With the universe of iPhone applications reaching into the hundreds of thousands, you have to wonder how software developers can make a buck.
How many times will a user actually click on the product when there’s so much else to choose from?
Well, the answer is pretty simple, says Patrick Gagné, president of Montreal-based TAG taxi. Successful developers have to “put the user at the heart of the experience.”
His TAG taxi app, launched this month, tries to do just that. It’s a GPS-based application that allows users to order a taxi from a mobile phone and specify all kinds of requirements: the type of vehicle, whether pets are coming on board, how much luggage there is, the desired method of payment, etc.
Customers can rate the service and the overall experience, then share that information on social networks.
It’s a market that’s already getting crowded. A check online reveals a number of competing products with names like Taxi Magic, TaxiPal, myTaxi, etc. In Montreal, Diamond Taxi has already developed its own branded app.
That doesn’t deter Gagné, who estimates only five per cent of taxi orders are processed digitally and that there’s plenty of room for everyone to grow.
The firm’s chairman, Christian Trudeau, adds what separates the company from competitors is the quality of its technology.
He likes TAG’s business plan, which eventually calls for a business-to-business component: marketing to big companies where employees might now use taxi chits and where a digital system would be more efficient.
Montreal is home this week to several conferences devoted to starting up new ventures, and Gagné will be making the rounds to tell TAG’s story.
The idea first germinated at an interactive communications agency in Montreal called Prospek. One of the partners, an ex-taxi driver, came up with the concept of a GPS-based application.
The agency decided to invest in the project on its own, bringing in a minority investor from the outside. Gagné wouldn’t specify the amount of seed money invested to date, but said it’s under $1 million.
Development of the software took about four months, and it took another two months to test the product. Even now, he spends a lot of time answering email from customers who provide feedback.
“Originally, it was just a project for Montreal and then the idea grew beyond the Montreal market to the rest of Canada and, eventually, North America.”
TAG was spun off as a separate entity and Gagné was brought in to run the show this spring.
He’s a former director of digital strategy at Transcontinental Inc., where he managed the company’s mobile portfolio. He recently brought in Trudeau, another former Transcon executive, to serve as chairman.
So far in their first month of operation, they’ve signed up one client in Montreal – Taxi Coop. The system allows Taxi Coop to enter orders directly into its GPS system, easing the order flow.
The application lets users see the cab’s estimated arrival time and, as they wait, they can follow the taxi’s progress in real time.
The rating system allows passengers to provide immediate feedback on the ride, the driver’s courtesy and driving habits and the car’s overall cleanliness. That should help cab companies improve service,
“What we’re launching is an application that caters to a digital native crowd,” he says, comparing his goal to that of the leading mobile reservation system for restaurants – opentable.com.
The taxi business is very different from the restaurant business, he admits, but both are quite fragmented. “No taxi company has more than three per cent of the marketplace.”
One thing he stresses is that TAG has no expertise in running a taxi operation, it’s just a service provider to urbanites such as business executives, commuters or tourists who use them on a regular basis.
“Each agreement we will be signing in different cities will have a different tweak to it.”
TAG also is looking to roll out a version of the system for the Android operating platform.
Read more: montrealgazette.com