The Inner City Travel Revolution

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18 months ago, Barney Williams and I took two separate taxis from adjacent roads to meet for a beer in a bar in Leeds City Centre. It was here that we began to develop JumpIn – a taxi booking and sharing app, tailored for students. Remarkably, we fell into two extremely topical spaces, ground transport and the sharing economy. Millions of pounds have been pumped into taxi apps, car clubs and sharing platforms of all shapes and sizes, Google invested over $250mn into Uber and no one will stop talking about the sharing economy. You can share taxis, cars, spare rooms, tasks, pets and even food. I’m by no means an expert but my passion for both industries has developed from increasing exposure to experts, progressing news stories and a feeling that we might have a part to play ourselves. Where is it all heading? I’m not sure anyone quite knows yet but one thing is certain – both spaces are set for big shake-ups. In this post, I want to focus on ground transport and the way technology is changing the way we all travel, particularly in major cities.

Let’s explore four buzzwords – sharing, venues, community and electric vehicles. The UK government has identified the sharing economy as one of the focuses for business growth over the coming years. In fact, the JumpIn team attended an event at no.10 aimed at breaking down the barriers to growth in the space, where issues such a tax, regulation and safety were discussed. People are using AirBnB to become micro-entrepreneurs – renting out spare rooms in their homes for extra cash whilst others are selling spare seats in their cars on the way to work or on long journeys. It seems like we’re finding ways to share everything – look at borrowmydoggy.com, a service that let’s you share the burden of looking after your dog with other dog lovers! We’re trying to get students to share taxis and others are doing the same with other consumer groups. The data we’ve collected is encouraging – as users book their taxis with us, we’re mapping pick-up and drop off points to show the similarity of these journeys that makes the market so suitable for sharing. To give an example, we had 18 bookings in a 1-hour period within a 0.5-mile radius of each other on a recent Friday evening, all of whom were travelling to the train station. It’s our job to pool these journeys together to provide a more convenient, sociable and price similar alternative to public transport.

Buzzword number two is venues – what I believe to be the game-changer. Venues (nightclubs, bars, restaurants, leisure venues) are willing to pay to get consumers delivered to their doorstep. Even JumpIn has proved it on a miniature scale. Successfully link venues to shared taxis/vehicles to push consumers through their doors and you’re onto a winner.

Next up is community – by this I mean the consumer sharing community and community drivers. The development of this space will undoubtedly define movements in the taxi / private hire trade. Lyft are leading the charge with community drivers and Uber are running a (loosely) similar model. These businesses are saying, let’s bypass the taxi/private hire industry and let the community drive the community. These drivers are often cheaper because they’re not regulated and the drivers can work as they please. As you can imagine, regulation is already beginning to stand in the way of growth. I personally believe that such models will disrupt the trade, certainly in cities with favourable regulation but there will always be a market for taxis / private hire vehicles in the UK. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic concept – imagine if JumpIn could allow student community drivers to drive other students?

Lastly, electric vehicles are sure to impact the industry as car manufacturers pump millions into releasing new ranges, the UK invests in infrastructure and businesses work on improving the range/convenience of running these kinds of vehicles.

How will these four buzzwords fit together? Will they further disrupt the way we travel in cities? Is it possible to see a scenario where we abandon the personal car and the traditional taxi and instead join a network of community drivers, driving electric vehicles, who share their journeys with others travelling to the same venues? There’s too much uncertainty to make a call just yet – regulation and cultural factors may stunt progress but there’s a lot of people trying their hand! If you haven’t been following the space, now’s the time to take an interest.

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Time to make starting out more bitesize

2013 was a fantastic year for entrepreneurs in Britain. Startup Britain claim over 500,000 businesses have been set up and the wealth of small business aid and opportunities available mean there has been no better time to start out. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be an entrepreneur but by no means is work complete if we remain committed to promoting the growth of small businesses. 

There is significant debate surrounding whether schemes like Startup Loans are giving people the opportunity to start their own businesses that simply aren’t capable of doing so. I don’t completely disagree but if they don’t give it a go, who are we to judge? The current education system means nobody is fully equipped to start his or her own business first time around. It’s a case of learning as you go and often those who succeed, are those who are lucky enough to have advisors who know how to do so. Are we really confident that even those we judge as ‘capable’ of starting their own business actually have the knowledge to do so? Are these people capable of being their own accountant, solicitor, financial controller, IP expert, marketing director, sales director and developer? After all, that’s often the minimum an entrepreneur has to be when starting out. If we’re going to continue to move towards a society where anyone is given the chance to start-up, we’ve got to make this knowledge an integral part of education or at least make it much easier to digest. 

Let’s try to picture the statistics for people who have fantastic ideas and skills to complement them. We can guarantee a large proportion of them won’t ever try to start-up because of the complications and perceived risks of starting their own business. It’s a similar picture for those who start-up – many fall at the hurdle of regulation and the thought of having to manage the 1,000 things you have to manage as an entrepreneur. We need to teach people these practical business skills at school and at higher education level. We must make these skills easier to digest so that entrepreneurs can carry out the million administrative tasks surrounding a new business with considerable ease and instead focus on their idea and passion in the early stage.  All the information required is out there but putting it all together and making it relevant for your specific business is very difficult for first-time entrepreneurs. Too many people are starting their own businesses without fundamental knowledge. They’re either learning as they go (significantly slowing their progress!), losing drive because the hurdles appear too large or failing because they’re not carrying out these key tasks properly. 

Introducing business start-up skills to the national curriculum would no doubt help solve this issue and the increasing number of University entrepreneurship projects is encouraging. The Startup Loans scheme has been a great step towards achieving this, especially with the provision of a mentor who can help entrepreneurs take the wealth of information out there, focus it, and ensure they can carry out all the relevant admin tasks that underpin their brilliant ideas. However, we are at risk that these schemes still do not present the fundamentals such as accounting, the legal work, IP and insurance in a digestible manner. 2014 must be the year where we embed the knowledge of business startups into education and ensure the country’s brightest and driven individuals have the tools to succeed. If we can achieve this, we won’t just create a wave of hungry entrepreneurs, we’ll create a nation of accomplished entrepreneurs who have everything they need to flourish. 

Rail for business – Growth Britain Post

Here’s my post on the Growth Britain Idea Sourcing platform – click HERE and ‘like’ the post if you agree! 

As a startup, we have found travel to be a barrier to our business. Car travel is expensive and doesn’t allow you to work en-route. Train travel is extortionately priced, mobile phone signal is poor, wifi signal is poor and expensive, standard class carriages are overcrowded and it’s impossible to travel at peak times on a budget. Our travel expenses are a real strain on the business and we have to spend a lot of time planning travel in advance, often having to travel down the previous evening, car-sharing or not taking meetings at all. 

Whilst online call conference platforms are improving, there is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. Therefore, I propose that work is done to dramatically improve UK train travel for business. Why trains? – If we provide the right conditions, people can be very productive whilst travelling via train. Instead of being a barrier to business, trains should be a facilitator by allowing cost-effective, stress-free travel and a positive working environment. 

I would suggest the mandatory introduction of ‘business class’ to trains connecting major UK cities. These extra carriages are equipped with strong wifi, ample power sockets, and good quality mobile phone signal. Users would have the choice of a single workstation or a team workstation if travelling in a group. Business class would be offered to all business sizes but heavily subsidised for startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses. Also, those receiving subsidies would not be penalised for travelling at peak times as they are in the current system. 

By making train travel easy, cost-effective and productive, we can encourage business people to travel in a working environment, take advantage of opportunities and expand their businesses. Let’s get Britain’s small businesses moving!

 

When do we say no as a startup?

Not a day goes by without an idea for a new feature, a new product or a new opportunity for JumpIn – it’s what makes being involved in a start-up so exciting. We could take the business in so many alternate directions and our product could ultimately be shaped very differently. Yes it’s exciting but it’s also challenging. If we make the wrong strategic decision, it could cause the business to fail. So how can we learn to manage these opportunities and make the right choices?

Many people advise asking an outsider but for me this is often limited. Nobody knows the business better than you, the founder. A better choice is to search for some advisors. Experienced and successful entrepreneurs are often willing to help because they want to give something back and they may see an opportunity for themselves within your business in the future. Startups should leverage this more, educate advisors about the business and consult them to aid the decision making process. Our first mentor has now been appointed as our non-exec, which we’re thrilled about. He’s experienced and has the right level of interest in the business so that he’s not too biased but still understands our model.

Secondly, be rational and put things into context. People will promise you the world but how likely are they to deliver? There’s nothing wrong with thinking big but be rational. The same applies with your ability to deliver. For example, a large business may approach you with an exciting opportunity – if delivering on it is unrealistic, why risk your core business by concentrating resources on one opportunity? If you’re doing enough to impress a large business, you’re likely to be impressing a bunch more too so make sure the deal is right. Unless your business model needs to pivot, we’ve got to be careful in making a decision that diverts from our wider vision. There are so many opportunities that risk losing focus from your core proposition. If you spread yourself too thinly, you run the risk of failure.

Fundamentally, once you’ve consulted your advisors, completed the due diligence work and positioned the opportunity within the wider context of your business, only you as the founder will know whether to take it or not. It might sound pretty cliché but it’s key to follow your gut feeling at this stage. Even after doing all you can to rationalise your decision, there is of course a chance you make the wrong choice. This may be due to a change in circumstances or poor analysis but at least you’ve given yourself the best chance of making the right decision at the time and you’ll never regret not following your gut feeling.

With so much uncertainty and so many key decisions to make as a startup, wrong decisions will unquestionably be made. After all, it’s a learning process for both the founders and the business. It’s about giving yourselves the best chance of choosing the correct opportunities for your business, learning when to say no and reacting quickly when things start to go belly up. 

How I got my job: Co-founder of JumpIn

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Leeds University careers blog (http://leedsunicareers.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/how-i-got-my-job-co-founder-of-jumpin/#more-1260) –

In April 2012, I was sat in a bar in Leeds city centre with Barney Williams. We lived three roads apart in Hyde Park, yet we irrationally decided to take two separate cabs to the same destination. It was from here that we decided to explore the possibility of taxi sharing. 18 months on and we’re now the co-founders of JumpIn, a community focussed taxi booking and sharing mobile app purely for students. We’re now looking at gaining national coverage within 6 months and have a non-executive director – something I didn’t even know existed a year ago. Whilst we’re a long way from calling JumpIn a real success and there’s always a chance of failure, I’ve had the most exciting and stimulating year of my life. Many people say starting your own business is risky and call you brave for ‘taking the punt’. This might be true if you’re a 35-year old family man but as a student, everything is in your favour. Take the punt.

Neither Barney nor I had much business experience and we certainly didn’t possess the technical expertise to build an app. After months of research and fighting an uphill struggle to get things moving, we realised we needed to start leveraging our networks. We continuously met with family, friends and friends of friends and we quickly started to build knowledge of how to start a business, the competitors in our field and the opportunities in tech startups. We met with advisors at SPARK and gained both proof of concept funding and were placed in the business plan competition once we got our concept watertight. We took a Startup Loan through the government’s scheme and were provided with 6 months’ free business lounge space and fundamentally, an experienced business mentor who now has been appointed as our non-exec. Lastly, we used LinkedIn to find our Technical Director, James Gupta, who is a Medic at the university. The move to bring technical expertise in house was a game-changer for turning our plans into reality. All of these opportunities and exposure to the world of entrepreneurship showed me that the support for young people starting out is fantastic. Vitally, people are willing to help young people make their way as an entrepreneur. Why don’t more students use this to their advantage?

Founding a startup means it’s all hands on deck. We’ve just started to allocate roles within our business but to date; it’s been a case of all doing whatever, at whatever time, to get things done. Of course this means you’re not always doing glamorous work but it still gets you out of bed in the morning because it’s all work towards your own business. Furthermore, the wide variety of skills this can develop is unrivalled. I remember walking into our first serious meeting with a potential investor in London – I didn’t know the figures, I was flustered and nervous about how it would pan out. Luckily he was quite forgiving! I now walk into meeting fully prepared, agenda in hand and confident in the fact I know JumpIn inside out. This not only is the case with our business, I feel more confident in talking to people generally, understanding them and creating more productive relationships.

I’ve touched on support for young people and the personal development side of starting your own business but why is university the best time to do it? Firstly, you’re still being supported by family and by your student loan. Unless you’re a whizz kid or get lucky, you’re unlikely to make money out our your own business for at least a year. If you haven’t got family or student financing support, living an entrepreneurial lifestyle becomes 10x harder. Secondly, you’re surrounded by bright and talented young people who are enthusiastic and looking for experience. We’ve informally made a policy to only work with other students not because they’re cheap but because they’ve got great ideas and they’re hungry for new opportunities. Lastly, what people tell you about it being difficult to balance your time with your academic work and social life isn’t true – if you’re driven enough, you’ll get up two hours earlier and the pressure motivates you to become more efficient and better organised.

I can’t talk highly enough of how great starting your own business truly is. I’ve got a lot left to learn but for people thinking of ‘taking the punt’, here are 5 pieces of advise I’d give:

  1. Live by the principle that most people don’t ask, so ask.
  2. Stay young, stay foolish (if you don’t know what I mean, watch Steve Jobs’ Stanford speech!)
  3. Read ‘The Lean Startup‘ by Eric Ries
  4. Leverage your networks, especially SPARK as they are fantastic.
  5. Stop talking about it and go start it!

How can we get the sharing economy moving?

Efforts are being made to get people sharing pretty much anything – transport, their homes and even their leftover food. It’s a sign of tough economic times and increasing environmental pressures. Entrepreneurs are trying to find innovative ways to save people money, reduce waste and be ‘green’. I think it’s fantastic but the hurdles for these new solutions are undoubtedly tough to surpass. It’s something ourselves and our friends at ShareMyFare.com are working hard on, taking different approaches and acting on each other’s results. I believe the three difficulties we face are:

  1. Creating awareness about our products and giving the people enough incentive to buy into the sharing economy
  2. Making users feel safe in sharing with strangers and safe in sharing something they’ve never shared before
  3. Maintaining early adopters, and offering them incentives to keep attempting to share, even if their initial attempts fail due to lack of critical mass

So how do we aim to solve these issues? After all, few people will disagree that the mass adoption of a sharing economy would yield brilliant results economically, socially and environmentally. Solving issue one is more obvious – it’s about clever marketing, positioning our products carefully in the market and capturing the masses quickly and efficiently. With fear of this turning into ‘just another’ marketing piece, I’d like to focus on issues 2 and 3.

Here at JumpIn, we believe that to make the people beyond the most outgoing, sociable and ‘free’ users share taxis, we need to create safe communities to allow those who only want to share with like-minded individuals, do so. ShareMyFare.com will build features with a similar focus but we both have a wider vision – to make everybody confident of sharing. Another way is to create incentives that encourage sharing. Initially, forcing users to share may push them out of their comfort zone but a positive experience could open their mind to sharing more in the future. Here we face an issue that is deeply embedded in culture and it will take time alter. Not everyone is comfortable with offering up a space in his or her car to a stranger, so we need to install confidence and force this through if we are going to make progress. Fortunately, confidence in sharing is growing and there are increasing amounts of people who are buying into sharing initiatives. It’s also very dependent on localised culture. As a generalisation, people in the US tend to be more open-minded and comfortable with trying sharing for the first time. However in the UK, the public draw negative safety connotations.

It’s fantastic capturing a good early user base but to facilitate sharing, we need users to be concentrated in similar areas – your lasagne might be slightly past it’s best by the time its shipped to a sharer in the Philippines! This creates a problem. Early users will offer to share something, whatever it may be, and will most probably not find anybody to share it with. Sharing concepts have got to work tirelessly to ensure these early adopters aren’t lost. One way of targeting this is to partake in localised advertising, building users in specific locations to ensure critical mass is developed quickly. Another way is to incentivise early adopters to keep trying, to spread the word and to not give up hope on the sharing economy. Lastly, sharing platforms must collaborate to share their early users and connect them for the wider good. For example, if JumpIn has a user who’s joined in Budapest, why don’t we aim to connect him with ShareMyFare.com‘s latest Budapest joiner? Otherwise, both platforms face losing both users.

It will be interesting to see how sharing platforms progress in their battle to capture the mass market over the coming months. I hope we can work together to make the culture change and get the sharing economy moving!