Love it or hate it, golf is a business person’s game. Over the years, many a deal has been made on the fairway – although in the case of Anthony Parkins, founder of Qaboo, inspiration struck at the 19th hole.
When Anthony and his father visited a friend’s new acquisition, the Mid Sussex Golf Club near Ditchling, in 2011, all he expected was an enjoyable round. What he didn’t expect was to come away with a new idea for a business.
“My background is in marketing and when we were chatting after the game, my friend asked me how he could get the word out that the club was under new management,” Anthony explained. “So I gave it some thought and it occurred to me that lots of people travel to and from the club in taxis. My dad is a taxi driver, so I asked him what he could do inside his cab to promote the club. The trouble is, taxis are quite limited for space, so can’t carry lots of business cards or leaflets.”
The solution came when Anthony thought about his family holidays. To keep his children entertained during the journey, he had set up DVD players in the back of the car - suddenly, there was his ‘eureka’ moment. Without taking up much room, DVD players could relay video adverts to the passengers as they were driven around.
“I thought, ‘here’s an opportunity to reach a captive audience that is interested in what’s going on locally’,” Anthony said. “Apart from trips to the airport and so on, the average taxi journey lasts 10 to 12 minutes, which means the passengers are only travelling within the local area.”
It was at this point that TaxiTV started to take shape. Armed with some adverts for the golf club that he had put together on PowerPoint, Anthony set about experimenting with DVD players in taxis, starting with his father’s. After doing test runs with cabs in the Haywards Heath area, though, it became apparent that DVD players were not the solution.
“We got a good response, but it wasn’t appropriate to have the players in a lot of taxis and there was quite a lot of legwork involved in running the DVD players,” Anthony said. “The DVDs would have to keep being changed and we couldn’t really trust the drivers to do that all the time.” Next came a screen that could be fed content, but this also proved to be a trial and error process. Black boxes had to be installed in the boot of the taxi and wired through to the screen, which ultimately were not up to the task.
“The screens worked in principle but some issues arose quite early on. We’d come up with a 3G idea, using a sim card, so it was like a small desktop PC. But it was very expensive and because PCs need to have start up and shut down periods, passengers were missing bits of the adverts at the start of their journey. So we knew we had to change direction again.”
Although Anthony had attempted to keep the manufacturing process within the UK, he found that meeting this particular technological challenge would require him to look abroad.
“At first I’d used a guy in Wolverhampton who was making television and phone screens for hospitals,” he said. “We worked within the UK as long as we could, but when we had to change the system, this country couldn’t come up with a cost-effective solution. So I went to China, where I found a manufacturer who could make something that was still Windows based, but it was a tablet. This company could produce 1,000 units a month, whereas in the UK I could only get 30 a month. For a business, start-up costs are everything and the Chinese option was about a third of the price, even though the quality was very high.”
However, Qaboo’s journey of discovery was not over yet – about a year ago, Anthony realised that they needed to change direction once again.
“The feedback we were getting from advertisers suggested they wanted some sort of evidence as to whether passengers were taking notice of the adverts,” Anthony explained. “That’s very difficult for all media, you never really know if people are paying attention. But we thought that there must be a way we could meet this challenge. When something is interactive, you can register how many people are interacting with it. So I went away, made a new business plan and built a new product – I’d moved away from an advertiser focus to a complete passenger focus. I realised that if we could get the audience on side, everyone would be happy.”
Described as a ‘city portal’, TaxiTV is now a touch-screen infotainment system found in licensed taxis, on which passengers can browse channels relaying local news, weather and directories of food, drink and shopping options. Businesses pay to appear in the directories, although the main revenue comes from sponsorship of the channels, which keeps the costs down for local companies.
Now comprising an award-winning team of four based in Haywards Heath – the company picked up two Innovation accolades in 2013 - Qaboo recently launched 50 test screens in taxis in Brighton and intends to release 50 more at the end of September. TaxiTV has met with positive responses, not least from the cab drivers themselves.
“The taxi firm we currently work with, Streamline, has been fantastic about putting the screens into their cars,” Anthony said. “What’s new about it is that normally, a passenger just arriving in Brighton would talk to the driver and ask about what to do in the city, where to eat etc. Now, the drivers are telling us, ‘instead of losing my voice by talking all day, I can just get them to look at the screen!’ For example, Visit Brighton have contributed lists of ‘top 10s’ to visit in the city and there are videos about areas like The Lanes, which is more useful for tourists.
“In terms of reach for the advertisers, they’re getting huge value. There are 73,000 passengers using taxis every month in Brighton and the latest test data says that offers 150,000 impressions per day – even if you halve that for the real world, that’s still 75,000 opportunities for your advert to be seen.”
Rolling TaxiTV out nationwide is the goal, with more national companies coming onboard to sponsor the channels. There are two more cities in the pipeline and two European countries have also shown interest. With further support from Sussex Innovation Centre, where Qaboo is a Network member - “they’ve been a huge resource for me and I’m really impressed with them’”– Anthony thinks the sky is the limit for Qaboo and TaxiTV.
“It really comes down to what you can do with the internet and I’ve got a big black book full of ideas,” he said. “Currently we’re looking at apps that work with the screen. Because it’s not an ‘off the shelf’ product, like mobile phones, for example, we can’t see what other people are doing and we don’t know what’s coming next with the technology. So we can’t just sit still. My philosophy is, test and learn, test and learn; let’s keep trying new things and seeing what results. We’re working with a tech partner in London who’s doing things with beacon technology, but we just don’t know what’s going to happen next.”