Ram Trichur turned a frustrating situation into an opportunity: While trying to hail a cab in the rain with his two children in tow, he came up with the idea for Whisk, an app that allows users to hail and pay for black and livery cabs in the five boroughs on their phones. Prior to launching Whisk in the summer of 2013, he was a consultant for tech, telecom and healthcare clients with McKinsey & Company for five years. Trichur, 37, lives on the Upper East Side with wife and three kids.
Why did you switch careers?
I am a New Yorker so the market opportunity was there to be seen; particularly when it's raining and you have two kids and a stroller, taxi cabs just drive right past you. And I think my previous career was about building businesses and I just saw an opportunity to help New York City businesses, especially car services, offer a better service to New Yorkers when they need it.
Was it hard to develop an app?
It wasn't because one of the advantages of starting a career midway through your life is you actually built a network of great contacts that are good at different things, so I was fortunate enough to have built relationships with a fantastic engineering talent in California. One of my good relationships was with someone who is a great engineer so he takes care of the tech side of things and me and my other New York co-founder, we take care of the business side of things. We have what I call a 'Caltech mafia.'
What kind of user response have you gotten?
Very promising, actually. Since we launched we've been growing roughly at about 40 to 50% a month. Especially because what we do is we offer the convenience of an app at taxi-comparable prices. I think that combination ideally works for New Yorkers, because while New Yorkers want things to be convenient, they also want fair pricing.
How do you manage the pricing?
Our pricing is designed to be within 10 to 20% of what a yellow cab would cost. You pay through the app because when you first sign up with us you put in your payment info into our system and at the end of the ride you can tip the driver. We calculate the pricing; there's no price haggling with a driver. You can see the fares change live on your phone while the driver is progressing just like a taxi meter. Depending on the route you take, depending on how much traffic there is, it's going to be different. For airports we have flat pricing, but local trips are just like a taxi.
Have you gotten any response from taxi drivers?
The livery cab drivers actually like it quite a bit because a lot of customers think that the livery cab drivers are scamming them, but having been in the industry now and having spoken to these drivers, it's quite a bit the other way around as well. They like the fact that it's consistent pricing and they like the fact that the customers can tip them as well. For livery drivers, cash in the car is actually not very safe, particularly in the [outer] boroughs.
What is a pro and con of your new job?
It's very fulfilling to bring something value to the community I'm a part of and personally I also enjoy the challenges of entrepreneurship. I like dealing with the big corporations and the drivers. A con is, it's never been a more exciting time for me to start a company, [but] I switched to an all-day, every day mentality. In my old job I could switch off in the evenings and the weekends. It does become a little bit harder to manage work and life at the same time; I do have a family with two kids. It is totally worth the trade-off.
Do you think you might develop more apps for other things?
I'm not sure about developing more apps, it's totally possible, but I don't think this is the end of my career. Every phase of my career I pick up something new and get inspired by something different. This career has inspired me to get involved with many small businesses who are facing disruption because of technology and they're not equipped to handle this and grow so I've enjoyed helping them grow. So I think my next career, once Whisk is very successful, I think I might like to continue with the team to see other industries.
Do you wish you had gone into this originally?
Not really because, like I said, every phase in my career has prepared me for what I'm doing now. So I was with GE for six years and I learned a lot of the operational skills and I picked up a lot of business analysis and consulting skills and this has helped me in my new career. I think where I started was fine.
Do you have any advice for readers who are considering a career 180?
I would encourage many more folks to make the career shift into entrepreneurship. A lot of the entrepreneurs I see, particularly in [Silicon] Valley, are young kids. The experience that they have in corporate America can significantly reduce the risk profile of starting a new business, compared to like a college kid starting it.