Women-only ride-sharing startup Shebah is launching a $3 million equity crowdfunding campaign to boost its tech and fuel overseas expansion, and to share the startup’s success with its community of supportive women.
Launched in 2017, Shebah saw 190% year-on-year growth in its user base, turning over $1.8 million in 2018.
Speaking to StartupSmart, founder and chief George McEncroe says the startup’s drivers and passengers are “the backbone of the company”, especially those that came on board early.
“I want to see our drivers and our passengers who stood by us enjoying the fruits of our labour,” she says.
“It would be interesting and fabulous to see [them] being able to grow with us and enjoy being shareholders too,” she adds.
“What a great thing for our women, to be able to have that in our hands.”
However, McEncroe also says she “experienced a fair bit of frustration from standard investment groups” that perhaps couldn’t see a need for Shebah’s services.
While she has had conversations with venture capitalists, they were largely fruitless. This is a new idea, and one that only serves women.
“A lot of people are shy of double-sided markets,” McEncroe says.
She also admits she’s not a “standard chief executive” with a background in education and comedy. However, the business is growing.
“I don’t want to sound like a whinger, but you can’t help but wonder, if this was affecting every bloke, would it be a different scenario?”
It can be difficult for men to connect to the startup on an emotional level, she suggests. For example, police advice for women is to sit in the back seat when they get into a cab.
“When we pitch, we have to explain what it’s like to sit in the back seat all the time,” she says.
“A lot of men don’t want to consider that their female counterparts experience anything less than equality,” she adds.
“It can hit a bit of a chord. It’s not a pleasant acknowledgement that there’s a need for this service.”
The funding will be used to help launch Shebah into its next phase of growth.
“We have two big, hungry beasts that need to be fed all the time — the tech and the marketing,” McEncroe says.
On the tech side, Shebah is looking into adding multiple options for child passengers, allowing parents to specify the age, height and size of a child, and saving drivers and passengers time talking about these logistical points on the phone.
It is also hoping to implement a way for users to request special assistance requirements, “so we can do a really good job of caring for that person”, McEncroe says.
The plan is to “build great technology and then scream about it across the world”, she adds.
There are also plans to expand internationally, into “any country where women feel scared after dark”.
Initially, Shebah will head to New Zealand, where McEncroe hopes to go live in the second half of 2019, and in Malaysia, where there is already significant demand.
The business may be on the cusp of a serious growth spurt, but McEncroe herself still drives for Shebah every weekend.
“You get a really good, fresh perspective,” she says, including insight into the app and what works or doesn’t work for drivers.
“Everyone in the team has to use the app and be a driver,” she says.
“You can’t not know what the product is, what it’s like to drive, and to have someone cancel,” she adds.
Equally, drivers are encouraged to ride as passengers every now and then, to experience things from their point of view.
There are two sets of customers, McEncroe says.
“It’s a tricky balance, but you ignore either party at your peril.”
“Kick it to the curb”
McEncroe encourages other female startup founders to keep plugging away, and to find other female founders to connect with.
“You don’t have to know everything, you can ask other people,” she says.
“It’s okay to feel like you’re not doing very well.”
While there will always be naysayers and people telling you that you should have done things in a different way, McEncroe says it can be good to ask those people how many businesses they’ve started themselves.
“If the answer is none, finish your drink, go to the bathroom and catch up on some light reading, but don’t listen to them,” she advises.
While McEncroe acknowledges it can be difficult to keep believing in yourself, she says it can be easier when you’re clear on the problem you’re solving, and passionate about it.
When the vision is clear, founders can keep coming back and asking whether something is in line with the goals and aims of that vision. If it isn’t, “you can kick it to the curb”.
If you’re invested in your vision, “you take it really personally, and you worry about letting people down”, McEncroe says.
“But it also helps you see clearly when something is not right for you. So there’s an upside too.”