Were Shania Twain to rewrite the lyrics to one of her most popular songs for a UAE audience, she might well have crooned: “So you have a car? / That does impress me much.” That we love fancy wheels in the Emirates is no secret. Just clock the number of appreciative toots supercars and vintage models get when cruising down Sheikh Zayed Road to know. And the “your car is awesome” philosophy is one of the cornerstones that a new Dubai start-up is built on.
“Almost everyone has an awesome car in Dubai – and many like to show it off. Having a personal chauffeur is another point of pride, as well as a convenience. So why not take your own car everywhere you go?” says Zofeur co-founder Bunty Monani.
Enter Zofeur. The world’s first pay-by-minute chauffeur service – which plays on the Greek word for life “zoh” – aims to send residents a personal driver whenever the need for one should arise, round the clock. This not only ensures that you are transported from A to B in the comfort and luxury of your own car, but you can also end up saving money, says co-founder Ishrath Hasmin.
“Say you’re going from Marina to Downtown. A cab will cost you between Dh60 and Dh70 each way. If you’re returning home in the wee hours, the base fare may jump up by 2x or 3x, so you end up paying about Dh150 or more. On the other hand, if you drive your own car to your destination and book a Zofeur on the way back, you would pay approximately Dh50 because we charge per minute,” says Monani. Rates average Dh1.25 per minute, and there is a booking fee of Dh15.
“The app has become something of a lifesaver for my girlfriends and me,” says marketing executive Kri Kamra, who lives in Dubai South. “It has become quite difficult to get a regular cab – I think they are all at the Expo – and taking my own car, no matter the distance I have to travel, is so convenient. All the ‘Zofeurs’ I’ve interacted with have been super-professional, well-spoken and I feel perfectly safe.”
Training the drivers is a big part of the business, says Hasmin. “The training involves both tech and soft skills. These are all drivers, in that they have a licence, so it’s not about whether or not they are able to handle the wheel. Rather we need them to know exactly how to use the app, to ensure they are able to speak English to communicate with customers, to meet and greet them appropriately, to deal with unruly or intoxicated people, as well as all manner of situations in a way that is calm and polite. It’s about converting a driver to a chauffeur you feel comfortable around.”
It’s not only a safe driver service the duo are offering, though. You can book a Zofeur for all manner of services, from taking your car to and from the service station or RTA registration centre, to filling up with petrol or dropping off the dry-cleaning.
“The initial perception of Zofeur was that of a driver whom you can call at night if you’re unable to drive your own car back home, but it’s expanded to much more than that and become a lifestyle service,” says Monani.
“We’ve had people call a Zofeur for everything from taking their pet to the vet, to fetching out-of-town guests from the airport who are unable to drive in the UAE,” says Hasmin. “This is a service you can book for anything you need to get done outside the premises of your home or office.”
As for how said booking can be made, the duo launched a new user-friendly interface of the app last month, which enables customers to book a driver on the spot (but allow for a 30-minute lag as one Zofeur drops another in the company car to the meeting point). And therein lies a potential snag. For what happens if you take your car out with the intention of getting a Zofeur on the way back, but none are available?
“It’s happened to me several times as I always book a Zofeur last-minute and on a weekend,” admits Kamra. “In which case, I stay put longer than I originally wanted to or leave my car behind.”
The solution, stresses Ishrat, is to pre-book a time slot if you know approximately when you’re going to need to be driven someplace. “We have 100 drivers and 50,000-plus consumers, and the demand is only growing. We are looking to hire and train part-timers over weekends, which tend to be much busier, but it helps if customers would schedule their ride beforehand where possible.” The new interface allows users to book a ride up to 30 days in advance.
With a background in accounting and business (both Monani and Hasmin have CPAs from Australia among other degrees), the duo have several plans in the pipeline. Services to Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are on the cards for the first quarter of this year, while Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UK are on the international expansion list for the second quarter. Zofeur is also looking to train female chauffeurs for all markets, as well as introducing a VIP option in Dubai that will include “a driver who has experience in driving supercars such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis, and will reach you within 10 or 15 minutes," says Monani. "It’s all about living up to the expectations and reality of the Dubai consumer.”