April 25, 2016
Discover how Mountain BizWorks is helping a company out to revolutionize the taxi industry
Listen to George Wheeler describe what was standard operating procedure for many cab companies just a few years ago, and you’d think you’d stepped back in time to the dark ages—or at least the 1980s. The system for dispatching drivers? A big piece of plywood with numbered nails, covered with slips of paper should their corresponding cabbie be occupied. The system for recording trips? A spiral-bound notebook with a handwritten log. “The industry really needed us,” George says emphatically of his taxi tech company, Cab Hound, based in Waynesville.
But he didn’t know just how much it needed help when he first began dreaming up the business nearly a decade ago. As a management consultant at the time who traveled extensively and depended on taxis for transportation, he just knew there had to be a way to improve his experience and that of his colleagues.
Startup 101: Solve a Problem
“Consultants typically have a favorite driver in their home city,” George explains, one who’s the first and only person they need to call for a reliable ride. “But the problem for me was, I was flying into different cities every month. I didn’t have a person in every city.” He adds, “I thought if I could create a way that you could easily find drivers who are nearby and be able to compare them side by side with actual data about how reliable they are, I wouldn’t have to try 25 different people. I would just know, based on the wisdom of the crowd, who the best driver in Chicago is.”
So in 2008, he developed the first generation of Cab Hound apps for a) passengers—to enable them to find, track, coordinate, and pay for trips with the best available drivers—and b) for drivers—allowing them to promote themselves, accept credit cards, and utilize time-saving tools like GPS navigation.
He conducted beta testing of the apps in Austin, Texas, working closely with a group of drivers in the area. They’d let George ride along with them as they used the app, then they’d all meet up weekly—along with passengers—to discuss how it could be improved.
Next Step: Get Seed Funding
That’s when he got stuck. He had a great product, tested and proven, but no customers. And no money coming in.
So, he looked to the Advantage Opportunity Fund—a loan fund for high-growth entrepreneurial companies in WNC, formerly based at AdvantageWest but now managed by Mountain BizWorks. In order to receive seed capital he needed to seal the deal with a paying customer. After knocking on “lots” of doors, he signed his first contract with City Cab in Charlotte and officially launched the business.
He spent a great deal of time chatting with his new clients about the problems they faced since the rise of Uber. Although not direct competition, Uber has forced the taxi industry to work harder and smarter—and join the 21st century. He quickly saw how offering dispatching and call center services along with the app offerings could even better help City Cab and others compete in the rapidly changing climate, and he expanded Cab Hound’s tech portfolio. Not long after, the company got its second customer in Brooklyn, NY. And others followed.
Then, he reached a point where he needed to grow the business. He learned about ScaleUp WNC, applied, and was accepted into Cohort 2 last year.
“ScaleUp was a really big step for me personally and in terms of the development of Cab Hound,” George says. One of the biggest advantages of the program? Much like his app provides: collective knowledge.
Think Big: Grow Your Company (With a Little Help from Your Friends)
“As an entrepreneur with a small company, you can feel very isolated,” he says. “You don’t know what you don’t know. You have questions, but you don’t have the answers.”
George notes that getting connected with ScaleUp WNC’s advisors and his fellow cohort entrepreneurs was vital: “They gave a lot of wonderful insight into the questions I was having. I can’t emphasize enough how great it is to meet other people who are going through the same circumstances as you are, asking them your questions, and then hearing how they’re solving particular issues.”
In that vein, George has recently been working with one of our 20+ expert business coaches, Ravi Gaikwad, an entrepreneur himself. “He’s been just a tremendous asset to my organization,” George shares. He also returned to our lending team for an expansion loan to help reach new markets. Mountain BizWorks is thrilled to lend to the, perhaps surprising number of, companies making up WNC’s fast-growing tech scene.
As a result of such capital and coaching, Cab Hound is, well, scaling up and taking over the taxi world. George and his team continue to update and improve their initial apps, and they’ve added new products to their portfolio of technologies. Cab Hound is signing more and more customers and creating quality jobs for the community; George plans to hire several new staff later this year.
What’s more, not only has George created a scalable business, he’s made sure the companies that use Cab Hound can also thrive and expand through its offerings. The message to the taxi industry he’s revolutionizing: “You can grow with us. We want to be seen as the people who can give you the complete package.”