|Privately held company|
|Headquarters||Moscow, Russia; London, UK|
|London, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Krasnodar and Perm|
Wheely is a transportation network company that operates in London, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Krasnodar and Perm. It operates mobile apps on the Android and iOS operating systems.
Wheely was founded in 2010 by Anton Chirkunov and his business partner while they were studying at the Swiss University of St. Gallen. The application collected user orders and transferred them to taxis. Initially the service worked in Zurich, Vienna and Amsterdam. However, the first experience was not successful: the founder underestimated the importance of marketing for attracting customers, and the software development company for automatization taxi companies refused to cooperate and blocked the application access to the order processing system.
When Chirkunov returned to Russia in 2011, Yandex.Taxi and GetTaxi were launched there and the market of online taxi ordering was shaping up. In order not to compete with them, Chirkunov did not chose taxi cabs as partners, he chose companies that provided business and executive class cars with drivers for short-term rent.
Wheely was first launched in London in May 2012 as an aggregator of minicabs and private carriers. While in Russia the company planned to operate in a high price segment, the British office aimed at economical users and competition with Hackney carriages. Shortly before the 2012 Summer Olympics, Wheely restarted in London as a service with its own drivers working under a Transport for London private hire licence. With a fleet of hybrid Toyota Prius cars, Wheely was positioned as an economical and environmentally friendly way to move around the city. Wheely poached drivers from other taxi companies by offering them a lower commission from trips - 25% instead of the traditional 50%. The company reached self-sufficiency, but grew slowly due to the high competition in the London market. In 2013—2017, Wheely increased the number of drivers from 20 to 150 people and replaced Prius with E-class, S-class cars and minivans. In early 2018, while London authorities refused to renew Uber's permission to transport due to problems with ensuring passenger safety, Wheely renewed the license until 2023 and announced a transition to a service model that works with third-party drivers in their own cars.
In Moscow, Wheely was launched in November 2012, having established cooperation with several rental companies and a fleet of 40 Mercedes-Benz cars produced in 2011–2012. A year later, Wheely began working in St. Petersburg, where it offered 35 cars — Mercedes-Benz, Bentley, Lexus, Audi and BMW. Since 2014, Wheely drivers have appeared in Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Perm and Sochi. In 2018 Wheely entered the Krasnodar market, where it took over a large local taxi company “Five Sevens” and reformatted it to its own standards. At the end of 2016, 256 thousand people installed the application, the average number of trips per month reached 80 thousand, and the annual turnover increased to 1.8 million dollars.
Recognition and awards
The media has repeatedly included Wheely in the lists of the most remarkable Russian startups. In 2013, the company was ranked 44th in the ranking of the best venture projects according to the Kommersant newspaper and was included in the list of the most noteworthy Russian startups, according to Mashable. In 2014, Wired included Wheely in the list of the most remarkable startups in Moscow.
Each driver operates as a self-employed entrepreneur or works for a small transportation company. Officially their activity is classified as “Activities of other land passenger transport,” therefore the cars do not have a taxi design and are not allowed to use dedicated lanes for public transport. Applicants for the position of the driver are carefully selected. Their knowledge of the city, touristic sights, business centers and places of recreation is assessed. The car must not be older than 3 years. The company reported that 3 out of 10 candidates pass the verification procedure. Wheely's order distribution model is based on a ranking system. Drivers earn credits for regular trips and can “pay” with the credits earned for a more profitable order, for example, a transfer to the airport. To control the quality of the service, Wheely checks all trips which were rated 4 or lower and which have a comment about the trip. It also collects feedback via the app chat, social networks and a call center. The drivers with a rating dropped lower than 4.85 will be banned without a chance to restart working with Wheely.
To order a car, a user needs to install an application for iOS or Android operating systems, register and add a bank card with an account from which a trip fee will be charged. As of 2018, Russian users had access to 6 tariffs: Business (Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Audi A6), VIP (Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series), Lux (Mercedes-Maybach), Plus (Mercedes-Benz V-Class), "children" (the car is equipped with a child safety seat) and "sober driver", which will take the user to the destination on his own vehicle. In the UK as of 2018, Business, Lux and Plus tariffs were available. In 2015–2016, Wheely experimented with the Express tariff option, which provided services for non-professional drivers and lower cost of travel. Express was rejected because of its inability to provide a sufficient level of service and low margins. Corporate users can use separate corporate accounts to pay for an employee's travel. As of 2017, corporate users (including Yota, Lukoil, Hilton Hotels & Resorts) represented 6% of the company's revenue.
Limited promotional services
In 2014, users from St. Petersburg could rent a Princess Yachts or a Bayliner boat, to which they were brought in a car with a personal driver. At Halloween in 2015, passengers in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kazan could embark on a frightening adventure with a non-linear plot. On the eve of the New Year's celebration in 2015, users from St. Petersburg could order natural Christmas trees. On International Women's Day 2016, users from all Russian cities where Wheely operated, could order delivery of a bouquet of roses.
In September 2017, Wheely was the first among Russian ride-hailing services to insure passengers for injury, disability and death. VSK insurance company became Wheely's partner. The insurance amount is 12.5 million rubles for all participants of a trip.
According to Chirkunov, in 2010 he started a business with one partner, by 2012 his company had grown to 11 people, and by 2015, Wheely's staff reached 64 employees in 7 cities. In particular, the technical support service team is located in St. Petersburg, and the Moscow office has developers, marketers, and managers. As of June 2018, the company cooperated with 2.5 thousand drivers, the company has more than 100 employees.
Initially, the head structure of the company was Swiss Wheely AG, since 2014 the head structure of the company is Wheely Holdings Inc., registered in Delaware. Chirkunov owns 59.6% of the capital of the company and since 2016 has been the CEO of the Russian division.
Anton Chirkunov received initial investments in software development, equipment purchase and launch in the amount of $2.5 million from members of his family. 25 thousand dollars were received by the company in December 2011 in the form of a grant under the Start Fellows program established by Pavel Durov and Yuri Milner, as well as a grant from the Innovation Assistance Foundation in the amount of 5.9 million rubles. As of 2018, cumulative investment in the development of Wheely totaled about $13 million. In the same year, Chirkunov announced plans to attract institutional investors for new expansion into the British market.
According to SPARK-Interfax, the revenue of the Russian Wheely in 2016 amounted to 147 million rubles, net profit - 4.3 million rubles. In mid-2018 the company reported that annual revenues reached $50 million.
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