Ever since Uber broke onto the scene and galloped to a $60bn+ valuation in just eight years, startups have been touted as the Uber of this and the Uber of the other thing. But what will be the next Uber of transportation? The ridesharing and taxi app already has plenty of competition in the transportation sector. There are other mobile apps that connect users to specialised fleets of private drivers, apps that help people hail a ride with existing taxis and even apps that get you a ride on a rickshaw or a motorbike.
Uber is the headline act, but its mobile penetration coupled with GPS data that has been the disruptive force powering the app that has cut through the taxi industry across the world – and Uber isn’t the only one using it. Uber is in a fierce battle with resident behemoth Didi Chuxing in China and other local services like Ola Cabs and GrabTaxi in Asia have a firm customer base that newcomers will find difficult to shake. Even at home in the US, Uber is facing competition from all sorts of ridesharing apps, including those that operate exactly like Uber and those with something a little different, such as connections to existing taxi fleets or highly vetted drivers to shuttle children to and from school.
Here are eight app startups that are reinventing the taxi app:
San Francisco-based Lyft was founded in 2012 as a peer-to-peer ridesharing mobile app, linking folks who need a ride with private drivers. The company has raised a hefty $2bn up to January of this year and counts investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Icahn Enterprises and Alibaba amongst its funders. Lyft actually sprung out of another company of founders Logan Green and John Zimmer, called Zimride, which aimed to connect ride sharers for long trips using Facebook Connect. That company became the largest ridesharing programme in the US.
Lyft has evolved into a hybrid between a taxi company and a ridesharing app. Initially meant for ridesharing within cities, the app had to change how it operated in order to legally launch on the East Coast. In New York, Lyft drivers have to be registered with the Taxi and Limousine Commission, just as with any other taxi company. Aside from altering its business model to clear regulatory hurdles, Lyft is very similar to Uber. The app lets you see available drivers live on a map and book, pay and rate them through your mobile phone. Lyft also offers Lyft Plus for when there are six passengers and Lyft Line to share cabs with people going in the same direction.
- Lyft claims to cover half of the world, after partnering with GrabTaxi, Ola and Didi Chuxing last year
- Lyft also has a partnership with General Motors, which saw the firm invest $500m to work on ridesharing and autonomous vehicles
- Lyft is targeting $2.7bn in gross sales in 2016
Didi Chuxing, formerly Didi Kuaidi, is the world’s largest mobile transportation platform, operating in 400 cities in China. Initially just a taxi-hailing service, the app now offers taxis, private cars, social ridesharing, carpooling, chauffeurs, buses and services for companies. The company was also one of just three unicorn startups that took the majority of on-demand funding last year, with the other two being Uber and AirBnB. Didi completed a $2bn series F funding round in July that helped it snag one of the top spots.
The company was formed in 2015 from the merger of rival firms Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache, each backed by one of the largest Chinese internet firms, Didi by Tencent and Kuaidi by Alibaba. This year, the company opened up its platform by releasing a software development kit to third parties. The SDK includes a button to “Hail a Didi Ride” and access to other services like registered taxis and test drives.
- Three million private car requests a day
- Aims to serve 30 million passengers and 10 million drivers a day within three years
- Valued at $16.5bn
While big hitters like Uber and Lyft battle it out with drivers and fleets, apps like London’s Kabbee are taking a different approach. Kabbee curates and compares potential rides from the city’s many minicab firms to get travellers a good deal on a cab ride with a driver that’s as close as possible. This is intelligent taxi-hailing that improves pick-up time for passengers and allows them to pay by traditional cash or on their Kabbee account. But more importantly for the minicab firms, it cuts the drivers’ dead time and provides them with far more business because passengers don’t need to know the name and number of individual firms that are located where they’re looking for a ride.
Kabbee was launched by former City trader and minicab firm owner Justin Peters in 2011 and reported £13.7m in turnover for the year to May 2015. The app was named one of Britain’s fastest growing startups in The Sunday Times’ Startup Track 15 list for 2015. The firm now plans to expand outside London and launched a £1m crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube to fund its growth late last year. The company already has investment from two of the UK’s top ecommerce entrepreneurs, Ed Wray, co-founder of Betfair and Simon Nixon, who started Moneysupermarket.
- App downloaded 600,000 times by end 2015
- Has transported 250,000 passengers on 1.75 million journeys
- Used by 70 London minicab fleets
With Uber and Kabbee on the London scene, the iconic black cabs needed to catch up quickly and they’ve done that with Hailo, the app that lets you hail a black cab. Hailo took a brief foray into allowing customers to grab minicabs as well as the official London taxi. But last year, the firm went black cab only again, giving it plenty of marketing clout and allowing it to bypass any regulatory rumblings against private taxi drivers. In London, Hailo emphasises the traditional “knowledge” a black cab driver has to have about getting around in the city and the fact that black cabs can use bus lanes to avoid traffic snarls.
However, Hailo also operates as a regular taxi hailing app in more than twenty cities, including Tokyo, Barcelona, Manchester and Osaka, as well as all across Ireland. The firm was set up in London in 2011 and has raised over $100m in four funding rounds. Its investors include Union Square Ventures, Accel Partners and Sir Richard Branson.
- Over 60,000 drivers
- More than a million passengers
- Annualised sales of over $100m
Flywheel is another e-hailing app that connects users with existing taxi fleets, rather than developing teams of drivers itself. Just like Lyft, Uber and others, Flywheel lets users order a cab and then track it as it gets closer to them. But in Flywheel’s case, it’s a traditional taxi from a fleet rather than a special Flywheel vehicle. Last year, the company launched a new twist that gives it a key difference to other ride-hailing apps. Now, customers can pay for rides through the service even for cabs they hail themselves off the street. The taxis have to be linked in to Flywheel, but in cities like San Francisco where the firm has a strong presence, that can mean 85 per cent of cabs.
Flywheel was launched in California in 2009 and has raised just under $35m in five funding rounds. Just three investors have taken part in all five; Craton Equity Partners, RockPort Capital and Shasta Ventures. At the moment, Flywheel is only available in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and Portland, but it has plans to expand along the West Coast of the US. The firm markets itself as a mobile platform for existing taxis rather than a ride-hailing app. In California, the regulator has given the go-ahead for drivers to replace their taximeter, navigation and dispatch with TaxiOS, Flywheel’s mobile and cloud platform.
- Partnered with 85 per cent of licensed taxis in San Francisco
- Allows users to pay through the app for a taxi hailed off the street
- Has raised nearly $35m in funding
Ola, as it’s commonly known, started as an online cab aggregator in Mumbai and has since expanded into a full transportation service that includes shuttles, ridesharing and even rickshaw rides. Founded in 2010, the firm was recently valued at $5bn and has partnerships with Didi Chuxing, Lyft and Malaysia’s GrabTaxi that allows customers to hail a ride with any of them using just one app. The company has been so successful it’s been able to expand into other areas, launching Ola Store for grocery delivery, Ola Café for hot food delivery and Ola Money payment system.
The firm has raised over a billion dollars in seven funding rounds since it was launched. Investors in the company, which is the most popular taxi app in India, include Didi Chuxing, Softbank and Sequioa Capital. The app connects passengers with all different kinds of cab services ranging from economy rides on a rickshaw to luxury cars. Customers can even book rides on bike taxis through the app.
- Over 250,000 cars across over a hundred cities
- 80 per cent market share in India
- Expects over $1bn of gross revenue in 2015/16
Grab, formerly GrabTaxi, originated in Malaysia in 2011 as MyTeksi, founded by Harvard Business School graduates Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling. The e-hailing app has since expanded across Southeast Asia, connecting passengers with local fleets of cabs and taxi drivers. The company has raised $680m in five rounds of funding, including a $350m round that closed in August last year. Its investors include Softbank and Tiger Global Management.
Anthony Tan had the idea for an Uber-like service for Asia while still at Harvard and pitched it to the 2011 Harvard Business Plan Competition. Tan took second place and quit the family business to launch the firm after attracting angel investors. Like Ola, Grab offers all sorts of cab services, from high end cars on GrabCar+ in the Philippines to GrabBike motorcycle services in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi City, Bangkok and Jakarta.
- 75,000 registered drivers
- 8 million mobile app users across Southeast Asia
- Operates in Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore
The ride-sharing/taxi-hailing market is a crowded one and it already has its big players in firms like Uber and Didi Chuxing. New entrants to the market need to be doing something extra to stand out and that’s just what Shuddle does. The so-called ‘Uber for kids’ is a transportation service that provides safe lifts for children. Parents and families can book a ride through the app with a vetted driver and can also avail of carpooling services to cut the cost. The idea is to shuttle the kids to and from school or to after-school activities. With carpooling, all the kids can be picked up at different locations and then dropped to the same place, like school. The big draw of Shuddle is its promised safety. All its drivers are highly vetted and are required to have childcare experience. Which in practise, means that almost all of its several hundred drivers are women.
A relative newcomer to the taxi app industry, Shuddle was launched in 2014. So far, the app has bagged $12.2m in funding from two investment rounds. Shuddle is currently only available in California, operating in the counties of San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin.
- A car service for children
- Fully vetted drivers that need to have childcare experience
- Operating in California
Uber has become a byword for disruptive startups that gain large valuations, fast. But that doesn’t mean that Uber has its own industry sown up. It’s arguably the most famous of the taxi apps around, but it has plenty of both direct and specialised competitors. In particular, the regulatory grumbles around the legality of Uber’s private drivers operating as a taxi service has the company facing an uncertain future in some markets. Those apps that have chosen to work with existing taxi fleets, like Hailo and Flywheel, are making less of a spectacular splash, but they may have the staying power in the long run. And just when you think there’s no more innovation to be had in the sector, along comes an app like Shuddle, with a whole new take on taxi services.