The Silicon Review
Ride-hailing has been the fad of the tech world for almost 10 years now. It begun with Uber in The United States and later spread to several countries across the globe, with many of them having their own homegrown apps for ride-hailing. Whether it is Grab in Singapore, Ola in India or DiDi in China, ride-hailing and sharing companies have been fabulously successful wherever they began. To this glorious list of success stories is the newest addition, PickMe, Sri Lanka’s very own ride-hailing service. PickMe is the official brand of Digital Mobility Solutions Lanka (PVT) Ltd., a software service provider, founded in June 2015.
Conceived by a serial entrepreneur with over 16 years of experience, PickMe offers hailing services for TUK’s, hatchbacks, sedans as well as luxury cars, all at the push of a button. Today it is one of Sri Lanka’s most successful companies employing over 25,000 drivers catering to over 1.5 million passengers on a daily basis.
The journey from conception to market dominance
PickMe was the brainchild of an ambitious serial entrepreneur, Jiffry Zulfer who had just quit his job as CTO of wow.lk. Recognizing the failings and inequities of the transportation sector in Sri Lanka, Jiffry set out to bring about positive changes. Inspired by Uber in the U.S., Jiffry was determined to build his cab services to uplift the terrible state of the transportation sector in his country. Founded in 2015, building PickMe from the ground up was a daunting challenge. Jiffry had to find people who shared his vision to help him with the development and later on, needed investment from venture capitalists who understood his dream and were willing to go the extra mile.
Each investor was chosen on the basis of the size of their investment and also on the value that they can bring to the start-up. Going forward they want to attract the best talent and expand their team. They wanted people with a can-do attitude to take the start-up journey. It’s not only drivers that they were searching for, they also needed good coders. With regard to hiring new employees, Jiffry explained how there have been instances where people would walk in and get hired in less than 10 minutes.
Next came the problem of convincing taxi companies to adapt this technology followed by the challenge of teaching the drivers to use it.
From disrupting the market to driving an industry
Finding reliable taxis, also called a tuk-tuk was a major hassle that every Sri Lankan faced every single day. PickMe was the first to launch a taxi-hailing app in the country. It introduced the concept of live meters guided by GPS satellites, over the popular Google maps used by ride-hailing companies around the world. This allows PickMe to track and calculate the fare in real time, as opposed to tracking via location obtained from google maps. This eliminated the problem of unreliability and overcharging by tuk-tuk drivers.
Taking a passenger-centric approach
Although PickMe was inspirited by Uber, the core management team didn’t want to replicate the exact same thing. Zulfer wanted to base his app on the requirements of the Sri Lankan transportation sector and help the customers as well as the drivers. This is evident from the fact that the app can be operated in three languages, namely, Sinhalese, Tamil, and English. Moreover, it is color coded to meet the literacy level of the driver. Such a convenient interface is not only more user-friendly for the drivers, but also for the average Sri Lanka who has limited exposure to smart devices. It is these innovations in all the right places that have propelled PickMe to become the undisputed market leader in Sri Lanka.
Working toward social mobility and encouraging entrepreneurship
A positive but unforeseen consequence of starting PickMe was the uplifting of the tuk drivers. In a country such as Sri Lanka, the social image and status of owning and driving a tuk was suddenly improved significantly. Moreover, it also encouraged more people to invest in vehicles, tuks, and cars, as a source of income. Interested drivers need to pay a registration fee and undergo a screening process, followed by a short training programme customer interaction and app usage. PickMe charges a commission of 5% for tuks, 10% for hatchbacks and 15% for sedans. The rest of the earnings go to the drivers. Jiffry Zulfer hopes that PickMe will be instrumental in creating a better start-up ecosystem and encourage entrepreneurs to come forward and make a difference.
Hearts and Minds campaign
In 2016, many parts of Sri Lanka were ravaged by heavy rains, resulting in devastating floods. In this time of need, the team at PickMe updated the app overnight to accept donations and locate people in need. If someone intended to make a donation, they simply had to press the donate button on the app and a PickMe staff member would arrive at the donor’s location to accept their donation. Additionally, victims in critical conditions could easily be tracked and located using the app and help emergency services reach them in time. The Sri Lankan Navy and Air force personnel involved in the relief efforts were impressed with PickMe’s technological prowess.
PickMe has made travelling easy for many Sri Lankans and their testimonials speak volumes
” I’ve been driving a tuk for about 38 years now. But PickMe has given me a new life source, a new challenge and I have confidently taken up the challenge, despite my age. So, I would like to invite the youth to come -- don’t be afraid, come and try PickMe.” - G Mendis
“I have been working as a tuk driver for 8-9 years and I used to earn a normal daily wage through this job roaming around the city to get hire. Ever since I signed up with PickMe, don’t have to roam around to get a hire. After dropping a customer, I just have to be on the location to get another hire somewhere nearby. This has made my work so easy.” - Joel Samuel.
Meet the brains behind PickMe
A serial entrepreneur counting 17 years of founding and successfully running several technology-based ventures, Jiffry Zulfer, currently has himself invested in the most successful tech-based business solution in the country, PickMe. At just 17 years old, while still schooling, Zulfer began his first server solutions business and ran it out of his own room. As the Founder-CEO of PickMe, Zulfer has not only driven the substantial growth of the 2-year-old start-up but also inspired many others to take up the challenging route of ‘technopreneurship’ in the local ICT space. Crediting his efforts in technopreneurship the young Zulfer was awarded the FCCISL Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award (April 2004) and the ICTA Young IT Professional Award (May 2006).