A Hailo boss has revealed that he's never used rival car-sharing service Uber, and nor does he plan to.
Rorie Devine, chief technology officer (CTO) of London taxi-hailing service Hailo, told Techworld this week: "I’ve never taken an Uber ride in my life."
Hailo, the free iOS and Android app that allows people to get a black cab by tapping the ‘pick me up' button, informing a nearby, licensed black cab driver with the app where they are, is used by roughly 12,000 of the 17,000 licensed black cab drivers in London and a number of other taxi drivers in cities around the world.
While the numbers sound impressive, Hailo is facing some very stiff competition from Silicon Valley heavyweight, Uber.
Devine refused to admit that he was even slightly intrigued by what Uber, now the biggest taxi company in the world, has to offer.
“They just ignore the court regulations and put what are effectively minicab drivers on the road using smartphones. That’s not what we do,” said Devine during an interview at Hailo's headquarters in Somerset House, London. “They’re buying revenue, they’re buying market share, they’re trying to suffocate the competition. You can do that for a while with a lot of money but eventually market dynamics will win and it will be about the quality of the service.”
Uber has been targeted by licensed taxi drivers around the world who are frustrated because they believe the San Francisco firm, now valued at $18 billion (£11 billion), is breaking the law in the jurisdictions they operate in.
However, Hailo's relationship with black cab drivers isn't exactly perfect.
The firm was targeted by a number of cabbies when they discovered that Hailo had applied for a licence to operate private hire cars as well as black cabs. Many cab drivers saw this as a betrayal of trust and abandoned the platform, with some displaying mock logos in their cabs reading "Failo".
But Devine, who claimed to be unaware of Hailo's relationship with the London Taxi Drivers Association, is adamant that Hailo improves taxi services for drivers and passengers by empowering both groups with an app that complies with local regulations.
“We’re trying to do what we call constructive disruption,” he claimed.
In addition to London and Manchester, Hailo is also available in Leeds and Liverpool following a UK expansion last week, which coincided with a Singapore launch. Meanwhile, Pay with Hailo - a way of using a Hailo account to pay for taxis hailed off the street, at no additional cost to the driver - was also launched in London last week. Hailo is also available in the US but the company is understood to be withdrawing from the region due to Uber’s bullish dominance, which is exerted through what Hailo has described as an “astronomical marketing spend”.
Devine attributes much of his company’s success and recent expansions to a talented workforce of roughly 100 people, with one in 10 of those being former Google employees, or “Googlers” as they are sometimes referred to.
Fledging young developers and software engineers are attracted to Hailo over large corporates because they are empowered to get on and have a noticeable impact on the business, according to Devine, who added that the technology underpinning the Hailo platform is one of the main reasons technologists want to join the company.
Hailo is now 100 percent open source and based on technologies such as the Google Go programming language, as well as Google's XML equivalent Protocol Buffers, message-oriented middleware RabbitMQ, real-time message processing system NSQ and database management system Cassandra.
The cloud-platform is powered almost entirely by Amazon Web Services', which means that Hailo doesn't have any of its own IT infrastructure or datacentres. One of the main reasons for going down the cloud route is because it offers a scalable architecture that allows Hailo to expand to additional cities around the world with relative ease.
Hailo transitioned from a traditional software bundle architecture, known as a lamp stack, to a microservices-style architecture approximately a year ago but lost a number of employees in the process.
"The microservices world is different," said Devine. "We break things down into much smaller units of services that do one thing and do it well. So you might have 100 or 200 services coming together to do little jobs to deliver the customer experience with something in the middle to orchestrate all that. So you don’t write applications, you write services - much smaller pieces of code - that can be created and deployed much quicker. It’s about speed and development.
"The current record is 14 minutes for a developer to write something on his local machine and deploy it. In the old world there is no way you could have done that because there are too many interdependencies."
Innovative firms such as Netflix and Amazon have also adopted this style of IT architecture, Devine said.
US vs European venture capital
Despite being driven out of the US, Hailo has still caught the eye of several European investors, raising over $100 million (£62 million) to date with the help of venture capital (VC) firms like Index Ventures and Atomico.
Devine suggested that Hailo, a company on the government's Future Fifty startup programme, may even be Europe's highest-backed tech company. This may sound impressive, but to compare, Uber has received $1.2 billion (£744 million) in funding.
“Uber has had significantly more than us because they can tap into the Silicon Valley VC pool,” said Devine. “That just doesn’t exist in Europe, so how do we compete? We have to go to the US or we have to go to Asia and then we’re pitching against local competitors. They won’t have heard of Hailo in Los Angeles or San Francisco so it’s very difficult.”
He added: “It’s not a level playing field. We need more and better European venture capital to compete with the US.”
To make matters worse for Hailo, it was alleged last week that the company's fundraising is being deliberately held back by Uber.
Hailo chairman Ron Zeghibe told the BBC that Uber would talk to potential investors only if they agreed not to invest in Hailo or other rivals.
"In raising that massive [funding] round, any investor who wanted to even look at Uber's books to decide whether they wanted to make an investment had to sign an agreement which specifically named us, as well as Lyft, and restricting them from having any ability to even talk to us for at least a year," he said.
"It wasn't just good enough for them to raise enough money for their business - they needed to restrict the market to Hailo and its competitors to have access to capital.
"That's what we're up against."
Image credit: Hailo