Electric mini-cabs to re-invent taxi in South Africa

Taxi drivers must be fairly confused looking at what’s going on: traditional road-mobility is being disrupted as never before, everywhere. I’ve recently discovered a new and fresh initiative that comes from South Africa: Mellowcabs. The award-winning startup manufactures and operates electric pedicabs equipped with top-notch technology. These mini-cabs will be available free of charge for consumers, and will be paid for by advertising on the interior and exterior of these vehicles. Thanks to on-board tablets running geolocation software, passengers will also be shown relevant ads and promotions when a Mellowcab is close to one of their partners (such us local stores and restaurants).

We interviewed Neil Du Preez, CEO of Mellowcabs.

Question. How did you come up with this idea?
Answer. I’ve always been really interested in public transport systems, and what I can mean for an individuals and the economy. Growing up in South Africa we didn’t have access to public transport. Then, after living abroad for a few years I started seeing transit systems in a new light.

Q. Is your business model like the free daily newspapers’ applied to urban mobility? Why do you assume people won’t pay for this last mile transportation?
A. No, not at all. I fully expect people to pay for the Melowcabs service. It will be more affordable than traditional taxi services, reason being is that as an mini electric vehicle, the Mellowcab is much cheaper to operate than a traditional fuel burning taxi, plus advertising will subsidise the transport.

Q. As a passenger, why should I grab a Mellowcab instead of a taxi?
A. Passengers prefer rides in our cabs because it’s eco-friendly, super cool and very affordable. Plus we can provide on-demand services via our mobile app, website and call-centre.

Q. In which phase is the company at the moment? Are Mellowcabs ready? What’s next?
A. We are in the final pre-production stages of a new generation of Mellowcabs, featuring a brand new shell design, drivetrain and a host of other technological features, which will be revolutionary and a world first for micro cabs. We expect the launch within the next two months. The new generation cabs are set to win even more tech prizes, and be super cool.

Q. How are you funding this venture, particularly all the R&D?
A. Initially it was self-funded, and I beg and borrowed from family and friends. Now we have a good VC partner on board for South Africa, and a few big ones lined up for the US/European markets.

Q. The taxi industry is being disrupted by multiple apps (Uber, Lyft, etc.), whereas Mellowcabs put all the innovation on the “hardware” side. Would you agree with this? What are your thoughts on these apps?
A. No, we have our own app that has the same functionality as Uber and the others, plus it has been customized for integration with our vehicles, and some nifty new features, such as language options, and various payment options. That being said we’ve had productive discussion with Uber both in South Africa and abroad.

Q. Who is your hero and why?
A. My wife, she is rock-solid in her support, advise and she’s supremely creative.

Find out more about Mellowcabs watching this video.