Payment technology zooms into the taxi industry, Zoomy

Zoomy, a taxi ordering app built by two Kiwis, is providing hundreds of users across New Zealand’s three major cities with an easier way to get from point A to point B every day.

The app works by allowing you to hail taxis in your area by simply tapping a button. Once a driver accepts, Zoomy shows you an image of who will pick you up, what their car’s license plate is, and where they are on the map as they approach you. The service aims to eliminate call centres and wait times by facilitating direct communication between the driver and the passenger.

James Fisk and Neil Macdonald, the app’s founders, said that Zoomy was born out of frustration with their personal experiences as passengers.

“Being regular users of taxis,” James said, “we found it frustrating you could order a cab when you’re in a hurry, and not know where it is, or when exactly it would turn up. Often we’d end up hailing another taxi on the street because we had no idea if our ordered taxi was actually going to show up or if it was just running late.

“It seemed impossible that there was no service that could let the passenger know when exactly the taxi would arrive instead of having to wait outside and hope one did.”

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The Zoomy team also took drivers’ perspectives into consideration when developing the concept. Neil Macdonald said, “Once we started working on the app, we started looking at tools that would help drivers become more efficient and bring new tech to their business.”

At around the same time, Neil and James realised that similar concepts where starting to flourish overseas. Neil was traveling to London, and decided to use the trip as an opportunity to explore how their international counterparts were making use of technology in the taxi business. “I caught a lot of cabs,” said Neil, “and spoke to many drivers, and fed that information back to James who was busy wire-framing the app back in NZ.

“Needless to say my mobile bill was extremely large that month!”

Meanwhile, James was researching development companies who could build Zoomy. “We settled on a company,” he said, “and in November 2012 we started the build.”

However, by June, 2013, the Zoomy team realised that the company they had been working with would not be able to deliver the product they wanted, and decided to switch to a New Zealand-based development firm, Roam Ltd. The entire app had to be rebuilt from scratch.

“We took everything we learnt from the previous 12 months and applied it into creating a product that could be compared to the best apps we had ever used,” James said.

Both co-founders were already in well-paying management jobs while they were going through the initial stages of Zoomy’s development, which Neil recognises as an advantage they had over most startups. The main sacrifice Neil and James had to make was surviving on a few hours’ sleep each night.

“Our employer at the time was actually very supportive, which made things a little easier,” Neil said. “After a few months we then brought a group of investors on-board, who not only brought some capital, but also a wealth of business experience in the digital and start-up space.”

Three months ago, Zoomy underwent another round of funding, which led to Simon Clausen becoming a shareholder. “We have a young, vibrant group of shareholders that add considerably more than just the funding they’ve provided,” James confessed.

So far, Zoomy’s biggest challenge has been convincing the taxi industry that change is in order. At first, drivers and taxi companies were skeptical about veering from the way they had conducted business for the past few decades.

“I remember talking to an owner of one large taxi company who thought the app was great, but said it would be another 10 years before this kind of technology would be in use in NZ!” Neil recalled.

“We now have the same companies and drivers approach us wanting to join Zoomy,” James added.

Both of Zoomy’s cofounders say that they would have done few things differently if they were to do it all over again.

“We’ve made a few mistakes and gone down some paths that turned out to be dead ends, but if we hadn’t we wouldn’t be the wiser for them,” James reflected.

In hindsight, Neil says that they could have worked with on-site developers from the beginning, which would have made life a lot easier. “It was often difficult to convey exactly what we wanted by phone calls and email.”

In the future, James and Neil see Zoomy becoming the most popular way to order a cab in New Zealand.

“Outside of that,” James said, “we expect to apply the technology to other industries where on-demand delivery and payments are needed.”

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