I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Brooke Pursey, founder and MD at Anycabs a price comparison and booking service for minicabs. We had a great chat and Brooke had lots of great experiences & advice to share, hence why this is a fairly long post. But it's good! Check out the full interview with Brooke Pursey below:
Thanks for being on YHP today. So first of all, can you just give me a bit of background to yourself really?
Prior to starting Anycabs I was running a handful of property based projects, buying and selling reposed properties. I had a small team of builders that undertook some third party projects but were mainly used on properties I was involved in and I also had a small catering business. As well as doing all this, I was also spread betting on sporting outcomes. I was at a point in my career where everything was going very well but as I reached 30 I wanted to build my legacy, that’s what started me thinking about Anycabs. One of the reasons that spawned this thought process is if you have ever bet on something not to happen, you don't get a sense of achievement if that situation doesn't materialise you feel relief and that isn't the way I wanted to live my life.
Sure, okay, so you think that kind of risk taking nature helped you when starting Anycabs?
I think there is risk in whatever you do, so because I am the type of person that likes to be in control I have always thought that there is less risk doing something yourself than there is working for somebody who you may have only met a couple of times. Yes Anycabs was a big sacrifice starting it up because I was reducing my income significantly, scarifying my quality of life drastically, and I was entering into an industry that I've not been involved in in the past. I like to look at it as a calculated risk that was too good to turn down!
So when was the point when you thought "I'm gonna pack in the spread-betting business and go to start up a company?”
To be honest with you I was spread betting for around eighteen months, and probably for the last six to nine months of my career I started thinking about other projects and ideas started fermenting, so it became very apparent that I was looking to do something very different to what I had done before. I started investigating some ecommerce projects and decided that was where my future lay.
So before starting Anycabs I looked at one or two other markets, but I didn’t feel that the opportunity was as great and warranted the input it would require to get them off the ground . You have to put so much into a business that when you commit to a project like this you have to be absolutely certain that your commitment is going to be rewarded at the end of the day. It’s important to invest in making sure the opportunity is deserving of you first!
And did you always sort of see yourself, when you were younger, going down that route?
What really attracts me to running your own business is being in control of your own destiny, I think it's what most people are attracted to when they start their own business. It’s about the opportunity to make an impact in such a huge industry that affects so many peoples’ lives.
So tell me more about Anycabs:
Anycabs was the first online aggregator in the minicab sector to make a significant impact in London, and we are the first to move outside of London. We have huge coverage with over ten thousand cars on the road and growing and the quality of those fleets is fantastic. We recruit our staff and minicabs partners with the same ethos, we only like to work with people we can trust and if we’re not happy for a loved family member to spend time with one of these people that are in a huge position of trust, we won’t work with them at all. We are operating In Manchester and Birmingham and we’re now in the process of rolling out through the rest of the UK...so watch this space!
And who is your competition? Is it people like Halo, this kind of thing?
(laughs) Yeah, I mean Halo are competition to us because they are an option for a customer to book a taxi, anybody that can transport someone from one place to another is a competition. They are in a slightly different market because they focus on black taxis whereas we are minicab focused. We see our business as different because we offer a bit more value than the black taxi sector in central London, we have a wider range of vehicles to cater for all needs and can often save people money, but they are certainly making a lot of noise.
Have you taken any funding?
Yes we have raised finance, it’s very difficult to scale a business aggressively in this climate without doing so but we make sure the important guys retain control of the business!
How many founders are there?
There are two of us.
Okay, and how big is your team now?
Staff wise we are fifteen members of staff but within q3 of this year we should be at 20, so the Anycabs family is growing all the time!
When hiring your people, what was the best way you found on going about finding your team?
Staff is the key to any successful business- and aligning your values and objectives at the early stages of interview is key so you have a harmonious team and in the early years. You need to bring people in who take ownership and lead, this has always been our recruitment philosophy. In terms of finding people we look to explore all angles at our disposal as finding that nugget of gold can make all the difference, so we use many angles on and offline.
So once we have the right candidate and believe that they have that entrepreneurial attitude and appetite, we would look at giving them ownership of their tasks which is how we've grown that business and continue to grow it. Everyone takes ownership of their individual roles.
What was your biggest challenge when you started initially?
There have been so many challenges and there seems little sign of changing. I guess it’s as the business goes through different phases, ensuring that we as a company - and individuals within the company- continue to adapt and grow. It started off as one person, myself as the only member of staff where your job is to everything and we still have a small team but as the company grows roles become more defined and more specialised. When the business grows at the rate it currently is you have no choice but to move and adapt with it so the challenges and development is inevitable.
So, where do you see Anycabs going now? What's the next stage?
The next phase of the business is continuing to listen to our consumers and continue to grow new areas, new technology, new opportunities.
Oh cool, where will that be?
(laughs) You will be the first to know as soon as they are done!
Haha, okay. So, as an entrepreneur its obviously hard work, how do you find it? It's obviously lots of ups and downs. How do you keep yourself going through those challenging periods?
That's very true. There are lots of ups and downs. One statement that always rung true with everyone at Anycabs and we always use is, "if it was easy everyone would be doing it."
That's very true.
I think you have to ask yourself do you want to go and do something that is easy? Do you want to something that has been done thousands of times already or do you want to do something that nobody has done? Really impacting and changing the minicab industry and we are achieving that on so many levels consumers operators technology behaviour.
So in the beginning how did you get your first few customers?
Well my brother, my Nan,, my dad... (laughs). Getting rolling from day one is challenging. It takes money, you have to spend money on marketing- and in the very early phases you have to ensure that the money you spend is as effectively deployed as possible because I mean it's a very, very short supply and you've got no story to tell to anyone to raise funds at day one so its sink or swim. You need to get as much for that ten pounds you are going to spend as humanly possible.
Yeah, it’s a fine balance. So what would you say was your most effective marketing effort?
Word of mouth, without any question. Do a good job to somebody and they will tell their family. You do a bad job for somebody and they will tell friends family neighbours work colleagues. So making sure that every job is dealt with in the most professional fashion is imperative.
It's hardest just getting those first few customers, isn't it?
Yeah, absolutely. I remember the first day that we started driving some traffic to the site, it was very challenging but very exciting in equal measures!
So what advice would you give to business starters now?
Don’t cross your fingers don’t wait for the perfect scenario to come along, because it won’t. If there is an opportunity you’re looking at just grab and do it - you need certain foundations for you in place to be able to do that but don’t wait around for everything to be perfectly in place. It’s unrealistic and somebody will beat you to it.