Born in Brazil, this worldwide startup aims to solve urban mobility issues.
By: Lianna Patch
When you’re an entrepreneur, quality control is important — especially when your company has grown from one man with an idea to 1300-plus employees serving more than 30 countries worldwide.
That’s why Dennis Wang, co-CEO of cab-hailing app Easy Taxi, doesn’t own a car. Alongside Easy Taxi founder Tallis Gomes, and co-founders Daniel Cohen, Vinicius Gracia, and Marcio William, Wang has helped grow Easy Taxi into a worldwide phenomenon from its modest start in 2011. These days, the app is available in dozens of languages, and serves millions of consumers a year.
Not only does taking taxis every day help Wang keep in touch with the app’s core market, it’s a crucial part of Easy Taxi’s adaptation to diverse markets all over the world. “Our philosophy is, ‘Think globally, but act locally,’” Wang says. “We have to adapt ourselves to operate in each country.”
For instance, when Easy Taxi discovered that Venezuelan taxis didn’t have fare meters, the company helped provide pre-set prices for rides. In South Korea, where some streets have neither names nor numbers, Easy Taxi set about mapping locations by code and algorithm. In Thailand, where many cab drivers can’t read, the app relies on color codes instead of words. The list goes on — and it’s extending into previously untapped markets all over the world.
“You have to learn about the local culture and adapt your company to serve the community in which it operates,” Wang says. “It’s all about the ability to better adapt to the environment. However, it is also about keeping your core values.”
Investor interest skyrockets
Those core values are proving pretty attractive to major investors. In the fall of 2012, Easy Taxi got its first investment: a $5 million U.S. infusion from German company Rocket Internet. Less than a year later, Easy Taxi won an additional $15 million from Latin America Internet Holding — and a year after than, Rocket Internet returned with another $10 million in support of Easy Taxi’s African expansion.
Why Africa? Easy Taxi saw an opportunity to enter the transportation market in Nigeria, where there are tons of taxis, but where smartphone penetration is still low. As more drivers get smartphones and sign up for Easy Taxi, Nigeria may well become a home base for the app’s planned expansion to eight African countries.
Easy Taxi’s investment backing is not the result of luck or personal connections; it’s a direct consequence of smart positioning and foresight. Wang says investors look for several factors when deciding whether or not to support a budding company. “Three things are decisive: First is if the people who are involved in the project know what they are doing,” he says. “Second, if the product can solve a real problem; and finally, if that solution [or product] can be scaled.”
He also advises entrepreneurs never to lose sight of the problem they set out to solve — and to know they’ll be putting in long hours. “The bottom line is: Work very hard, keep in mind the core value of what you are doing, and dream big,” Wang says.
Here, try it with my phone
Though the app boasts more than 17 million users worldwide, according to Google Play, Easy Taxi’s push for new drivers continues. “After the app was built came the true challenge,” Wang shares. “We needed to promote a paradigm shift. It was required to convince taxi drivers and passengers to change their everyday habits.”
The team recruited cab drivers at local gas stations, showing them how the app could serve up fares and track rides while making taxis safer for both drivers and passengers. “At that time, most Brazilian cab drivers did not have a smartphone,” Wang says. “To prove our concept, we even lent smartphones to them.”
Easy Taxi now relies on other ways to incentivize taxi drivers in the fierce Southeast Asian transportation market, where the company is competing against ride-sharing service Uber and GrabTaxi. In addition, Easy Taxi charges lower booking fees to drivers than GrabTaxi, and has begun taking on corporate accounts.
Last summer, Easy Taxi received a whopping $40 million from an international group of venture capitalists, including Tengelmann Ventures and Phenomen Ventures, in a Series D funding round. This enormous influx will support the young company’s single-minded, tenacious progress — and Wang’s methodical approach. “In 2013, our challenge was to improve our company’s operational system to make Easy Taxi more efficient for users,” Wang says. “Last year, our focus was on expanding internationally. This year, our goal is improving the internal processes of the company. It is always one step at a time.”
Lianna Patch is a writer and editor from New Orleans, LA, whose portfolio spans copywriting, cultural publications, and literary journals.