Kabbee: Phil Makinson
The entrepreneur on raising brand awareness and developing a service for the discerning contemporary customer
Tell us what your business does:
Kabbee is a price comparison and booking service for minicabs in Greater London. It is like Expedia, but for London minicabs, with more marketplace functionality for the fleets and passengers. We will be adding black taxis to our service very soon.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
We had experience in the sector and had witnessed the growth of GPS and smartphone apps, which meant a better quality service could now be leveraged to passengers in a more efficient way.
How did you know there was a market for it?
The London cab market is worth around £3bn a year; almost everyone uses a cab at some stage.
The market is fragmented so any service that can cover London and offer value would be useful. Kabbee’s unique selling point is that no other service aggregates supply and offers instant price comparison and a choice of ways to pay.
Kabbee will remain differentiated by adding more functionality (for consumers and businesses), new fleets and increasing integration with our partner fleets.
What were you doing before starting up?
I worked in industry, start-ups and finally consulting in the mobile/media space. It was hard to leave my job but too good an opportunity to miss.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I always wanted to work for a consumer start-up that solved an ‘everyday’ problem.
Being my own boss was not a huge motivator, but the ability to work in a small and fast-moving environment, with experienced and talented colleagues, was appealing.
What planning did you do before you started up?
As my colleagues were sector experts, limited market research was needed; although we did some, to support launching to the public.
The main challenge was to sign up fleet operators (supply) when there was no existing demand. Their advice and feedback was useful to refine the proposition.
How did you raise the money?
The money was raised from the founders and high net-worth contacts. Almost no-one rejected the opportunity, which was great.
How did you find suppliers?
We needed to speak to leading fleets all over London, so where we did not already know these, we found them through research or asking other suppliers.
What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them?
The two main challenges were explaining and promoting the product, to create demand, and ensuring quality of service.
We introduced the product to the market through PR, our website and sustained direct and display marketing. We ensured quality of service by having 24/7 monitoring, detailed performance analysis, strong interaction with customers (ratings, customer service, surveys) and tight enforcement of service level agreements and penalties.
Where is your business based?
The business is based in a small office where the whole team work, at least four days a week.
How have you promoted your business?
We used a combination of direct marketing (for example, street promos, mailshots) and display (tube/bus/train adverts, mobile advertising and online advertising/search engine optimisation/pay-per-click). Tube advertising was effective in helping to establish brand awareness.
How much do you charge?
Kabbee is free to customers. The business model involves taking a low commission, which leaves plenty for the drivers to make their money from.
What about staff – how many do you have?
We have 10 staff, split between demand development, supply management and technical development. Each member plays a key role in making sure the Kabbee marketplace functions well 24 hours a day.
What has your growth been like?
Our growth has been strong (approximately 40% month on month). We are breaking even on an operational basis.
We are slightly behind the business plan due to technical and marketing delays but we are happy with the progress.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
The greatest difficulty was developing the product so it was the right quality to change the behaviour of key (high usage) cab customers.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Being featured in the Sunday Times soon after launch helped to establish the brand’s credibility.
What would you do differently?
We made a few mistakes on the initial consumer-marketing proposition, but these were quickly corrected.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Know your sector inside out and don’t launch without enough support from key stakeholders.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
We aim to launch a live Kabbee service in several major cities. We do have potential exit plans but the emphasis for some time will be on growth.