How I Built A $3.5M/Year Taxi Company Competing With Uber & Lyft
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Albert Williams. I am the President and CEO of The Best Deal Group of Companies. located in the Boogie Down Bronx. Best Deal is a transportation company, who specializes in local community transportation, Corporate Transportation as well as Non Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT).
This year we are projecting $3.5 Million in revenue. Not too bad for a “taxi” company in a market that’s dominated by Uber and Lyft. And by the way, we make a profit and our drivers are making more than a living wage.
Below is a picture of our cars gathered to pick up 30+ passengers for one of corporate accounts
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I am 43 years old, born in Kingston, Jamaica. I migrated to this country when I was 8 years old. I take pride in saying that I’m a product of the NYC school system and a graduate of St. John’s University. I am married and have 2 children, Abigail 8 and Alex 4.
There was no plan B, C or even Z. What I knew for sure that I was not going back to work for anyone but myself as I enjoyed the freedom that being an entrepreneur afforded me to spend with my now 1 year old daughter.
I didn’t come up with the idea of starting Best Deal, but opted to purchase it to grow it into a successful business. The journey from IT Director of a global company to the owner of a car service (taxi company) with 35 drivers went something like this. My best friend of over 35 years, David called me one day and said that the agency that he works for has started to move routes (trips) away from 8 passenger buses to 4 passenger sedans. Doesn’t your friend own a car service he said. Yes he does I said, then you should buy it. After about a year of hearing what I should do, I decided to check it out myself.
I’m not going to lie, the move to sedans created a great opportunity and a nice niche that in my works will have me retired in no time.
Fast forward to the appointed time to sign a contract with the broker who was in charge of distributing the work… can you say heart attack. The rates that NYC was paying the carriers who operated the buses was approximately $30.00, the brokers offer $9.00.
Obviously, it was time to move on to plan B, the problem - there was no plan B, C or even Z. What I knew for sure that I was not going back to work for anyone but myself as I enjoyed the freedom that being an entrepreneur afforded me to spend with my now 1 year old daughter.
Putting my fingers to work I came across a State agency that offers NEMT at a rate that allowed us to pay our drivers a living wage and at the same time allow us to be profitable. Today, Best Deal is one of the largest NEMT Transportation providers in the State with approximately 300 cars and growing.
Take us through the process of designing your services.
When I'm asked the process, the journey from then to now, I often reflect back to what I call the Napkin lunch of 2013.
I’ve often heard that if it’s not on paper its a dream and not a plan. So on New Years Eve 2013, ( and Yes, I worked on New Years Eve) I went out to lunch with my Operations Manager at the time, Suzie. She asked me what my plan for the company so I drew it out.
The drawing with the fancy artwork and misspelled words was the easy part. The hard part came next.
I learned along the way that we not picking up a certain segment of the population. A one word modification to our name took care of that. You would figure that adding a DBA would be simple. In our highly regulated industry what should be simple end up taking a while.
But low and behold, 6 months later we were rocking and rolling. Now here comes the 2nd problem… Drivers. How can I recruit more drivers so when the calls start pouring in I’ll be able to get them picked up in a timely manner. In a very little time I realized that I needed to start from scratch. Thank God I had my napkin…
Describe the process of launching the business.
Restarting the startup was now 2014’s mission.
First thing we needed to do was move from the traditional 2 way radio to a computer based dispatching system. After about 6 months of researching several options I made a choice on a system that was highly customizable to my current needs but more my future plans for the company.
Good listeners make the best leaders. In other words, always be willing to listen and learn.
Our software includes the ability for customer to book ride via a smartphone. I bet you didn’t know that option existed before an Uber or LYFT.
Paying for the new software and associated hardware was the next challenge at hand.
You know that credit card that you have under the mattress in case of emergency… well it's an emergency. I was fortunate enough to be able to negotiate only a 5% down on getting the software. Now, I'm going to need a couple of servers and computers.
That’s where the power of relationships come in. As I said before I was the IT Director for a global company, so my account managers at Dell was glad to hear from me and wanted to see me do well in my new venture. They arranged credit terms for me and a couple of weeks later we were up and running on our new software.
So here we have it, new dispatch software, new servers, but the phone’s weren’t ringing as much as I would want them to.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
At Best Deal, I like to say that we have 2 types of customers, internal (drivers) and external (riders). We have had our challenges in acquiring both types of customers over the years.
External customers - our riders
Let’s start with our external customers. You name it we tried it. We’ve tried everything from handing out business cards door to door to several Facebook ad campaigns.
What we’ve found that works, and will work in your business is, SERVICE. If you provide good to great service, word will spread and your customer base will grow. Of course you should always strive for greatness, but starting at good, is as good a place as any. Today I can say that we have over 50K unique rides per month, not including what we do on the NEMT side of the business.
Another thing we have done is set up a loyalty program for our riders. Basically, you get a free local ride after you complete 9 trips. I must admit that, we haven’t done a good job at letting our customers know about the program in the past. Shortly after this is published we will be running a 30 second commercial on our local TV News channels.
Internal customers - our drivers
As for internal customers, our drivers, the life blood of our company but also the most difficult of the two to acquire. What I've learned over the years is that livery drivers are creatures of habit and fear change.
A driver will stay at a company for months, even years - even though they know that moving to another company will better their financial situation. In the past we have ran all types of advertising, including newspapers, bus tails and kings (ads on the side and back of NYC buses), flyers, Facebook, Craigslist and several driver referral programs. In all honestly we find a little bit of success in each of these areas. As I stated before we went from 35 cars to over 300.
In August I plan on launching a new program that I hope will bring in 50 dedicated drivers to the NEMT side of the house.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have started several businesses over the years. Some of which I have sold and made a good profit, some of which I closed down because the numbers didn’t make sense. What I can tell you hands down that’s universal across the board is that starting a business takes a special person. The fact that you have read this far tells me that you are indeed that person. My mom used to say repeat one of Maya Angelou’s sayings all the time - nothing beats a trial but a failure. I take it as - if you don’t try you can’t fall.
When making decisions in your business, think them through, but always make a decision. Don’t depend on anyone else to make it. You are the leader. In most cases I’ve found that often the decision that comes to mind first is the right decision. Stick to your guns and pull the trigger. Worst case you made a mistake, one i’m sure you can recover from. Trust and believe I've made many and will continue to do so.
Another important factor is knowing that you don’t know it and all and shouldn’t be afraid to admit it or ask for help. When I was growing up I use to watch a cartoon called GI Joe - and the thing I remember most was the saying “Knowing is half the battle.” As an entrepreneur admitting that you don’t know is half the battle and will lead to great success.
Last but not least, learn something new every day. Trust me, you’ll thank me later for this.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
In terms of platforms that help us manage and grow our business, we rely on our dispatch system. 95% of my CSR’s time is spent on the system. From the leadership side we also depend on Craigslist and Facebook when looking to fill open positions.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
This is my favorite question, as it has to do with learning. As I stated before I always try and learn something new every day. One of my go to books is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I often give out copies of this book out when i speak with college students or aspiring entrepreneurs. Why you may ask? Take a read and let me know why not :-).
I would also recommend you grab Good to Great by Jim Collins, Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. The latter of the three are required reading for my leadership team and all my CSR’s.
In terms of podcasts, I’m a big fan of Big Questions with Cal Fussman. After-all, us an entrepreneurs always or should always have a lot of big questions. The podcast provides me with a wealth of knowledge of a wide array of topics. Check it out.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice for entrepreneurs that are just starting out or those who want to get started is simple. Like they say at Nike - Just do it. You’ve spent countless hours thinking about this business you want to create and the wealth of good it will do you, your family and the folks you will serve - why stop now. Start small, start while working your current 9 to 5, but start. Like mama Valerie said nothing beats a trial like a failure.
Once you jumped into the fray, remember these two rules, which I think are self explanatory. When the time comes to take on employees - fire fast and hire slow.
And the most important rule of all. Good listeners make the best leaders. In other words, always be willing to listen and learn.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
In terms of positions I'm always looking for Courteous, Professional and Responsible drivers. If you know of any send them my way.
Where can we go to learn more?
I would love to hear from you. You can find our more about Best Deal at bestdealcarservice.com and follow us on facebook @bestdealcarserviceinc.
You can reach me at [email protected] or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/albertjwilliams/
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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