Meet Tom Macmichael, second year Computer Science student at the University of Edinburgh and budding entrepreneur, who’s revolutionising the taxi booking system.
Four years ago, at the age of just sixteen, Tom set up YourTaximeter, at the time just a website that gave taxi fare estimations based on prices set by the local authority. Today, 40,000+ people a month use his website, iPhone and Android apps. Now, with 400 taxi companies across the country registered, the efficient system gives you the cost and the number to call. Pretty simple huh? And, even better, it’s free. As his website reassuringly states: "We've got your taxi sorted."
In the wake of the Uber-black cab debate, it’s a relief someone is finally unifying the taxi booking system. YourTaximeter gives underdog taxi firms a fair chance against private companies, reducing competition, redundancies and losses. As long as they sign up, everyone wins.
The team behind YourTaximeter is made up of just five University of Edinburgh students. On their website, they warmly invite you to come to the pub with them to have a chat. We like them already - especially because they believe that booking a taxi should be "as easy as ordering a pizza". We caught up with Tom to find out how it all started, and what he’s been getting up to.
What inspired you to come up with the idea for YourTaximeter?
I come from a small village miles away from the town centre. Whenever I went out to the pub I’d always have to get a taxi back. I did a bit of Googling and realised that taxi prices were set by the local district council and thought "well I could make a website that used that to work out the cost of your taxi!"
How did you recruit fellow students, and has it been difficult for you to balance your work with your studies?
It was just a completely natural process. I’d been developing it by myself and the workload was just ridiculous. I did a lecture to my fellow classmates in first year and gave an open invitation to anyone who would be interested in helping. It’s tough enough balancing uni work, part time employment and a social life, let alone throwing a business into the mix! There’s such a high workload and during exam season you really do have to step back from the business a bit. The University has said that we’d be able to interrupt our studies for a year to work on the business, which is really helpful.
Have you ever doubted yourself?
There have been times where I’ve sat back and thought "why did I start this - there’s just so much to do!" But then I look at what we’ve created, what we have and the taxi market. We have something really unique and something that hundreds of thousands of people have used. I don’t doubt the ability of the team or myself - we’re all really driven people. The guys are all seriously talented and it’s been real fun working together. Anyone who knows me will know how much the site means to me, and I’m not going to throw the towel in anytime soon.
Has Edinburgh University supported you at all?
I think the University has a really good startup scene for PhD students and there are a lot of projects aimed for startups. But I think for undergraduates, I’d have to say I’ve been quite disappointed. There isn’t a consistent line of support and generally the University just wants you to pass your exams. I don’t think this is specific to Edinburgh - if you look all over, people generally drop out of University to run a company. If the Government really believe in startups then this message needs to trickle right through to Universities. Undergraduates are unfairly ignored.
Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Getting a team together who are just as passionate as you, but also skilled for the job, is key. There’s no point having people who are really skilled if they don’t share your dream and vice versa. Having a team can help you move forward much quicker - don’t be afraid to get other people involved. And obviously the classic: don’t get put down by everyone telling you it’s not going to work or it’s a bad idea. Be persistent - it took nearly 2 years for YourTaximeter to hit 30 daily users - now we have nearly 2,000. Things take time.
Tom and his team are trying to raise 15k for development and marketing, to help expand YourTaximeter so it can be used all over the UK, making taxi booking simple for everyone. Donors can also receive special rewards. To donate, you can visit their project page. To find out more about YourTaximeter, visit their website, or follow them on twitter @YourTaximeter