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VSC was selected to help reinvigorate Flywheel, a three-year old mobile taxi-hailing app platform bringing on-demand technology to the millions of taxis already on the streets of the world. Our goal was to become the definitive taxi-hailing application among competitors such as Taxi Magic, Way2Ride and Arro.
Flywheel Communications Strategy
Create a three horse race to stomp cockroaches.
Our strategy was to externally battle two horses, Uber and Lyft, while internally aiming to own mindshare specifically against other taxi-software companies (cockroaches) in order to win the massive business of 100m taxi rides a month compared to the 20m that Uber does.
Our analysis of relevant social media chatter showed that most of the negative sentiment around Uber focused on the perception of their company behavior, surge pricing, security, and regulations. We then focused on these areas.
Perception: We leveraged the anti-Uber sentiment, to position Flywheel as the “non a-hole” version of Uber. Uber was experiencing a round of negative publicity around their executive suggesting digging up dirt on journalists, launching an ad campaign in France implying that customers would be paired with “hot girl” drivers, and showing off their “God-view” functionality at an Uber event, breaching customer privacy.
Surge: In contrast to Uber, Flywheel never charges surge pricing, which consumers and media have been quick to criticize. For this reason, we were relentless about our “no surge pricing” and “surge free” messaging with the goal of consumers associating us as the fair, just alternative.
Security: Because Flywheel works with the existing taxi industry, each of their drivers comply to a high level of screening, while Uber drivers might be “slightly more checked out than the general population.” Several counts of rape, sexual assault, assault, kidnapping, DUI and even death have been filed against Uber drivers as well as cases of convicted felons passing their screening process.
Regulation: Uber has repeatedly faced issues with regulation because they launch service in cities prior to securing approval including San Francisco, New York, San Antonio, Vegas, Portland, etc. Flywheel, on the other hand, receives approval ahead of time.
Branding: In addition to leveraging Uber’s bad reputation, we attained something no other taxi-hailing app has. We partnered with San Francisco’s oldest taxi company, DeSoto Cab, painting visual representation of Flywheel across the city. DeSoto Cab, decided to ditch their name and brand entirely and rebrand themselves after Flywheel, covering all their SF cabs with the Flywheel logo.
Flywheel has become the Taxi OS. Since our engagement, the company has grown 20% month over month as well as seen 300X downloads within 60 days of commencement.
We owned 70% of media coverage vs. our taxi-app competitors including 1,100+ pieces of original coverage, syndications and mentions over a 13-month period. We received national coverage highlighting Flywheel against Uber in several different lights, addressing each of our focus areas.
Perception: We highlighted the anti-Uber sentiment with the Flywheel CEO calling Uber an a-hole, which was published by TIME and several other top tier media outlets, generating 60+ articles and syndications on the topic. This round of coverage set the tone for 100s of other articles and mentions pouring in throughout the year. TIME Magazine: Taxi App CEO: Uber Is an ‘A–Hole’, “‘[Rakesh Mathur, Flywheel CEO]: I think the last couple of days have been pretty shocking, right? Where you’re not just being told, “Hey, I know how to violate your privacy. I do that all the time. But I’m even worse than the [National Security Agency]. I’m going to take that information and do bad things to you.” I think a–hole is probably a mild word.’”
Surge: On New Year’s Eve 2014-15, we launched a PR stunt entitled, #SurgeFreeNYE, which ended up being Flywheel’s single most successful day of business. Flywheel’s campaign offered $10 flat-rate rides in San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, and Sacramento, which stood in stark contrast to most services implementing surge pricing for the holiday, which ran up bills as high as $1,000 in years previous. This stunt generated 50+ articles and syndications between 12/20/14 – 1/5/15, and resulted in reviving the conversation again this past New Year’s Eve.
Security: The conversation about security and background checks carried out by the taxi industry vs Uber strengthened the argument for Flywheel in nearly every article since the beginning of our campaign with sound bytes like this, “Last year, Uber came under fire more than once for having let drivers with criminal records slip through its screenings, and questions arose about whether the company should do Live Scan fingerprinting and background checks, as the taxi industry does.” – Venture Beat.
Regulation: Flywheel is the first taxi-hailing app to secure approval on the state level in California and was recently approved for a pilot program in New York by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. They released TaxiOS, streamlining existing cab infrastructure with cloud-based technology, giving them an edge with competition like Verifone’s Way2Ride in New York. Now, in addition to the taxi-hailing technology, customers have options. They can hail a taxi through the Flywheel app, pay with the app once they hail a taxi on the street, or pay via the new cloud-based technology within the cab itself. The TaxiOS launch and infiltration to the NYC taxi marketplace generated 100+ articles and syndications between 10/22/15 – 12/27/15.
Branding: DeSoto Cab rebranding as Flywheel created an edge that only Flywheel has: a taxi-hailing app with a branded fleet of vehicles. This rebranding generated 400+ articles and syndications between 2/18/15 – 2/20/15. These aren’t the only taxis that work with Flywheel, but it effectively makes a unique statement in San Francisco. “A San Francisco taxi company is kicking its 82-year-old brand to the curb and renaming itself after a smartphone app in the latest sign of how mobile technology is changing the way people get a ride,” Associated Press, San Jose Mercury News.
Despite Flywheel’s funding of $30m compared to Uber’s $8.1bn, or roughly 1/300th the amount of investment, Flywheel has crushed its actual taxi competitors and is often mentioned in the broader transportation conversation with Uber and Lyft. Thanks to this campaign, Flywheel has won many more taxi partnership deals in major markets such as Portland and Los Angeles and is going on to begin trials with the New York Transportation Association, expanding into the nation’s premier taxi market.
Read more about Flywheel here