All hail this techie who is a boost to black cabs

Philip Salter
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FOR anyone who has waited on the pavement, praying that the next car to turn the corner is a black cab, Hailo could prove a godsend. Founded in 2010, Jay Bregman’s business lets you hail a black cab through your mobile phone. The app is free to download and the service is free to the user – the company’s profit comes from taking a slice from the driver – so you pay the same as if you had hailed it from the street.

The company is run from HMS President, a permanently berthed boat on the on the Victoria Embankment. From the rather peculiar surroundings of this Q-Boat, gently rocking on the tamed Thames, Bregman talks with near-uninterrupted verve about how it all began.

Bregman has entrepreneurial form. During his masters at the London School of Economics he started eCourier, a same-day delivery company which he ran for about eight years before exiting. As with Hailo, eCourier involved the application of technology to a transportation business. “Taxis are the big brother to same-day delivery industry”, says Bregman. “It is a larger market ($35bn globally), and it had some dynamics that I found really interesting because the market is fundamentally inefficient.”

Following a serendipitous meeting with three black cab drivers, Bregman and his team (Caspar Woolley and Ron Zeghibe) set up Hailo. “We met at a café on Charlotte Street and started to talk. The cabbies had started a business that was trying to do something similar. They understood what the technology could do (but could not actually build it). We understood how to build the technology and how to build the business”, says Bregman. The three cabbies – Russell Hall, Gary Jackson and Terry Runham – are all partners in the business.

Every business is an attempt to solve a problem. Hailo was set up to solve two. Bregman explains that “drivers spend 30 to 50 per cent of their time desperately looking for customers, while people can find it really difficult to get a taxi.” Also, there are social communication tools that run through the cabby’s version of the app. Hailo attempts to make the cabby’s life more sociable (with a messaging service, for example), as well as more profitable.

“Hailo was only launched to customers once we got a critical mass”, says Bregman. In London, this was 850 drivers and was hit in November. Now the company has “close to 100,000 customers; has done more than 1m miles in virtual hails; and has processed tens of million of dollars of annual transactions.”

It’s easy to see why venture capitalists have been willing to throw money at the New Yorker (Accel Partners recently invested $17m for Hailo’s global expansion: Bregman could sell microchips to the Californians.

Bregman has always been enamoured with technology. “My father, who was a heart surgeon, recognised before a lot of other people in the world that computers and technology were going to be critically important.” He made sure that his son was fully tuned in to this revolution.

Chicago, Boston, Toronto and New York will follow a recent successful Dublin launch. Bregman thinks the business model is as applicable to the US medallion system as London’s knowledge system. And don’t expect this to be the end – there are plenty more inefficiencies out there for Bregman to smooth out – even beyond cabs. He certainly has the knowledge for the job.

Founded: 2010

Number of staff: 80

Job title: Founder & CEO

Age: 33

Born: NYC

Lives: NYC and London

Studied: Dartmouth College, LSE

Drinking: Zacapa Old Fashioned

Currently Reading: We Can All Do Better, by former US Senator Bill Bradley

Favourite business book: Pirates in the Valley

Motto: “A rough road leads to the stars.”

Talents: Developing innovative strategies to tackle the vast inefficiencies in the world and build world class teams

Heroes: Jonathan Ive, Ernest Hemingway

Awards: Top 100 to Watch in 2012, Sunday Times. Most Inspirational Business 2007 (for eCourier) Evening Standard

First ambition: Find true love