Wheely is a luxury ride-hailing service catered towards affluent and HNW individuals. It allows passengers to book a chauffeur-driven car both on-demand and in advance through the app.
We’ve spoken with the CEO and founder of Wheely Anton Chirkunov in preparation for his upcoming presentation at NOAH London.
— What countries are you currently based in and what are your further expansion plans? How do you adapt Wheely services for different markets?
We are building a chauffeur-hailing service for the world’s top tier cities. The only European cities that figure in the 10 leading markets are London, Moscow and Paris — and we are now present in all three. The rest are in the US and Asia. For now, we are focusing on developing our European operations before moving further afield. We currently have plans to launch in the French Riviera, although we consider this an extension of our recently launched Paris operation.
— As a founder, can you share a story when you almost gave up but pushed forward?
I initially started Wheely as a comparison app for taxis and minicabs. We didn’t think that the ride-hailing market would grow to the size it has become, so I thought it was smart to scale the app by taking bookings for existing operators.
The caveat was that these operators typically did not own the software. They would purchase it along with the hardware — drivers didn’t use smartphones back then — from the companies that supplied dispatching software. And these software companies hated the idea of someone acting as a middleman and potentially monetising future bookings. So we had to figure out a clever way to pass on bookings without allowing access to an API. We did find a way and so we launched. They fought back and started to ban us – effectively making it impossible for users to take bookings through our platform. That’s how we ended up realising that we needed to control the entire stack.
”Businesses fail either because you don’t use a service or product yourself, or you don’t listen to your customers
— What would be your advice to yourself as a founder 5 years ago?
Five years ago we didn’t know how to grow any further and wasted time and resources on building a cheaper version of Wheely. It failed. Andy Groove in “Only Paranoids will Survive” said: “Businesses fail either because they leave their customers or because their customers leave them!”.
Rephrasing this I would say that businesses fail either because you don’t use a service or product yourself, or you don’t listen to your customers. I am a hard user of Wheely as are my friends, while our employees all receive Wheely credits each month. So we use the product we develop and are working hard to continue leading the way in providing a market-leading premium service.
— How do you think mobility-on-demand market will change in the next 5 year? Do you think a complete withdrawal from the car ownership is possible in the future?
In Tier 1 cities this could absolutely be the case — in fact, the trend has already begun. Premium end of the market was missing a dedicated ride-hailing service and so many people continue to own cars.
Yet as we continue to grow, we are seeing more and more people switching to Wheely from ownership, even those who were employing personal drivers. After all, a reliable service available on-demand can be far easier than having to deal with a driver who can be off for illness, holiday etc.
— You have participated in several NOAH Conferences in recent years — what was your impression? What do you most looking forward to at the upcoming NOAH London?
I run the company on a day to day level, so I invest most of my time and effort into building the business. NOAH is one of only two conferences I attend each year.