eCabs CEO says that they aim to grow the Company into one of the largest corporates in Malta, exposing their achievements on the international stage to tap into the scale of markets beyond the island’s shores.
eCabs is a household brand in the local transport industry. Its impressive growth and significant operational footprint make it the first private company to reach high standards in service provision and technology application in the sector. BUSINESS TODAY met the company’s CEO, Matthew Bezzina, for an insight into how his business evolved into the leading transport solutions provider in Malta with internationalisation aspirations.
What was the idea behind eCabs, which started out as a new taxi company and has evidently turned itself into major operation within a short span of time?
Our idea was born out of the blend of two elements: firstly our academic formation in business and law which enabled us to structure our approach to problems and secondly our vision for shaping a business which uses technology to revolutionise a sector conspicuous for its failings and shoddy service. One can easily sum up the idea into an aspiration to be a prime mover in the solution to what was already becoming a huge traffic problem. We wanted to provide a feasible personal transportation alternative to people and kick-start a change in culture and mentality.
Today 10 years down the line we look back with pride and satisfaction, but we also look forward to the next revolution we want to trigger.
Which growth path did eCabs follow, and what is the secret behind being successful in this industry?
Like many other successful ventures, we faced a tall order of challenges along the way. If I had to pin down one critical success factor that is at the heart of our growth results was the nexus between our vision, the commercial strategy and the implementation of our business plan. Coming from the tightly knit logistics environment, for us planning is a religion which we practice at all levels of our company: from the boardroom all the way through to our facilities management function. Equally important was our re-investment culture.
We were never after enjoying the fruits of our labour by reaping them but by re-investing every single penny back into the business to make it stronger, more resilient and future ready.
eCabs taxis are a common sight on Maltese roads, so your capacity must be significant. How many cabs are there in your fleet, and how many workers do you employ?
Our fleet, running into hundreds of cabs, is by far the largest-owned in Malta. It is certainly the most dynamic one in terms of growth, diversity and refresh. However, the fleet is merely a tool in our business and its heart is our vibrant workforce.
We employ over 700 individuals across all departments each of which has a crucial function in the value chain of eCabs. Our logistics centre team runs the operation with clinical precision, based on a technology platform developed and supported by our brilliant tech team. The team provides both consumer apps for booking and driver apps for service fulfilment by our highly trained and competent drivers. They are all supported by our call centre operators. This is the beauty of eCabs: the ability to deliver change in mobility by bringing people together.
Driving past Regional Road one can see a digital map of Malta in your offices. What is this for?
Well… that is the melting pot of our operations, our logistics and control centre which operates on a 24×7 basis and run at exceptional efficiency levels intended to optimise service levels and our operational capacity. At any point in time our control centre is manned by around 20 people. They handle all the incoming bookings and requests that come through our website, through email, phone, social media or our mobile app.
The control centre gives us the visibility in real time of all our fleet and the IT platform enables our operators and drivers by devising the best route possible for them. Under this bonnet lies a complex web of algorithms to optimise all of this operation in real-time even at the peak operational levels.
You regularly emphasise that you make use of ‘smart technology’. What is this, and how does eCabs incorporate this technology in the way it operates?
From day one, I have always looked at eCabs as a technology company enabling passenger transport solutions to address congestion challenges in Malta. It is true that we move people but what differentiates us from other operators is that in our case, IT lies at the heart of our vision and can be considered to be the nervous system of our operation. As a matter of fact, our intellectual property has grown to the extent that we are now spinning off our ICT operations into a dedicated company in order to enable it to provide services to third parties, locally and internationally.
With this in mind, when we describe our technology as ‘smart’, we mean that the technology is an intelligent one that is constantly aggregating the mobility data that we have been accumulating over the years to improve the services that we offer.
What is your opinion of foreign workers in Malta, and do you face challenges retaining workers?
Today, the talk of ‘foreign workers’ needs to stop. There is no such thing as ‘foreign’ workers. There are workers who decide to make Malta their home, they decide to commit to working and they work. The challenge is not to retain workers. Rather it it to find workers who are committed enough to enter this sector. At eCabs, we have an encouraging number of non-Maltese workers with us who receive continuous training, assisted by our technology and communications infrastructure.
As we speak, we are striving to widen the catchment of our workforce to attract talent from all walks of life with the only underlying pre-requisites being the willingness to learn and the unquestionable commitment to passenger safety and service delivery.
Malta’s roads are becoming busier and busier. Do you feel that the government’s investment in road infrastructure is helping with the traffic situation?
While the current works may provide temporary relief, especially for congested hotspots, my experience-based opinion is that this is not the optimal long-term solution in which the major investment should be made. The fact of the matter is that our roads are not able to take on the volume of vehicles being put on them. And any long-term strategy should be anchored around changing culture, rather than merely burdening further the infrastructure to accommodate the accumulation of further congestion. And when you change the mindset of people, you can achieve greater things. This is what we have been doing here at eCabs – promoting the reality that a change in culture and mentality is indeed possible.
With the use of technology, we are making it increasingly easy and cheaper for people to be encouraged to leave their car and start using cabs more. It is not a change that will happen overnight; it will take years. But we’re managing because if we weren’t, we would have been out of business a long time ago. If we can do it, so can the rest.
What is the biggest challenge of running a large business like yours in Malta?
The biggest challenge that we found when starting up eCabs was human resources. We operate in a highly human resources-intensive environment and the limited pool of people willing to work in a disciplined and structured environment is somewhat challenging albeit not impossible. But even here we changed culture and we’ve managed to the extent that today, even women are applying to join us as drivers.
Today in fact, one of my most cherished statistics is that 20% of our drivers are women. We do not only believe in equal opportunity but we enable it in practice. I assure you that many other challenges fill up our day-to-day operations but really and truly management is there to find solutions and not to complain about challenges. It’s a mind-set that we try to ingrain across eCabs.
Since eCabs was started, a number of new taxi companies have also sprouted around the island. How does eCabs keep itself ahead of the competition?
We started off this industry in Malta. I am personally very satisfied to see that what we started grew even outside of eCabs. Commercially our vision is second to none and we shall certainly be reinventing the industry again in the coming months. Having said that, even in the current model, I believe that our proposition is a unique one. The service we offer is fully compliant with regulation, based on best practice and with the most diverse of booking channels – phone, website, app and social channels – all backed by an integrated IT infrastructure that we have developed in-house and that we have built and re-built over these past 10 years.
This is coupled with the huge amount of movement data we have been collating which contributes to a constant improvement of the service at all levels, particularly for route optimisation. Competition will strengthen us as it makes us seek better efficiency levels and more innovative service delivery enhancements.
What plans do you have for the future of the company – any projects in the pipeline?
Our pipeline is full of initiatives at all levels. From deploying new features on our consumer app, to the provision of new transport products up to the internationalisation of our business model. We aim to grow the Company into one of the largest corporates on this island and exposing our achievements on the international stage to tap into the scale of markets beyond our shores. So watch the eCabs space: it will be an exciting journey.
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