Before companies like Uber landed down under, Daniel Rombouts was showing up to airport cafes to pitch his limo bookings app to drivers — though getting traction wasn’t easy.
“At the time, drivers were fairly resistant to change … I showed them the app and they all sort of laughed back in 2011,” the founder of Get Picked Up says.
Rombouts founded a delivery company after graduating from Macquarie University, before deciding there was a gap in the market for more easily booking rides to and from the airport, particularly for black car or limo drivers.
Then the game changed. He had stumbled into the earliest days of Australia’s $1.1 billion ridesharing boom, and had to swiftly readjust to target a new kind of customer in a world where there are no shortage of cars waiting to pick up fares.
Rombouts says even in the overly crowded market, there is room for smaller home grown players.
“When they’re travelling, a lot of people like certainty. That’s where we fit in,” he says.
Over the past few years Get Picked Up has grown into a $6.5 million business with 500 drivers across Australia. Like Uber and Ola, its drivers are contractors who pick up work when it suits them.
Unlike the traditional platforms, trips are pre-booked to collect passengers specifically at the time that their flight lands or when they need to move to their next meetings.
“Drivers keep getting repeat clients: if a client rates a driver highly, then that driver will get preference for all of that clients’ future work,” Rombouts says.
The idea is that corporate travellers can develop relationships with one or a few rideshare drivers who consistently deliver them on time when travelling, without having to worry about not knowing who will be picking them up.
Drivers are charged less than 20 per cent commission and there is a minimum pay rate of $29 for airport trips. Get Picked Up has partnerships with Flight Centre and corporate booking platform Serko.
“The core underlying element is that they [passengers] want that certainty that the car is going to show up. They’re just wanting safe, reliable transport.”
“Aggressive” chase for travellers
The fight to capture passengers once they reach the airport gate is heating up, however.
Get Picked Up’s turnover is tiny in the ridesharing space which is dominated by Uber in Australia and also sees competition from traditional taxi drivers, as well as the likes of Taxify, Didi and Ola.
Ibisworld’s 2019 report into the sector places Ola at holding between four and five per cent of the market, which would equate to as much as $50 million in revenue in the $1.1 billion space.
Ola ANZ managing director Simon Smith would not be drawn on whether this was accurate, but said the Indian-founded transport company was continuing to position itself as an app that offered drivers and riders a better deal.
The company says its 1.5 million passengers respond well to the platform only charging 15 per cent commission, at least ten percent lower than other competitors including Uber.
Smith says a key strategy for bringing in new customers is through airport rides, where the startup has worked to build competitive offers including deep discounts.
“We focus aggressively on the airport ride, because it’s an important part of people’s trip consumption.”
This policy includes 20 per cent discounts on rides to the airport in major cities, as well as a partnership inked with Virgin Australia’s frequent flyer program to earn points for Ola rides.
Smith says Ola holds a larger share of the airport trip market, though would not confirm the number of trips this represented.
Melbourne-founded Shebah is also pitching to women and children travellers, offering scheduled bookings for rides and currently looking to further expand after a $3 million equity crowdfund raise earlier this year.
Despite the many offers, Uber Australia still holds more than 85 per cent of the rideshare market and has a partnership with the Qantas frequent flyer program.
Rombouts remembers a world before global competitors had a presence here, though he believes the move by corporates to want consistent rideshare travel, and there’s a niche to offer drivers more structured work.
“Because we’re pre-booked, drivers can set their day around some pre-booked work. And they like that certainty.”