Life & Culture

The new black taxi app that is hailing millions

Black taxi app Hailo is being backed by the world’s best.


You know you are on to a good thing when Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström is backing your business. The co-founder of the revolutionary voice-over-internet service runs investment fund Atomico, which has ploughed money into popular mobile app, Hailo. Conceived by three London cab drivers and three internet entrepreneurs, Hailo enables you to hail a black cab via your smartphone and pay automatically with a credit or debit card, or cash with no surcharge.

It has been dubbed one of the most successful mobile apps to date, recently raising $17 million in Series A funding, one of the largest European first-rounds in recent times.

Launched in November last year, Hailo has more than 4,500 registered drivers - 20 per cent of London's total 23,000 black cab drivers - and has generated several hundred thousand downloads. As co-founder and chief executive Jay Bregman puts it: "The statistics speak for themselves." It has received over 1,000 App Store reviews with an average review rating of five stars. It features in the top 20 travel apps.

What makes it so successful? Mr Bregman (pictured right, in the middle) says: "One is the app's structure and design." This was developed in-house by Hailo's 70-strong team, some of who were leading designers for Beebo and Google.

"It's a credit to the precision of the team." He also cites the fact that the drivers have been involved since Hailo's inception as key. "So we not only created a great customer experience but also a great driver experience. The black cab drivers really helped us to understand both sides of the equation and how to make it work.

"We've created a really great community of drivers. They see Hailo working and support it. The drivers provide a great service to the consumers, who really appreciate this.

"It's about the people, the strategy and the organisation."

Hailo prides itself on being more than just a way to call a cab. "It's a platform for drivers to use, even when there aren't customers, to make their jobs more sociable and profitable. We provide tools for drivers to improve their performance and share events that help them find more jobs and avoid traffic - to provide value, without connecting them to passengers directly, to fill their downtime."

The founder of, which was voted London's most inspirational business in 2007, Mr Bregman was looking to start another tech company. He recalls: "I knew that to actually start a business that worked in the real world, you need to get the intersection between technology and humanity right.

"I knew that we wanted to partner with drivers." He contacted a taxi organisation, which was trying to create a marketplace for drivers and customers, and met with three London licensed taxi drivers in a Charlotte Street cafe, London. "We hit it off almost immediately."

The team have sinced raised some $20 million from an all-star cast of investors including Accel Partners, Wellington Partners and Atomico Ventures. Together they have funded Facebook and Spotify, among other high-profile ventures.

Hailo is currently operational in London with plans for a major international roll-out. Dublin is on the agenda for this summer, with over 1,000 drivers already signed up, while New York, Chicago, Boston and Toronto are on target for later this year. What about Europe? "Eventually, but we are more interested in the more sophisticated larger cities. We are mostly interested in bringing the service to London, and then phase two: everywhere."

Mr Bregman splits his time between New York and London. He has a philosophy degree and a masters from the London School of Economics.

His interest in technology was triggered by his father. "He was a heart surgeon, who saw the way the world was heading. He encouraged me to have access to computers. I was always a little bit of a hacker and I used to love to play around and learn about computers. ECourier enabled me to blend those two things together."

As for the next big mobile opportunity, he says: "I love Netscape founder Marc Andreessen's comment: 'We are in a phase where software is eating the world' - and Hailo is a very interesting example of that. You take this seemingly gritty type of industry that hasn't really changed over the years and then suddenly technology can fundamentally solve some of the inefficiencies that exist.

"We haven't even scratched the surface yet of what smartphones and networks are going to be able to do."

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