The concept of a ‘sharing economy’ – goods or services shared through the use of the Internet and mobile apps – disrupts established industries. Nabeel El Khafif, Founder and CEO of ego tells us about his innovative ride share app
Ride share apps – where users select their destination, connect with a conveniently located cab driver and automatically pay for their journey without the need for cash – now play an increasingly important role in our emerging digital landscape. Indeed, heralded as the 21st century successor to the traditional taxi, their ease of use in connecting users to an instantly available network of drivers, combined with a range of innovative technological features, all point to ride sharing being set to redefine the transportation sector.
Founded to respond to the significant opportunities presented in the Canadian market, and as a worthy competitor to the likes of Uber and Lyft, ego is a new rideshare company currently operating in Toronto. We talk to Nabeel El Khafif, founder and CEO, who tells us more about ego – his exciting new start-up – together with his vision for a promising future and the lessons learnt during a diverse, yet personally rewarding career.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the principle behind rideshare apps, could you briefly explain how it works?
Basically it’s the ability to order on-demand transportation from your phone. However, instead of calling up a traditional taxi service, a rideshare app, such as ego, enables users to order a driver, access specific details such as type of vehicle, registration plate, etc, and track route progress and time of arrival. Payment is automatically processed in-app, thereby eliminating the need to carry cash.
With Uber and Lyft already having established themselves as the dominant rideshare companies, is there a competitive space for ego in the Canadian Market, and how does it differentiate itself from current market players?
There’s definitely huge opportunities in Canada. Bearing in mind that in Toronto alone the gross transactional volume of ridesharing is over 720 million Canadian dollars per year with no significant competition, this does represent a significant growth market. Secondly, with the majority of Canada only now opening up to ridesharing through legislation (British Columbia – January 2020 and the East coast passing legislation more recently in September 2020), I believe we are in the right place at the right time.
In particular, ego is strongly placed for real success. We’ve taken the time to research market needs and listen to the thoughts, opinions and concerns of users. As a result we’ve implemented a unique rideshare app based on a set of fairer, more inclusive ideals.
Let’s unpack that a bit. Perhaps you could elaborate further on the distinctive elements of the ego brand.
To stand out from the crowd ego respects both its drivers and end users through a defined ethos of transparency, fairness, sustainability, and inclusivity.
Our prices are affordable, and unequalled by other ride-sharing services – and we don’t use dynamic pricing. Our rates stay consistent and transparent regardless of demand. Taking less than half the commission our rivals may take from their drivers, our fee structure values our drivers and is fair and honest.
We’ve made sustainability a top priority, and are currently only accepting vehicles that are hybrid, fully electric, or alternative fuel in an effort to reduce carbon emissions and do our part for the environment. While other rideshare companies have chosen to address this issue by paying out carbon offsets and making luke-warm long-term commitments to change, ego has addressed the issue head on with an immediate commitment to greener vehicles and a short-term timeline to becoming fully electric.
Safety and security are also a top priority. Our screening process for driver recruitment is far more rigorous than the industry standard. Candidates are evaluated in person on road knowledge, language proficiency, cleanliness of their vehicles, etc. They must have a perfect driving record and undergo enhanced police criminal background checks, vehicle record checks, personal interviews, specialized training and an exam. ego is the only ride sharing service that meets its drivers in person and enforces such a thorough vetting procedure.
We recognise the fact that female users can easily feel vulnerable whilst travelling. Despite all our drivers being personally selected for being the best available, we’ve also developed a ‘Ladies Only’ mode which enables female users to specifically request female drivers or vice versa. At ego, we believe that diversity and inclusiveness makes us stronger. Women are under represented in this industry and we’re actively seeking to change that with a goal of eventually having an equal complement of male / female drivers.
Finally, ego places a strong emphasis on innovation and forward thinking, constantly developing enhancements to take our game to the next level. We boast being the first, and the only ride sharing service to accept cryptocurrency (Bitcoin) to pay for services.
That’s an impressive array of stand-out benchmarks by any standard, Nabeel, but ego also revolutionises the industry with its capacity to work with both private individuals and licenced taxis across Canada. Can you tell us more about the issues faced by gig economy platforms and how you’ve resolved this?
Ongoing issues other companies have encountered include legislation potentially forcing them to classify their drivers as employees, and pushback from the displaced taxi and charter vehicle industries. Given these circumstances, we recognised that independent taxi drivers could be an important ally, and we are actively working with them to help them compete in a digitised market. Previously, independent cab drivers had no means to receive calls or to set their own prices due to municipal regulations imposing a pre-defined tariff rate (which was higher than rideshare rates on the market). The ego business model provides independent cab drivers with a way to receive dispatched calls and compete on price.
That’s a very interesting solution to current market trends. Where do you see future expansion for ego and ride share apps generally?
We’re aware that competitors aim to expand into wider areas of transportation – Uber has already moved into pooling, shuttling, trucking, and other forms of public transit. However, at ego we see the bigger, much wider picture. We don’t want to be about transportation, we want to be about transactions. We will be launching egoPay, our proprietary cryptocurrency payment solution, as the first step towards creating an “egosystem” of products that will connect retail consumers with service providers of all types. That’s not to say that we don’t see the synergy in other transport based service offerings. Actually we are currently in preliminary discussions to partner with or acquire a last mile delivery company specialising in grocery and food deliveries here in Canada.
A progressive, forward thinking business model relies on dynamic leadership. As a former physician, surgeon, actor and performing artist, your career journey is certainly unique. To close, could you give us some insight into how such a multi-talented individual came to found a rideshare company and the lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
Having pursued an academic career path, I practiced as a healthcare professional until I came to a point where I realised it was important to acknowledge and fulfill my earlier ambition of a career within the performing arts. Whilst training for this “dramatic” career change back in 2015, I was approached by the founder of another rideshare company and became a seed investor in that venture. I became heavily involved in the operations of that company and under my guidance we experienced incredible growth and even garnered a deal on the popular VC show Dragon’s Den. When the founder of that company took it in another direction, I decided to capitalize on the opportunity and use my first-hand experience in the market to found ego. I was fortunate to have been able to attract an outstanding co-founding team, including a CTO who was a co-founder of unicorn startup Clearbanc.
Over the years I’ve learnt many important lessons. I’ve recognised the importance of identifying and investing in top talent, and the value of perseverance and treating every obstacle as an opportunity. Although ego still has a long way to go to achieve its ultimate vision, we understand that success is a process not a destination.
Available for download from the App Store and Google Play, the ego ride share app is compatible with all devices. Further information for both consumers and potential drivers can be found on the ego website at https://www.rideego.com/