Easy Taxi: A company born out of frustration
- 21 July 2014
- From the section Business
Brazil's economy has grown significantly in the past decade - and with that, the number of cars on the road has grown too. In fact, car ownership has more than doubled in that time.
But all those cars mean more congestion. It was the frustration of the traffic that led one young entrepreneur to create a business that has proved a big success.
Tallis Gomes started his first company at the age of 14. He and his friends had a band and they wanted to buy a drum kit, but they had no money.
So he suggested they should start a business. With no money to put down though, it proved a challenge, until the 14-year-old Tallis came up with a plan.
Many people in the town they lived in, Minas Gerais, were starting to get interested in smartphones that had cameras, but they didn't have a shop where they could buy them.
So he printed off the details of the phones from the internet, showed them to friends and family and only once he had made a sale did he then buy the phones off the internet. And so a business was born - with zero start-up costs.
By the age of 23, Mr Gomes had a couple more businesses under his belt, had dropped out of university and had even worked in marketing roles for several big companies including Unilever.
One weekend, he took part in a start-up competition in Rio de Janeiro. He needed to come up with a business idea and thought about starting an app that would give people real-time locations and timings of local buses.
But it was an idea that he was told Google was already working on and something that would never work. Out of inspiration, he called it a day and went home.
That night he tried - and failed - to hail a taxi. Calling a taxi company proved fruitless too so he was left waiting. It was then that he hit upon his business idea - bringing taxis who want more business together with people who are trying to flag one down. Creating an app was the answer and he won the competition.
"I wanted to do something for society," says Mr Gomes. "I had started three companies before Easy Taxi but they were something to make money. I decided to do something to solve a real problem."
With just a few clicks on a smartphone, customers can tell the taxi where they are and how they want to pay. The message is received by the pool of taxi drivers in the area and they can accept the job and drive straight to a customer's door in a matter of minutes.
The driver gets information about the passenger who is registered and the passenger knows what the driver looks like, the model and registration details of the car as well as his mobile number.
"It's not safe to pick somebody up from the streets," Mr Gomes says, referring to Brazil's reputation for violence. "With Easy Taxi everyone you pick up is registered. On the passenger side, you have the same problem - there are a lot of taxis that aren't registered so passengers don't pick up taxis in the street."
It sounds simple but at first it was anything but. He had to convince taxi drivers why they should sign up - and encourage many to buy smartphones in order to be a part of the service - and in 2011, smartphones were only something wealthy Brazilians had.
So his way of winning them over was to build relationships with them, by spending time at the taxi stands and even playing football with them.
But since expanding, his business challenges have changed. He has to spend some of his energy fighting off competitors that have sprung up in the past few years.
It has meant changing the business model here in Brazil too. Easy Taxi initially charged the taxi drivers for each pick-up - but when a competitor started doing it for free, East Taxi dropped the charges in Brazil and looked for other ways to grow its business.
They include the introduction of mobile payments in the taxis and taking on corporate accounts to make it easier and cheaper for businesses to run a taxi account.
In Brazil, Easy Taxi has 50,000 taxi drivers on its books and 3.5 million users. Globally, it now has 155,000 taxi drivers signed up in 30 countries and seven million users.
Its rapid growth has been helped by the backing of investors including German internet incubator Rocket Internet. Mr Gomes has had to adapt to his fast-growing company - and the people who work with him.
"Titles really matter in Asia so basically we have to say, 'If you deliver this and that, you are going to be regional manager,'" he says.
"In Latin America it's completely different. It's all about relationships, you need to make people think that we are friends. The Middle East is more closed and personal - so when you talk to them, you have to respect them."
Of his three previous businesses, one - a social media company - failed. But that failure taught him a great deal.
"You can have a great product, but if it's not the time to launch it, you're going to fail, so it's all about the timing," he says. "If you launch it too early, nobody is going to use it; too late, you'll have a lot of competitors so you are going to fail all over again."
Failing is not on Mr Gomes' mind. Growing his business, as well as launching the next big idea, are his goals for now.