This week Nida Mahmud caught up with Amer Hasan, an Imperial Alumnus and CEO of minicabit. He recently appeared on Dragons’ Den and recieved offers from three out of the five Dragons. Furthermore, minicabit is the first app to win an offer on the show. Minicabit is an app and website that enables users to compare real time quotes from cab companies. The company operates in over 30 cities and wil be expanding to even more in 2014. Amer tells us more about minicabit and how you can win tickets to see Beyonce at The O2.
What is minicabit?
minicabit enables you to compare and book real-time quotes from licensed minicab operators in over 30 cities across the UK. Our technology helps you to book great cab deals for long distance and local trips via our website and smartphone app. We’re backed by O2, the mobile operator.
Congratulations on your success on the Dragons’ Den TV show. What was it actually like in the Den?
Thanks, the whole experience of getting 3 investment offers from the Dragons was a bit surreal. And it’s great that minicabit’s app is the first app to ever win offers in the Den! Pitching in the Den itself was pretty much like any other meeting with potential investors, except everyone was wearing TV makeup. The time in the Den was a lot longer than shown, where they certainly grilled me. But the negotiation was as tense as it appeared, as I had to carefully deal with each of the Dragons’ offers.
Overall, it’s a great thumbs up for the business, especially coming after O2 had invested in us as a startup (through their Wayra fund).
What did you study at Imperial College?
I was a Chemistry with Management undergraduate in 1993 (and no, I don’t dye my hair!). In fact, I was one of the first to take the undergrad course in Management from the small house they had across Exhibition Road. It’s great to see how the Management School has expanded since then.
How did your time at Imperial shape your entrepreneurial career?
I’m really proud of my time at Imperial, and in fact my entrepreneurial roots were planted then. In my very first Freshers week, I joined the committee of a brand new society which was quite focused on financial modelling etc. Having managed its events, I became its Chairman in my 3rd year and totally repositioned it, rebranding it as The Finance Society, launching its London University-wide Capital magazine and bringing in some big name event sponsors…all in the midst of a recession! I myself didn’t have a deep interest in banking, but it developed my skills in marketing and also managing a big team. It became one of the biggest societies when I left and I understand it’s still around today.
A key learning to any student at Imperial today is get involved in an extra-curricular activity. Whatever the society, club or project is, you’ll never have an opportunity to practice and learn what you’re good or bad at, and the skills you pick up will serve you in any commercial or academic career throughout your life.
How did your career evolve after university?
I switched between corporate marketing roles and doing a startup in the late ‘90s, the latter with mixed success. I then spent 9 years in the mobile industry, working at O2 and then Vodafone Global, where I was responsible for their Internet Partnerships and Apps worldwide. Looking back, it was quite entrepreneurial as mobile internet was just taking off and was a pretty dynamic environment to work in. I was then itching to do a startup and so set up minicabit in the autumn of 2010.
And how is minicabit doing now?
It’s been a long ride with the usual ups and downs of a startup, but it’s going great guns now! We’ve got well over 300 licensed cab operators across the UK on our network; Apple has highlighted our app 6 times in their App Store; and major venues around the UK offer our service to their customers, including The O2 Arena, Wembley Arena, Expedia, London City Airport, and Blenheim Palace amongst many others.
We pride ourselves in doing things differently from what one expects from the cab sector, and are always innovating new ideas. For instance, until end of Sunday 2nd March, our Twitter page (@minicabit) is giving away 2 tickets to see Beyonce live at The O2 Arena, with a cab ride to take you there from anywhere in the UK (upto £200!).
What’s your advice to students considering doing or joining a startup?
The startup scene has transformed significantly, particularly in the last 5 years. In my day, joining a corporate would be the natural starting point for a graduate to kickoff their career and gain valuable commercial expertise. Now, cutting edge experience (especially for online, mobile, tech) is arguably to be found in startups, to the point that corporates are increasingly looking to partner with, or hire from, startups as the digital revolution gathers pace. Also, the tools to startup a business are cheaper, and the support network better than ever.
So now is a great time for startups, but I caution to choose your venture wisely, and to be prepared for a lot of hard work in the face of almost constant uncertainty.
Would you hire an Imperial graduate?
My team is made up of mostly fresh graduates, as they typically have the talent and energy my business needs. Funnily enough, I once tried hiring summer interns from Imperial but got zero response, probably because they thought we were a minicab firm! I ended up getting some great grads from UCL, Manchester and Bristol universities – the experience of working in a startup during a prime time BBC TV broadcast will no doubt be added to their CV’s. We’ll be looking to take on some summer internships, so it would be nice to see some applicants from Imperial this time. We can give them a break from their science and engineering books!
Amer Hasan is CEO of minicabit, www.minicabit.com, @minicabit.