Why Hailo works

Hailo is a London-based tech startup. Its product is a mobile app that lets you find and hail a nearby taxi. It’s not the first or last cab-hailing app, but it’s best-in-class after a few years and is now also available in a number of other cities around the world. The founders describe themselves as “three taxi drivers and three internet entrepreneurs.” From a customer’s point of view, Hailo fixes a lot of problems that cabs have: sometimes-surly drivers, a pick-up charge, waving one’s arm trying to find a cab, having to pay in cash. And it gives benefits to drivers, too: one taxi driver told me that Hailo had revolutionised his business. The company’s success hinges on:

  • The uniqueness of the product. Hailo has avoided competing with cheaper minicab firms - which rapidly devolves into cutting fares in a race to the bottom - by putting itself into a different product category: the rides on offer are all licensed black taxis, the kind you’d hail from the kerb, which means the drivers have all passed The Knowledge (a formidable test of their navigation acumen, usually involving 3-4 years of training) and are veterans in navigating London’s winding streets and treacherous traffic. Black cabs also hold five people, unlike a sedan. And as there are already lots of black cabs roaming the streets looking for passengers, there’s usually one nearby.
  • The quality of the user experience. When a customer hails a cab and a driver accepts the job, the app provides the user with its live location, the driver’s name, photo and phone number, the cab’s numberplate and its ETA.
  • The quality of the product. Rather than stand on the street trying to find a cab, users can hail one while inside. Users are sent a text when the cab is one minute away, and again when it’s outside. The taxi will wait outside for five minutes before starting the meter. Customers can pay by credit or debit card, which they can pre-register using the app, tapping in their desired tip when the ride is over. When they walk away from the cab, users are asked to rate their ride out of five.
  • Appeal to taxi drivers, who spend large portions of their day with their cabs empty, looking for work. The driver app runs on an iPhone, which is considerably cheaper than the equipment that radio taxi firms require drivers to rent out. One driver pointed out to me the flexibility of being able to take extra work during quiet times and not when e.g. on holiday - there are no subscription fees, only a per-ride commission. The service also feeds useful data back to drivers, like traffic alerts and job bursts (such as a crowd of theatregoers all requesting cabs after the Sunday matinée: drivers are now alerted and can get there pronto). The thing that struck me the most while thinking about this was how elegantly Hailo addresses the pains of both taxi users and taxi drivers.