minicabit founder Amer Hasan tells Colette Doyle how he promoted his business without spending a fortune…
Partnerships are a good way for start-ups to promote their services without the expense of traditional above-the-line advertising and minicabit has taken this approach to heart, teaming up with both regional transport hubs like London City Airport, Heathrow Airport and UK-wide travel-booking site Expedia. This helps mark the company out as a national proposition that has grown from 30 cities initially to offering coverage currently in 40-plus locations. “Cab operators could really see the benefits of us linking up with Heathrow, it was a great magnet for attracting providers, as it offers a guaranteed supply of customers,” says Hasan.
In order to bankroll his “sensible, lean business model”, he explored a number of different avenues. “Sometimes I think I must have tapped just about every source of funding around”, he jokes, listing personal investment, a bank loan and angel investors, as well as the Wayra program, which helped take the business to another level. The initiative is a start-up accelerator funded by Telefónica, which promotes itself as providing “everything you need to take your business to the top”. On a practical level, it offers funding of up to £50,000 and access to a global network of business partners and mentors.
It was through his involvement in the Wayra program that his most memorable and high-profile bid for funding came about when he was invited to take part in the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, where entrepreneurs pitch to a panel of multimillionaires in order to secure investment. The build-up to it was more nerve-wracking than the actual appearance, recalls Hasan, which felt like any other meeting “apart from everyone wearing TV make-up“, he quips. Piers Linney, Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden all wanted to buy a stake in the company (“the three of them fighting over who was going to invest was a great position to be in”) and he went with a Jones-Meaden deal in the end, but ultimately the agreement didn’t pan out off camera. Not that this was an acrimonious outcome – “it’s difficult to work with a one-size-fits-all approach,” acknowledges Hasan.
Despite the money failing to materialise, being on the show didn’t do him any harm, resulting in a significant numbers of cab operators signing up to the service and a spike in customers opting to use the app. “After the broadcast lots of people wanted to invest and it was a case of trying to harness that enthusiasm,” he notes. Another route that he pursued in his plans to expand the business was crowdfunding platform Seedrs. “Alternative financing is helpful because it’s flexible, meaning that you don’t have to rely on family and friends, or the bank”, notes Hasan, who declares himself a firm fan.
Using such a platform wasn’t just a way of gaining investment, it also gave minicabit a “ready-made army of advocates”, in Hasan’s words, who then helped launch the app on Android back in February this year. When minicabit partnered with Big Yellow storage (to move items of furniture and white goods) Seedrs investors helped spread the word about a special offer for app users. “It’s a great discipline for entrepreneurs, and a slick way to help galvanise investment”, he notes.
In the next instalment of this series, minicabit founder Amer Hasan tells Colette Doyle how he plans to embrace the digital world…