Ad campaigns against your brand. Government lobbying after you send out your first-ever press release. This is what the response to really disrupting an industry can look like.
Ned Moorfield and Andrew Campbell discovered this firsthand. Their goCatch app, which lets passengers locate, book and track nearby taxis via GPS, was always going to disrupt the notoriously tightly controlled industry, so they made sure they were ready for it.
“We got a lot of attention, but we thought it might even be worse,” Campbell told StartupSmart.
“The taxi industry immediately started lobbying governments and making alarming ad campaigns. It was fantastic. It was great for us because those alarmist claims generated huge coverage and headlines about our little app.”
Campbell says the onslaught of negative attention from the taxi industry didn’t concern them as the public reaction was so positive.
“People saw through it straight away. It was clearly propaganda. Everyone knows the taxi industry desperately needs competition. It ended up generating huge downloads for us,” he says.
Campbell says staying customer focused is important for start-ups, and critical for those that are disruptive.
“If you’re going to disrupt an industry, make sure what you’re doing is going to benefit people,” he says. “And try to do it in a way that aligns with the intention of the regulations, even if not the letter of the regulatory system you’re in.”
With their issues now resolved, Campbell says it never really concerned them.
“You’ll find it probably will if you’re increasing efficiency and making a service better for the public. But don’t worry about that stuff too much, just go for it and don’t be afraid to ruffle a few feathers.”
Moorfield and Campbell came up with the idea for goCatch over a follow-up cup of coffee after meeting at a start-up weekend in 2010. Campbell had been trying to work out a way to text for a taxi, while Moorfield was interested in finding a way to track a booked taxi to your door.
Campbell says the momentum for the app developed slowly and was spurred on by the validation and funds won at pitching competitions. They created their first business plan in 2011.
A Collaborative Solutions Grant from the NSW government for $200,000 and connections at Nokia, PayPal, Google, Microsoft and Blackberry, launched the make-or-break stage of development for the company.
But breaking into a tightly controlled industry can be time consuming.
“We knew the taxi industry, and that because we’re disrupting a monopoly industry we wouldn’t get any traction with them,” says Campbell.
Over several months, and interspersed with other business development activities, they talked to thousands of taxi drivers one-on-one at Sydney airport.
“Shoe leather isn’t too scalable but the app went viral with drivers. Start-ups shouldn’t shy away from taking manual steps to build a market,” says Campbell.
After launching the first version of the app in June 2011, they repeated the process in Melbourne a few months later, and the app took off across the country. They had 20,000 downloads by the start of 2012.
They’ve now passed 150,000 downloads, and 15,000 drivers in the scheme, and haven’t spent a cent on marketing yet. The team has grown from two to ten full-time members, and they’ve raised two rounds of funding.
The funding has gone towards product development and coding, filing patents, operations and growth.
Campbell attributes the viral success of the app to the common problem it was designed to fix, spending a lot of time ensuring product to market fit and the occasional bit of public relations.
“PR is one of the main things you should spend on for marketing as a start-up. It tends to snowball, it’s a big ongoing conversation in public,” he says.
With downloads growing by 20% month-on-month and three different export contracts in the pipeline, goCatch is looking forward to a bigger and brighter future.
This article first appeared on StartupSmart.