Graham Snowdon 

Safer Minicabs – Small business, big idea

A smartphone app for booking minicabs safely is a software engineering student's startup business idea
  
  

Name Safer Minicabs

Founder Jayesh Hirani

Company started March 2011 (service launched October 2011)

Number of employees 2

Based Wembley, north London

What's the big idea?

As the name suggests, Safer Minicabs is a smartphone app for booking minicabs safely. It aims to provide the customer with a quote from a local firm within 90 seconds. "There is an element of competition for the companies signed up, so we can offer the customer the option of choosing the fastest, or cheapest, quote," says founder Jayesh Hirani. The app is free for customers to use (obviously, you still have to pay for the cab). Minicab companies pay commission on every accepted booking and are screened in advance. Customers then have access to driver and vehicle details on the spot, and the journey is tracked all the way. Should emergency assistance be required, the app has a built-in panic button.

What are they doing differently?

A combination of satellite location tracking and mapping technology, along with an aggregation service (in this case, for minicabs), put together to produce a socially useful outcome.

How did it come about?

Hirani, now 25, was finishing his software engineering degree at Kingston University and writing a dissertation on mobile mapping technology, when a course tutor told him he'd come up with a great commercial idea. "I thought, commercial's great, but how can I also use it to tackle something socially?" he recalls. "I know someone who's had issues in a minicab. So it was about how to make something safe while also enjoying what I do."

Hirani's ambitions were kickstarted by a graduate enterprise award from Kingston in 2009, and he has since attracted funding from UnLtd, a charity that supports social entrepreneurs, as well as mentoring support from Virgin Media through its Pioneers scheme.

"I get access to a few of Virgin Media's executive leaders, one in ops, one in sales and one in commercial," Hirani explains. "It's quite an ad hoc relationship; if I have a specific problem I can speak to them, and sometimes they put on sessions where we overcome business challenges."

Who are their clients and how do they work with them?

Customers are mainly individuals looking for a safe and reliable transport option, but Safer Minicabs is also supported by Camden council and the Metropolitan Police in the London borough. "They promote the use of the app on Friday and Saturday nights as part of a safety initiative," Hirani says.

Official endorsement is essential for such a business, and last year Transport for London granted Safer Minicabs an operator's licence. Hirani was also named as one of the UK's top 40 entrepreneurs by Shell LiveWIRE.

How is the business plan going – and where do they hope to be in five years?

His first year in business was less about financial goal and "more about creating partnerships and raising brand awareness," he says. "It's trial and error. But we are well on course for year two."

Safer Minicabs currently covers around 70% of London, but is rapidly expanding its list. Hirani has recently hired an operations manager and plans are advanced to spread the service into other major UK cities and even abroad.

What's their piece of killer advice for new startups?

"Work on building new business relationships but be sure to look after the older ones," says Hirani. "I've found it useful to pick up with people I've met two years ago. Even though they couldn't help me then, they've become useful as time has gone on."

Graham Snowdon

Are you a recent startup with a big idea? Email work@guardian.co.uk