Last month we celebrated one year since Beat’s acquisition by MyTaxi, part of the Daimler group. What a year! I never expected to feel that excited — more than ever before.
For anyone who doesn’t know what Beat is, it is the company that I, Kostis, Michael, and Nikos, founded 7 years ago in Athens (Greece) as Taxibeat. Over the years, we expanded to South America where we offer a ride-sharing mobile app; just like Uber does. But that’s where the similarities end.
What we do in our company is develop a culture that pushes for ruthless execution, while also pushing for being nice guys ( no assholes survive here). We deeply care about the people who work for us, for the people who use our service, and we also care about the local communities that are affected by what we do.
We want to be part of the fabric of the city. And we want to help local people improve their lives, in many different ways. But, delivering an amazing transportation experience at affordable prices is goal #1. Both of these goals require an adaptation and localization of our product and operations so profound, that our customers feel like we are a local company, not an international one.
To me, we live and breath in the most exciting industry that exists out there! In South America we’re not only solving a very real, pressing market need, like affordable transportation in cities with bad to almost non-existent infrastructure, but also provide enormous economic opportunities to people who live at near-poverty levels. Hundreds of thousands of people in the city of Lima alone are replacing the lack of transportation infrastructure in the city, by driving other people to their destinations using their own cars. More than 50,000 of them drive for Beat. And the potential for growth is still untapped.
I truly believe that the end game in our industry is developing a smart system that anticipates people’s transportation needs in advance and serving those needs through autonomous vehicles, at a monthly subscription rate. And Beat is well on its way to developing this future: a smart cab dispatch system on a subscription, and a fleet of autonomous vehicles available at almost every corner of the city.
Getting back to the Now, the Beat team is growing at an unprecedented pace. We have doubled our employees in just one year, despite not being as fast and effective as we would like with our hiring processes; growth targets for the past year were even higher. Beat has the mandate to grow its ride-sharing business in South America; a place that we know very well after 6 years of both failures and successes, and an enormous business opportunity.
Obviously, we’ll have to compete with giants like Uber. If our recent past performance is anything to go by, we should be confident with our execution and efficiency skills. We compete with Uber in Lima for the last 4 years and, despite the fact that they were ahead of us in the market, we managed to outgrow them and become the market leader. Four years later, Lima has grown to 10 times the number of rides we do in Athens (and the gap is growing by the day).
We achieved this with much less capital and human resources than our competitors. We applied deep, obsessive focus on offering our customers an amazing and more efficient service than the competition. We relentlessly worked on localizing our operating processes and our product (app) for this market’s specific needs. We scaled fast and focused on ruthless execution — the most fundamental of our core values. And, of course, we preserved our product-driven, engineering culture like a holy grail.
We have just started our expansion to South America. Our first stop was Santiago, Chile. We launched our Santiago operations in October 2017. Just 5 months later, Santiago is doing the same amount of rides that Athens is doing after 7 years! We’re adding 1.000 new drivers every week, almost same as in Lima, while in Athens we’re adding 50. One can only imagine the potential.
We’re now ready to launch our next big market: Bogota, Colombia. We had our launchers on the ground there for more than two months, our product localized properly and the launch is expected in late March. We’re incredibly excited to see this new baby take shape and show what we can build for the future. Before the year ends, we expect to launch one or two new markets in South America.
And I am really, really confident that Beat will be the new talked-about kid in our market, for 2018. Everyone in the industry will talk about how fast we came to grow and challenge much bigger players. Our goal is to quickly (in less than one year) become #2 player in each of our new markets (like we do in Santiago) before quickly becoming #1, like in Lima.
Yet our greatest challenge so far is engineering. Serving five big markets at scale (instead of just two until recently) with a competitor like Uber is an enormous challenge for our product teams. We can’t scale our organisation fast enough and develop the product the way we envision it. And that is why we are starting to diversify our engineering efforts.
Until now, Athens was our one and only engineering hub. The talent that one can find in Greece served us very well and helped us compete with a relentless focus on efficiency and results. Greek engineers deserve a much better reputation in the international labor market than they currently have, and, despite the fact that they live and work too far away from where things are happening (big conferences, big ecosystems with many companies with international growth) they manage to keep up with the latest trends, cutting edge technology and best practices.
Greek Universities, despite the fact that they’re in pretty bad shape and governed by laws and practices that don’t help connect scientific research with the market, still produce highly skilled engineers. Greece has already lost a fair amount of top talent. Brain drain has enormously damaged the local talent pool. And for companies that need to compete internationally at the cutting-edge of technology (like Beat) the talent pool in Greece may not suffice. So we’re taking a number of measures to scale engineering.
In an effort to attract top talent in cutting-edge technologies (machine learning, AI, data science, big data), we’re in the process of setting up engineering hubs out of Greece. Amsterdam and Berlin are our first targets. We’re already looking at candidates and we’ll have our first small teams up and running in the next couple months. Then, for obvious reasons, our next target is North America. We’re just starting to learn what it takes to build a distributed team of engineers across the world, that will work on the same product.
Our second target is to make our Athens engineering team much stronger and scale it faster. The beginning of 2019 will find us in our new offices, in a brand new building in the center of Athens with the capacity to host our full development and operations team. Beat will occupy half of the building’s capacity, while we plan to bring tech startups and independent professionals from tech and design to occupy the rest of the space. Our vision is to make our new Headquarters a tech hub that will host companies and professionals from the industry, so that synergies between them will catalyse the productivity and idea creation.
Steven Johnson, in his famous book “Where Good Ideas Come From” wrote that “Chance favors the connected mind”. We truly believe that our new Athens hub will not only attract top talent that exists in Greece, but will also help us attract top talent from abroad, especially Greeks who left the country. We have a full relocation package in place to help top engineers and designers from abroad come home and work with us.
We will obviously make mistakes in this process (we haven’t done something like this before), but we’re confident that we’re on the right path to make something where the total will be bigger than the sum of its parts. One thing’s for sure: the “(Taxi)Beat success story” is only starting.
Looking forward to meeting even more amazing people at this place.