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Cut Out the Middle Man and Hire Winston
A new Toronto-made mobile app is looking to bring the process of getting a cab into the 21st century.

If we’ve mostly become accustomed to technology’s propensity for disrupting formerly physical businesses–music, film etc.–it’s still refreshing and surprising to see it happened to activities that, by their very nature, have to remain physical. Take taxis, for example. Though it would doubtless be fantastic to press a button on a smartphone and teleport to a destination (until Apple gets its act together), we obviously still need to get in to a cab to go places–and sometimes even speak to someone to call one in, too. Hire Winston, a new Toronto-made mobile app, is looking to bring that process into the 21st century. Asked as to why this is necessary, VP of business development Krista Caldwell responds bluntly. “Our insight, especially in talking to business travellers, is that taxis really suck,” she says. “First you have to make a call, the dispatcher never seems to want to talk to you, and you’re never really sure where your car is, so you end up waiting outside for 5 or 10 minutes. There’s no accountability in the system.” The app looks to fix that by providing that Caldwell calls an end-to-end solution for ordering, paying and record-keeping for car service. After downloading the app, which is only on the iPhone for now, users sign up for an account with a credit card, and can then call in a cab using a modified Google map which displays cars from series of partner companies Hire Winston has teamed up with. Hire Winston customers can then use their phone’s and the car companies’ location technology to track the arrival of their car, and after the ride is complete, payment and tipping is all taken care of electronically, including emailing the all-important receipt for corporate clients more accustomed to those annoying slips. It is quite clearly a service aimed at the business traveller with an expense account. Calling a car costs a $7 minimum plus, in an effort to account for time stuck in traffic, $2.10 per km above 18 km/h and $0.60 per min below 18km/h. There’s also a $20 minimum per trip, plus special flat rate deals to the airport, which likely means only high rollers will use it to head out to a bar. The app is clean and seems to function well, though we’ve yet had an opportunity to actually call in a car. During its testing phase, however, Hire Winston was revenue positive, an unusual position for a startup that is arguably a testament to the idea’s viability. Just as interesting as the app itself, however, was its genesis, which occurred through the Next36 program, which Caldwell describes as “half incubator, half MBA”. Next36 seeks to set up promising young entrepreneurs with not only mentorship and education, but funding too, and Hire Winston’s mentor became one of the angel investors for the project. While for now the service definitely leans toward the higher end, it’s not hard to imagine the proliferation of smartphone apps in the taxi industry over the next decade–though how eager dispatchers will be to see their jobs taken by a smartphone is obviously a sticking point. What is likely, however, is that yet another industry is on verge of a digital disruption, whether we or its members are ready for it or not.

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