In this two-part series, KiniBiz talks to Anthony Tan, co-founder of popular taxi booking app MyTeksi, about the beginnings and the formation of the app and the service, and the trials that were faced in its inception.
KiniBiz is pretty sure that everyone has faced a lack of taxi drivers, especially when one is needed the most. Raining? The cabs disappear. Have to get somewhere quick? Cabbies magically know to avoid the area where you are waiting for a cab, and heaven forbid if any of the routes are congested.
Apparently, enough was enough. Anthony Tan, along with a few friends during his time at the Harvard Business School, came up with a method to answer the cry of people in need of taxis in Malaysia.
MyTeksi Sdn Bhd identifies itself as a for-profit social startup aiming to revolutionise the taxi industry of the Southeast Asian region, with its core product a taxi dispatch service, enhanced by the use of GPS-capable devices, which would allow passengers to hail the nearest taxi.
The initial inspiration, according to Tan, was when a friend from overseas visited him in Malaysia. Said friend also found the taxi service (as it was then) to be horrendous.
“He reminded me that my great grandfather was a taxi driver and that my grandfather had started the Japanese automotive industry in Malaysia. Due to my roots, I was in the position to make a difference to a very real problem in Malaysia,” said Tan, referring to his grandfather Tan Yuet Foh, co-founder of Tan Chong Motor Holdings Berhad.
Carrying the seed for MyTeksi Sdn Bhd, he got together with a female friend of his, “who also understood the pain of being female and taking taxis”, and pitched the idea of building a social, for-profit enterprise, that utilised smartphones and GPS technology, to build a platform which makes the taxi system more efficient, and safer.
We have a plan
“This was while we were at the Harvard Business School back in 2011,” recounted Tan, adding that the idea placed second in the Harvard Business School Business Plan competition, which provided the seed capital for the duo to get started on turning the project into a reality.
With the necessary kickstarter funds in place, now comes the time for (further) action, with the initial starting point here in Malaysia.
“Malaysia is a market that we understood very well, and we spent many months understanding the problems of both the passengers and the drivers,” said Tan. The MyTeksi application was then launched in June 2012, two years ago.
“The 12 months after the initial public launch was spent iterating and experimenting with the app,” recounted Tan, adding that MyTeksi Sdn Bhd then launched in the Philippines in August 2013, under the moniker GrabTaxi. This represented the company’s first expansion out of the nation.
The first 12 months were also spent identifying the product-market fit for the Malaysian market, and this was done by listening to and learning the needs of the market. Tan believes that any growth before obtaining the product-market fit is dangerous, “as you have yet to discover what the tipping point of your product is”. This careful approach seems to have served the company well.
“In just 24 months (since the public launch), we are now in six countries and 15 cities in the region,” said Tan. The expansion came once the company had gained traction as well as forward momentum, which allowed the company to begin raising capital for further expansion.
A bit too smooth-sailing? KiniBiz thought so too. There had to be problems, right? So KiniBiz asked, and Tan concurred when KiniBiz inquired, saying that no one had actually taken the company seriously when they first started out!
Getting cabbies onboard
“One of our biggest teething problems was the taxi drivers’ reluctance to adopt technology!” revealed Tan, adding that the company had to explain to taxi drivers how the smartphones worked, as well as how the data plans provided by telephone companies fit into the grand scheme of things.
“At that time, we had no office yet, so these ‘lessons’ were conducted in mamak outlets over lots of teh tarik,” Tan shared. However, these appeared to prove fruitful as tens of thousands of taxi drivers have been using the smartphone-based technologies of MyTeksi Sdn Bhd to receive bookings in not only Malaysia, but also the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and recently Indonesia.
In May 2014, Myteksi Sdn Bhd had announced that it had raised more than US$15 million, or RM48.12 million, through Series B funding, with investors including Silicone Valley-based GGV Capital, a venture capitalist company that names the Alibaba Group as one of its representative investments, China-based, NASDAQ-listed travel platform Qunar, as well as Singapore-based Temasek Holdings’ wholly-owned subsidiary Vertex Venture Holdings, which had previously led MyTeksi Sdn Bhd’s Series A funding.
The funds represent capital growth that will be utilised for research and the expansion of the company.
In part two, KiniBiz talks to MyTeksi Sdn Bhd co-founder Anthony Tan about what lies ahead for the company.
Tomorrow: MyTeksi: Down the road