Five years ago, Zeryab Cheema launched Taxi 24/7. The iPhone app, which has been embraced by the London Black Cab network, thrust Cheema into the media spotlight, with appearances on 7News, Today Show, ABC 7:30. On Wednesday (30 Nov), the Sydney entrepreneur launches his second venture, Über challenger HOP. It’s a bold move that’s especially impressive given Cheema’s age: he’s just 20 years old.
“Essentially a pivot from my first business, HOP is an on-demand ride-sharing platform that provides Hertz rental cars for use by drivers to pick-up passengers,” Cheema told Dynamic Business.
“HOP will eventually operate across Sydney but for now we’re focused on Eastern Suburbs/Bondi because we want to ensure a balance in supply and demand.
“We’re being very competitive. Drivers rent a car from us and get to keep 100% of all fares, whereas Über drivers only get to keep 80%. While using Über is 20% cheaper than using a taxi, our service is 40% cheaper. With HOP, passengers can choose to book a ride through the app or from the street by approaching our Street Ushers, located at popular street spots, to hail a ride. While the Australian market had moved on from booking taxis, many people still hail them – but you can’t hail an Über. That’s part of our USP: we want people to be able to get a ride with or without the app. We also have three different car types – Plus, Pro and Lux. It’s about offering consumers greater choice.”
Cheema, a second-year economics student who addresses industry conferences and regularly speaks on entrepreneurship at the University of Sydney, is being backed by ‘some cool minds’; namely, former apprentice winner, Andrew Morello and Stuart Cook, the former CEO of Zambrero). In addition, with support from senior government ministers as well as former PM Julia Gillard, he has conducted over $2.5 million in research and development with multi-nationals like PayPal, TeamSpeak and Altoros.
“With PayPal, we looked at creating an integrated payment feature to allow the app to communicate with a third-party hardware,” he explained.
“Basically, a driver would be able to turn their phone into a payment device. This had to be streamlined so it could work for thousands of drivers. With TeamSpeak, it was creating a VoIP feature which allowed any app to give its users the ability to speak with one another for free. We could add this to HOP to allow people to socialise and make planning via the HOP app using free calls.”
Asked whether his youth has been a barrier to securing investors, Cheema replied, “I’m very persistent. If I ever get turned down, I don’t walk away and look for another alternative; instead, I do whatever it takes to convince them because I hate taking NO for an answer. With investors, my attitude has always been that I’m personally happy with what I have financially and so I don’t have the risks other entrepreneurs have. Plus, investors have loved my unconventional approach – I first contacted Hertz over LinkedIn and I made contact with TeamSpeak using my dad’s email. With HOP, four private seed investors are on board.”