Daniel Ishag set to shake up the sharing economy with taxi app start-up Karhoo
Anyone firm in the belief that entrepreneurs are born, and not made, can use Daniel Ishag – and his track record – to bolster their case.
The founder and chief executive of soon-to-be-launched app Karhoo is currently putting in the 20-hour days that go with transforming an exciting concept into a fully functioning business.
Not surprisingly, he is predicting big things, and with good reason. The new app allows consumers to compare prices for licensed taxis, private hire cars and limousines, and to pick and pay for what suits them best. Initial market feedback from trial users and potential customers has been very positive, he says. Taxi and car fleet owners in cities including London, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong have been quick to sign up. And the level of interest expressed from other parts of the world suggests that things are set to snowball.
However, what gives real weight to Ishag’s words is not just the innovative business model, ambitious rollout plans, high-calibre support team, or well-honed sales pitch. It is the fact that he has basically done it before. As something of a serial entrepreneur, he has already started, built, and then sold highly successful ventures before regrouping, settling on the next big idea, and making it happen.
“This time, the aim is to go from standing start to global business in one step, working in multiple markets and languages,” Ishag says. “To put agreements in place with big fleets in leading cities, it was essential to have a working app, not just an idea. So, our technical team built the most robust platform possible and, while still in ‘stealth mode’, last year, we signed up in excess of 300,000 vehicles. We are on a clear path to break 1 million by April, and you will see us rolling out aggressively in Europe, North America and Asia during 2016.”
Initial development work was split between teams in London, Mumbai and the United States. The resulting app is designed to give customers transparent information to help them choose rides based on price, local knowledge, punctuality and type of vehicle. It should also provide extra business for licensed and regulated fleet operators by bringing them into the “new economy”.
The app will be available on iTunes and Google Play, with other online stores reportedly keen to get in on the action. Karhoo picks up the user’s location, informs them of the nearest available cars, provides fee and timing comparisons, allows bookings one week ahead, and can send invoices to a company account. New features will be introduced in response to feedback, demand and new technological possibilities.
Karhoo’s current headcount is around 120, but recruits to take up supplier relations, contracts, marketing and human resources roles should bring up the total to 200-plus by the end of the second quarter.
“In the start-up phase, one of the main challenges is building in the scalability to keep expanding the business,” Ishag says. “But if you have a proven track record, investors and employees can see what you have done and your rate of execution, and they want to jump on board.”
Not wanting to waste time, Ishag left school in Britain at the age of 17, having “aced” his final exams, but then skipped university and, propelled by a loan from a relative, headed to China to set up a business manufacturing in textiles and exporting garments from Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
“I saw an opportunity and just jumped in,” he says. “People tend to be fearful and talk about things they might do or hope to do, but over-analysis is paralysis. Maybe only 0.1 per cent of people say ‘I’m going to do it now.’ It is a fundamental shift in attitude, but it means they have the courage to start the journey and figure things out along the way.”
After selling that first company before turning 20, he returned to Europe, got into telecoms, helped introduce calling cards to the UK and, in 1996, sold his interest. A stint with the family business followed, involving him in construction projects and low-cost housing in Central Africa. But then an idea for an internet business with sponsored links saw him striking out again, initially as a one-man band in a basement flat, and going on to create – and later sell – one of the largest internet media companies in Europe, Espotting.
The pattern was repeated in 2007 with the founding of Bluewater Bio, a technology company specialising in waste water treatment, filtration and desalination plants. It now operates in more than 10 countries, though Ishag stepped down from the board last year, wanting to concentrate on Karhoo and knowing that he is “not capable” of doing more than one thing at a time very well.
“The job of an entrepreneur is to have a very clear vision, be able to articulate it, and to create a workplace that accommodates free thinking and risk taking,” he says. “To do something well, the secret is to focus all the way, execute relentlessly, and let actions speak louder than words. With this latest business, so far it has been an exhilarating experience and an incredibly exciting journey.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Fare play.