies like Uber and Lyft.
Which is one reason traditional tax cab services are starting to respond to the company’s technology. Jaffar Najam, president and CEO of Thunder Cab in Oklahoma City, said working with Cabsolutely was essentially a no-brainer, and that Reti’s team “was quick to merge our company’s vision and needs into their functional system.”