eCabs’ CEO Matthew Bezzina met The Malta Business Weekly for an insight into how the company’s business has changed since the onset of the pandemic, and the way forward from here. “eCabs registered record numbers throughout the summer months, defying the general economic and tourism downward trends. This success boils down to strategic focus and an incessant investment in people and technology,” he says.
Business wise, do you feel eCabs are over the worst of the pandemic hit?
The pandemic hit us worse than most other sectors because our business thrives on mobility and connecting people. Two elements decimated through social distancing restrictions. But we believed the crisis was temporary and we bounced back, gaining tremendous growth and market share. An independent survey ranked us as the leading local ride-hailing service provider in Malta. This summer, we managed to exceed 2019 volumes (incidentally a record year) in a summer market that has seen a 75% drop in incoming tourism numbers. Throughout Covid, the team showed impressive stamina and commitment. And we are now reaping the benefits of all that hard work with healthy double-digit growth over the best year the company has ever had. The indicators couldn’t look any better.
What do you attribute this post-pandemic success to?
We stuck to our vision without allowing the pandemic to disrupt us. We amplified our focus on every tactical decision, optimised costs, tapped into new sources of business, and ensured we kept adapting to evolving circumstances. Furthermore, the team’s all hands-on-deck commitment, complemented by shareholders’ determination to accelerate investment in technology was another factor. So, 17 months on, we are stronger than ever, with a much-improved product and a best-in-class fully-owned mobility tech platform used daily by over 800 partner drivers with a consistent growth of 5-star customer rating.
What do you think of the new normal?
Smooth seas never bred skilled sailors. Covid made us bring the best in us all both emotionally and commercially. From an HR perspective, the new normal ushered in a new breed of determined team members and today, we are together stronger, grittier, faster and more motivated. Of course, there was collateral damage but we also learnt some great positive lessons.
What are your predictions for the coming months?
From a business and market share perspective we are expecting the same growth patterns of the last quarter. Covid has readjusted travel and behavioural patterns, so we expect to see the same positive tourism numbers throughout the rest of Q4. Locally, decreases in costs and subsequently in pricing have driven further adoption of our service. We are committed to remain the ride-hailing service with the shortest waiting time at the best prices as we strive to reflect these optimisations on customer prices. The medium term is looking even better as mobility grows but we are excited by our north star: the internationalisation of our technology operations into multiple regions as of next year.
eCabs has been increasingly focusing on the technology side of business. Does this now define the organisation?
eCabs today is a mobility product and technology company employing over 50 technologists with ten nationalities in five different countries. The number increased substantially over the past 17 months and will be exponentially growing in the medium to long term as we continue building our fully IP-owned tech platform drawing upon 11 years of invaluable experience operating in one of the world’s most dense road networks. We see the future in our mobility business as one that is defined by data aggregation and machine learning. To enable machine-made decisions at speed and scale as well as exponential improvements and product automation. This level of intensive optimisation will enable us to be always faster and cheaper, without ever compromising on service levels.
The concept of sustainability increasingly dominates the agenda. Where are you at with your project launched earlier this year to operate a fully Eco-friendly fleet by 2025? Is this project really feasible?
To date, our Eco cab category in our app allows clients the option to order Eco vehicles. We also added 120 Partner Drivers using Eco vehicles by giving financial incentives, so they keep investing in green vehicles. Furthermore, we have added three fully-electric cabs to our existing hybrids. This is part of a pilot project to assess industry adaptability and feasibility. Government needs to invest more in the right charging infrastructure and to incentivise fleet-conversion. We also need constant communication with all stakeholders, especially government and regulators, to design incentives for partner drivers and fleet operators to shift to cleaner vehicles. The project is as feasible as all the stakeholders make it.
eCabs currently operates with over 800 partner drivers. Why do you call them ‘partner drivers’?
The term ‘partner driver’ replaced the industry term ‘self-employed driver’ and reflects the relationship we want to have with our drivers. Our partner drivers are crucial stakeholders just like our clients. Although our group owns a fleet, many other fleets work on our platform. Today, the majority of trips are fulfilled by our growing list of partner drivers. They go through a rigorous onboarding process to be allowed to offer our service. We nurture consistent and open communication with all our partners because this is the only way a sustainable industry can thrive.
What kept you back from implementing the partner driver model before?
Unlike others in the market, we always worked within the parameters of the regulatory framework. This took a long time. It was only in October 2020, following a period of consultation, that the new regulations for “Light Passenger Transport Services” were launched. This consequently regularised the position of all partner drivers. We also started onboarding partner drivers. And in a matter of months our success was beyond expectations. Success that is due to our approach where partner drivers are not considered as numbers, but business partners who invested in their vehicle and want to provide an exceptional service to our joint client-base.
What other milestones have defined eCabs’ operations over the past year?
The past year was all about technology. We launched our own very successful and advanced in-App-based loyalty scheme eCabs Circle, whilst re-building and enhancing our own App with multiple iterations. Most of our new tech made our system more robust and scalable and led to the new partner driver platform which was inexistent. The future should bring us more technology to keep on reinventing the next mobility game-changer.
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