Anyone who has tried to catch a cab in New York City will understand what motivated Ben Millspaugh to develop the ZabKab™ app. Like thousands of other people, Millspaugh could never find a taxi when he needed one. But unlike anyone else, he has developed a way to connect passengers hailing taxis in the streets with nearby, unoccupied yellow cabs, all in real time, and still conform to New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) regulations.
Millspaugh knew he could solve the problem using mobile devices with GPS technology, so he further developed the idea in his spare time. But since he was already working in a demanding job as a chief technology officer, he couldn’t launch a business to market the app without help.
Enter Martin Heikel, a life-long business technology executive who has held positions at MCI and Verizon. Heikel and Millspaugh knew each other casually. After Millspaugh mentioned his taxi app idea over dinner, Heikel concluded it was a concept that had to be brought to market and the seeds of their future partnership were planted. They co-founded Flatiron Apps LLC in February 2012 in New York’s Silicon Alley.
The ZabKab Difference
Both Heikel and Millspaugh knew they had no time to lose. Other companies were introducing apps that allow passengers to pre-arrange taxi rides, but no one had developed an app that adhered to NYC’s regulatory environment. That’s because TLC has a strict policy that limits yellow taxis to only picking up passengers who hail them on the street. An app that transmits a passenger’s request for a cab via a dispatch method violates TLC rules.
Millspaugh’s solution was a GPS-based app that lets passengers hailing cabs and available taxis see each other on a map without directly communicating to one another. He created an intuitive, one-touch interface that is safe and easy to use by both parties. He and Heikel built their business model so it would be free to all those who take taxis in Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Their mission is to simplify the lives of all New Yorkers and the tourists who visit the city.
Heikel built the business infrastructure to support the app and prepared the marketing rollout. He learned everything he could about the taxi business and cab drivers in New York. This allowed Flatiron Apps to market ZabKab to enough cab drivers to meet initial passenger demand when the product launched on August 8th. In addition, doormen in over 600 high-end New York City buildings are already equipped with the app at their front desk to hail taxis for their residents.
Throughout the development process, Heikel and Millspaugh spoke to people who take cabs and taxi drivers alike to gauge their reaction to ZabKab. “Everyone understood how it functioned immediately and raved about its utility,” explained Millspaugh. Heikel added: “We asked cab drivers what they’d be willing to pay for the app, and they said $50 or $100 a month, because they’d make it back in additional fares the first week. While price elasticity may allow for that price, we didn’t want to charge that much. Besides drivers already pay a lot in operating a taxi and we didn’t want to add to their burden.”
All drivers can download ZabKab Driver from the Apple App Store, Google Play, or Amazon App Store for Android, and use it free for the first 60 days. After that, they can choose to subscribe for a monthly flat rate of $9.95 to $14.95, depending on the length of the subscription. And unlike pre-arranged or dispatch taxi service apps in other markets, ZabKab does not take a percentage of the cab fare or charge cab drivers on a per-use basis.
Millspaugh believes that in today’s social-media-fueled world, the app will spread like wildfire to passengers and cab drivers in other metro areas. “It’s based on GPS, which means the app can work anyplace in the world,” he noted. ZabKab will use its success in New York City as a springboard to promote the app throughout the United States and in international cities. “As the song goes, if you can make it here – in New York – you can make it anywhere. That’s what we intend to do.” – less