As much as we hate to admit it, our taxi service in Malaysia is one of the worst in the world. Key in Malaysia in your Google search bar and a barrage of complaints and dissatisfaction regarding our infamous taxi drivers are among the top headliners. Why is it that for a country as fast developing and modern as ours, our taxi drivers seem to be lagging so much behind in common courtesy and politeness? MyTeksi.com, the newest taxi booking app in town, went behind the scenes to investigate the cause of it. Meager pay and zero benefits are only some of the reasons they managed to dig up from a hot mess of other disparity our country’s cab-drivers have to put up with. No wonder they’re so rude and dissatisfied all the time! In lieu with their new findings, they came up with a solution to not only fix the state of our taxi industry in Malaysia, but improve the quality of life of our cab-driving fellowmen. We requested an interview with one of the co-owners of MyTeksi, Adelene Foo, and she most gladly obliged. Through our chat, we learned about just how unfairly treated our taxi drivers had been before this, and how MyTeksi aims to help improve their livelihood.
What is MyTeksi?
MyTeksi is a phone application that you can download onto any smartphone to quickly call and book for a taxi. You no longer have to call a taxi booking company and wait while they try and get you a cab, or hail one from the side of the road anymore. With only your smartphone, you may get a cab as fast as 10 seconds into logging in!
How did the idea for MyTeksi come about?
It was started by two of our co-founders and I know one of the co-founder very well. We used to be nemesis on the badminton court; I’ve known her since our university days. We were from different universities and we meet on the court then we became good friends.
The whole idea of MyTeksi was founded by the both of them when they were pursuing their MBA in Harvard. One time when they came back for summer break in 2010, one of their Indonesian friends came over to Malaysia for a visit. He told them our Malaysia taxi service is horrible. It is like the worst he has ever encountered. They were surprised because that meant our taxi service is worse than that in Indonesia. They have Silverbird in Indonesia that is very efficient and reliable.
The Indonesian friend then suggested that they of all people should bethe pioneers to change the whole frontier of the taxi industry because one the co-founder’s grandfather used to be a taxi driver so he has all the connections and knowledge about the field. They took this into consideration and when they went back to Harvard, they came up with the idea of MyTeksi, whereby using technology, they may try to improve the current state of the taxi industry.
The idea is not very new in the world, but when we compare Malaysia and the rest of the world, things are very different. Adoption of smartphones was very different in that it had been rather slow compared to elsewhere. Only 10% of Malaysians had smartphones back in 2010. So who would use it?
How they started was, they joined a business plan competition in Harvard, whereby they wagered if they won this competition with MyTeksi, it would prove that the plan is feasible and would work in real life. They got all the validations they needed from their professors and passed all the stages they set for themselves. In fact they came in number 2 in the competition, the first Asian team ever – an Asian Malaysian team while at that – and Harvard gave them a seed fund to start the company. So they graduated, they came back to Malaysia June 2011and they started what is known today as MyTeksi in July.
One of the co-founders was also our angel investor so he too invested his own money into it.
Last year we went live online and launched it to the public and it’s been a year since. The journey has been very exciting.
How did you become a part of MyTeksi?
I joined last year, just after they went live to the public. It’s thanks to my friend. Prior to this I was in management consulting, we were both management consultants. She asked me if I was tired yet of management consulting and I thought, I was. It has been 7 years. Then she started introducing me to this MyTeksi thing. Over badminton games on court, she would try to convince me join the team because she could only work with MyTeksi for 6 more months. Her management consulting company, McKenzie, actually sponsored her MBA so she needed to go back and serve her 2 year bond. 2 years is a long time to be away from a start-up, and she asked if I was interested. She needed a replacement and that was how I fit into the picture.
What made you take on the job? You had no prior experience whatsoever in the taxi industry or any knowledge in the field of public transportation.
What really drew me to MyTeksi was the opportunity for everyone on the team to make a difference in the industry. When you talk about difference, you’re actually in the forefront and I can actually say that now because when we first started, we only had 100 drivers with us. After only a year, we have many thousands. I see a lot of changes in these driver’s lives – their income level has increased, their quality of life has improved, they can afford a lot more things, they can now focus on providing education for their children. It’s great. For example, the work device they use, which is the smartphone on which they employ MyTeksi, when they’re off duty, they go back home and use it as a wifi hotspot. They tether internet off it and that helps a lot with their education. Their families are exposed to more news and happenings around the world too. We realised that MyTeksi was their first gateway to the Internet so that made a huge impact on their lives.
So what’s a day like in your life?
I’m right now running the Malaysia office, the co-founder has now moved up to be our regional CEO. We’ve expanded from only operating in Malaysia to having four different offices in four different countries in South East Asia, and we’re still growing very fast.
How is MyTeksi different from all the other taxi companies?
I think the most obvious is the way our revenue model is shaped. With the old way, how taxi drivers used to earn is that they subscribe to a taxi company, and they pay a monthly fee if they want the radio installed in their car. You pay a monthly fee regardless of how many jobs you win through the radio. A lot of them tell us that it’s very hard to win a job because of the limitations of the radio. For example, if you make a call for a taxi, the operator will radio out to all the drivers. And it’s first come first serve for these drivers, a matter of who gets to the caller first. A lot of the time if it’s a lucrative job like an airport job, you tend to have 4-5 taxis all rushing to pick up the same caller. There’s a lot of danger in that because they end up driving very fast and that causes a lot of wear and tear on their vehicles as well. They were confined to that. They have to pay this fixed subscription amount every month regardless of how much money they earn out of it. Ours is different in that we use a prepaid model. You don’t have to pay any monthly fee to us, instead we just collect a small percentage commission out of every job you win from us. So basically, the passenger pays the full meter fare to you and we take only a small cut.
How do the drivers get the job? It’s not assigned through a central dispatch here right?
There’s no human intervention, no human contact. Everything is through a system. For example, today you make a taxi booking through MyTeksi on your smartphone. Through your smartphone we are able to detect where you are via GPS. When you make a taxi booking, it alerts our system, it alerts the drivers which are closest to you, within a radius of 3-5km. All those within that radius will get the same notification and they have 25 seconds to decide if they want to accept or reject the job. It’s just a matter of pressing on the red button to reject or green to accept on their end.
Let’s just say there are 10 drivers in your vicinity but only 5 are interested. So they press the green button. In the next 10 seconds, the application will decide on the winner and the winning driver is decided by the proximity to the passenger.
Because the driver is on a smartphone we are also able to always track them. We know where they are real-time, we know where the passenger is trying to make a booking from, we know where the passenger wants to go, so you may have 5 interested but the one closest to you will win the job. Only the winning driver will get the full details of the pick-up, like the passenger’s whereabouts etc. Our proposition to the driver is fair and we’re thinking about the experience from both platforms. Passengers won’t have to wait too long and drivers don’t have to travel too far. In 10 seconds, the passenger will know if they will be getting a taxi or not too.
Through the app the passengers are empowered through several information, like yes, you get a taxi, who’s your driver, what’s his name, what’s his car number plate, what does he look like, and you can also track him on the map as he makes his way towards you.
So what are some of the complaints or setbacks you’ve met since you started?
When we first started, our first challenge were the drivers. They’ve never used a smartphone so initially they were very sceptical. They’ll have to invest in a smartphone themselves so initially the barrier of entry was very high. A lot of them can’t see the value in it. We started in September 2011 and at the time we were still in pilot phase, we haven’t launched it to the public yet, we started with only 40 drivers. With these 40 we had to nurture them, how to switch on and off a smartphone, we had to educate them about Google, and all of this. It was challenging in that sense because we had the product but the competency level was no where near. We had to sit down with them and educate them about it. Also we had to fine-tune our product. They had questions like, “What if I’m colour-blind, what if I can’t read?”
So we fine-tuned it in such a way so that it remains simple enough for the drivers. Some can’t read, but they can read addresses which is what amazes me. Some are colourblind, some are a bit deaf. We try to make it as simple as possible to cater to all. At one glance, the driver will know where the pick up point is and where the passenger wants to go and whether you’re interested on taking the job. Red for no, green for yes.
Across that time, our 40 drivers became our best ambassadors. Once we launched officially we had about 150 drivers and they all started telling their friends about MyTeksi. Word of mouth started spreading.
How much of a difference has MyTeksi made to the livelihood of these drivers?
For some of them, their income has increased by 40-50% minimum. They tell their friends how jobs get pushed to them via the app, instead of them rushing after the job, so they’re granted a lot of free time too .
The way they work is also very different now. What used to be waiting for a call on the radio, or waiting in a long queue for passengers in front of a mall, now sees them chilling at mamaks waiting for a notification on their phones.
What was your marketing strategy to get MyTeksi’s name out there?
Our initial marketing phase was targeted at drivers because our sole purpose was to grow the supply of taxis first. Grow the supply, train them, give them the education about the Internet, about how to use a smartphone. With the first few guys we also taught them how to use Viber and Whatsapp, basically, enriching their experience. Our drivers when they’re on break, they’re checking the news, they’re on YouTube.
On the public front, we have over 150,000 downloads of MyTeksi. We process many thousands a day. Now we’re focused on building the demand, that is getting more people to download and call for taxis via our app. It’s always a balance we need. You have to balance out the supply and push out the demand, because they can’t live without each other.
Essentially what we’re trying to do is to match the demands with the supply, that’s our main goal. Hopefully along the way we’ll also rid out all the bad apples as much as we can.
Has revenue been up to expectations?
Definitely. We’ve been monetizing since March 2012, even before we went live. But this year we have a lot of focus on advertising and marketing because we really want to push the product out to the market fast so we’re spending a lot on that now.
Are there any rogue drivers, how do you handle those? How do you keep track of your drivers?
The good thing about this system is that they all know we track every single thing they do. The rogue drivers, they stay away from us. They dare not join us because we track their whereabouts. We track everything. This keeps the other drivers from acting out too.
Not only do we track, our app also has a feature where passengers can leave comments about their drivers and journey. They can rate their drivers and we will take action accordingly. It we do see a very bad rating, we will investigate and find out what’s going on. We also use that to reward our good drivers. The platform allows for check and balance on both sides, the passenger and the drivers.
On our end, we also do check beforehand if these drivers have been blacklisted in the JPJ database. Occasionally we also check their past records and whenever there’s an opportunity we’ll check their cars. We also take their picture.
How’s life now on the personal end?
I just got married in December 2012. I joined MyTeksi in June 2012 so it’s been about a year. Marriage is great and we’re on this journey of rapid growth so it’s been exciting. Everyday there’s something to look forward to, new people to meet, new problems to solve. Everyday there’s something to do, it keeps me on my toes a lot of the time. Right now my goal is growth and value creation, for my partners, people at home, growth in all areas.
How do find the time to balance everything and cope?
The key important thing here is the support you have, your support structure. It’s important to build a very good team backing you up in the company. It’s also important to have the support at home. My parents and husband are very, very supportive of what I do.
When passion and work, when the two cross paths, you don’t really feel like you’re working too much. Technology helps as well, I bring my work everywhere so it’s easier. You’re not desk-bound, you can do it anywhere. Integration of work with life is now much easier.
What is the most rewarding moment since starting at this?
Like I said, it’s being at the forefront of change, being the first to do this in Malaysia. You see the change happening day by day so that’s very fulfilling and motivating. I speak on behalf of my team as well, everyone is motivated towards making a change so when you look at them, it’s inspiring. Everyone is in sync with the vision of the company. That’s why I’m here. That’s something that I can’t get elsewhere.
What are some of your toughest moments in running MyTeksi as an entrepreneur, when you were just starting out?
My toughest moment is always the people side of things. It’s tough when we seek the right people for the job, it’s hard to find someone who suits the position we’re looking for. Talent to us is the most important thing in the company. Not only do we look at your credentials, we also look at how well you fit with the team we have. When we start recruiting, our means are very different. We’ll ask them to spend a week here just to see how well the rest of the team likes and accept the new guy. I have to get consent from the team before I hire someone. So it was tough in the sense that I had to hire someone and grow the team fast, yet I was very picky in finding the right people.
What about the competition? How have other taxi companies reacted to MyTeksi?
Just to clarify, the taxi companies provide two different services. The first option is drivers who can’t afford to buy a car nor have a permit, they can rent from the taxi company. We’re not involved in that side of the industry at all. We are focused on the whole taxi dispatch and booking solution. Basically, only the communication part of it. Some taxi companies provide both, they provide the rental services and they also provide the communication services, through the radio. I see MyTeksi as a service which complements them. We’re not entirely their competitor, our aim is to improve the income level of taxi drivers. Some of them embrace our presence even. If the income level of the driver increases, the ability to pay off the rental is there too. They see us as a complementary by-service. We are just providing an option for the drivers to get more jobs.
How did you come up with funding?
Funding wasn’t much of a problem for us; I know a lot of entrepreneurs face that, but I was blessed that we had very good support from our angel investors, they see a lot of value in what we do, so they approved of our project without much questions. We had a good ground when it came to funding. Maybe I was just lucky? I think it’s important for any entrepreneur to find an angel investor who is totally aligned with where you want to go with your ideas and your company.
We had two angel investors, one of them was my partner, the co-founder. The bulk came from the other person. They’ve always believed in our cause. How we aligned ourselves is that we always sold ourselves as a for-profit social enterprise. Why I say for-profit is because we cannot operate in an NGO setting. NGO is always short-term. You need to get donations and your solution will not be sustained for long. I’m looking for something longer-term to fix the problem. Therefore we need to monetize to ensure we are here for the long-term.
Was the social part an initial idea, or an afterthought?
The social part was the seed idea behind MyTeksi, because we wanted to make a difference in the taxi industry of Malaysia. Initially we were a little gungho and thought we’d start an NGO then we realised it’s not sustainable.
It’s also very difficult for a tech social enterprise to progress, because when you’re a technology company, you have to stay ahead of times. You need to constantly innovate.
What is in the future for MyTeksi?
Future plans is definitely growth. Right now we believe we are the market leader but we want to extend the gap much more. We want to be in several states by the end of the year. Other states have contacted us telling us they’ve heard of our product and are inviting us to implement it in their place. Right now, we will be launching in two new states very soon. I can’t say where yet, but keep an eye out for our press conference release soon.
We’ve been very blessed. Drivers are seeing the benefit of using MyTeksi so more and more are coming on board .
Will there be anytime in the future when you provide the taxis?
I don’t think so. Because we love to be in the tech space. There are more ideas to be explored in the tech line to bring our product to the next level. So at the moment, no, we’re not quite interested to be on that side of the service. We want to focus on technology. We want to complement our partners, not steal their business.
Any advice for future aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
They need to establish a good support structure. If you don’t have that, it’s gonna be difficult. You’ll also have to spend a lot of time in the business, growing it and grooming it. You’ll need to keep thinking of new ideas to add value to your product and to those who are using your product. You’ll need to invest a lot of time in the business and be on the ground yourself.
What are some of your personal quotes you live by?
We have this joke here that we always share internally. “Go big or go home”. If you wanna do something, you have to do it big. Never aim for something mediocre. As a start-up, you only have one of two shots to make it, otherwise you’ll be stagnant. So if you wanna do it, you do it right.
Creating a successful business isn’t just about meeting the right opportunity at the right time, it is also about identifying problems and coming up with a solution to it. Thank you, Adelene, for sharing with us MyTeksi’s noble cause of alleviating the lives of our country’s taxi drivers and improving the industry all in all!