Paul Stanyer: how online taxi bookings made me millions

After several knockbacks and a fair bit of scorn, Paul Stanyer eventually secured investment for his start-up taxi-booking website in 2003. Now, his firm is turning over $12.5m - yet he rates his performance as only two out of ten.

With its 40% unemployment rate, Paul Stanyer, now 43, didn't need much reason to leave Consett in County Durham in 1984. A sunny paradise awaited him on the Med, where he'd spend the next 15 years in the travel industry, "with the beach a stone's throw away and the customers always in a good mood".

But when he returned to the UK in 2001 (after some gentle persuasion from his other half) with over a decade of experience in the travel industry, he had to wonder why he bothered. "I had to despair at times. I'd be interviewed by someone I knew I was ten times more qualified than, only for them to say, 'So, you were a holiday rep.' In fact, I'd risen to commercial manager in charge of a multi-million-pound budget and had over 400 people reporting to me."

Mulling it over a pint in a pub, Stanyer decided to go it alone. He'd hit upon a solution to "the cattle-herding mentality of airport transfers" by far the biggest complaint then received by travel firms. A tourist would arrive off a two-hour flight to Parma, only to find 200 buses waiting, each of which would have to drop 40 people off at ten different hotels. "The transfer took longer than the flight" and added £15 a head to travel costs. "Could I do a better deal? Yes I could." Stanyer's idea was to allow holiday-goers to contact taxi firms at airports in advance. A full 80% of journeys could be done for less than £60 for a family of four in a taxi, a better option than hanging around for a bus, and spending the same amount. Yet the first investor he approached wasn't interested and the second laughed him out of the room. "Are you serious? he said to me. 'This will never make any money. This is stupid.'" Luckily, a friend put him in touch with some Indonesian investors, who agreed to invest £100,000 in return for 50% equity. He then found a technology company in Sussex to build a website in exchange for a stake. That left him with a 20% share. Small, he admits. "But it was a case of having 20% of something or 100% of nothing."

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Marketing his website to travel firms, he put tourists and taxi drivers on the Med in contact with each other. The site launched in March 2003; by May 1,000 travel agents had registered. But by June, it hit a snag. Travellers didn't just want taxis. They wanted minibuses and coaches too. "And my website didn't cater for that, so I had to take bookings over the phone", which defeated the point of being a website-led company. Starting from scratch, he remodelled the site, re-launching the platform in September 2003. Moving into ski transfers in the Alps, by the end of 2003, had turned over £500,000, rising to £1m in 2004 as it expanded into offering taxis from airports in cities such as Amsterdam and Prague.

Last year, turnover hit £12.5m, and there's no end in sight to its founder's ambition. "If the potential of this business is ten, we're at two. We started out providing a service for people going to the Med. But the more closely I look at things, we can provide a service to anybody going by plane or train, because they will end up needing ground transport. The market size is endless."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.