How walking the streets of New York and the Big Apple’s famous cabs gave Richard Corbett his big idea.

Redundancy can be all it’s not cracked up to be. For Richard Corbett it certainly turned into a blessing in disguise. In December 2009, the parlous state of the economy led directly to him losing his job.eyetease

Armed with an idea born from his travels on the other side of the Atlantic, unemployment provided the freedom to put all his efforts into an entirely new digital advertising concept.

Digital broadcast ads on the top of taxis had not been achieved before. Today, Eyetease’s iTaxitop technology has been approved for implementation in 50 countries. Ads can be scheduled from a computer and deployed to hundreds (or even thousands) of taxis within seconds, displaying ads with geographic and time specific accuracy. Suddenly, every city street thronging with people becomes a targeted and relevant media experience.

But it wasn’t easy. Exposed to the elements and able to withstand vibration, thermal absorption, solar absorption, heat dissipation, dust and water, it called for an incredibly robust solution. And then there’s the reliance on the car battery for power, security issues, weight and height restrictions, and masses of regulatory and vehicle standards, guidelines and legislations.

Nevertheless, two years from visualising a business opportunity on an American sidewalk, Corbett’s concept was reality.

He tells his story here:

What does your business do, what has been your success to date?

Eyetease has created the world’s most advanced digital outdoor media format – the iTaxitop…. In a sentence, the iTaxitop enables ads to be broadcast from each taxi with geographic and time specific accuracy across double sided HD / high brightness screens. The iTaxitop can be used to broadcast live news, information and relevant adverts to the right people at the right place and time. We’re the first to develop this technology and have approval for use of the iTaxitop in over 50 countries!

Today, Eyetease supplies to some of the world’s largest media companies in Europe, Middle East and North America!

Where were you when you got the idea?

Where else but New York!? I remember the exact moment when I was travelling there in 2009 and (as always) couldn’t help but get inspired by the tall buildings, bright lights and overwhelming sense of excitement. I could see rivers of taxis passing busy areas filled with people. However, when you looked at the ads on each taxitop, they were often irrelevant or out-dated.

When I came back to London, I started to look increasingly more at taxis and the often irrelevant or out-dated media on them. Of course, at some point in time or in a specific location, the media is relevant – but it was the exception and not the norm!rush_hour

I then started to think about the unpredictable nature of taxis and the randomness of each route taken every day. Unlike buses running a set route, a taxi driver’s route was very much at the mercy of the individual requests of each new passenger. In my mind I tried to rationalise the concept that was starting to form.

The iTaxitop is basically a 21st century spin on a New York classic!

Why were you so inspired?

I guess it started with one of those ‘eureka moments’, which was followed by a succession of key validations. Following three years in strategy and new venture development, I was able to assess the opportunity pretty quickly.

Through my research I noticed that digital outdoor media was one of the world’s fastest growing sectors. In the UK alone, it grew by 36% CAGR from 2003 to 2009 and was forecast to grow from 10% to 90% of all outdoor media spend by 2020. Sexy growth rates! Most importantly, I also noticed that the only broadcast media format yet to transition to digital was TAXIS – now I started to get excited!

With no one in the market developing digital taxitops, I started to make some calls in the UK and USA to major media companies to validate the value proposition and benefits case. During a call to one of the largest media companies in the USA, they admitted that a digital taxitop product would be of interest to them. Following two years of R&D, I launched the iTaxitop, became an approved supplier with this company and Eyetease made its first sale!

Were you actively looking for a start-up idea or did it just seem too good to pass up?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been looking at and developing new business concepts for myself and clients. Whether I was four years old and selling items in the house back to my parents, selling yo-yo string in the playground when I was 12 or involved in the entrepreneurship society at university, I was always thinking of new start-up ideas.

I can recall many sleepless nights developing new ideas whilst lying in my bed – the better the idea, the less sleep I would get! What made this idea jump out at me more than others was simple: the benefits case was compelling, there was a clear customer market, the market was ready for it and there was no competition. The biggest hurdle soon became the technology. Was it feasible to develop and at what cost?

How easy was it to start the business on your return?itaxitop

I would say that “starting a business” is simple if you have conviction (and capital) in your concept. However, on the flip side I would say that keeping going during the hard times is the difficult bit! Also, I was “lucky” enough to lose my job owing to the economic climate in December 2009 and whether it was necessity or a lack of excuses not to do it, I started Eyetease. The timing felt right.

Following a month of research, I set up Eyetease Limited in February 2010.

What research did you have to do?

Following my days in new venture strategy consulting, I applied the same research approach to the development of Eyetease and the iTaxitop. This included:

Proposition Rationale:
1. Market size, trends and segmentation
2. Customer needs
3. Competitive landscape

From this, I quickly discovered that there was double digit growth in the Digital Out-Of-Home (DOOH) media market, strong customer validation of digital taxitops by market leaders and a clear gap in the market as there were no existing companies selling this product (i.e. no competitors). Using this information, I fed it into:

Proposition development:
4. Proposition definition
5. Right to play
6. Operational model
7. Capability analysis

Proposition implications:
8. Business Model
9. Revenue & Costs
10. Risk assessment
11. Implementation

Research was a mix of surfing the web and interviewing industry experts and prospective customers. In this day and age, there’s no excuse not to research and develop your concept. There’s a vast amount of free tools available and if used correctly can be really powerful!

The whole process took a month – not long at all in the grand scheme of things!

What market data did you look at to be sure there was an opportunity in the UK?

The bottom line is, if there’s no ‘market growth’, there’s no business. If there’s no clear ‘benefit’ to your product, there’s no business. If there’s no clear ‘customer’ for your product, there’s no business. If there’s no valued differentiation and too much competition, there’s no business. Finally a key final point relates to money – if there’s no profit, there’s no business!city_life

All the market data I pulled in related to the aforementioned points…which basically came from online and from conversations with key people in the industry – mostly contacted through LinkedIn and Twitter. Isn’t the internet awesome!

How did you replicate what you’d seen overseas or use your experience there?

The iTaxitop basically replicated the NYC “taxitop” positioning (i.e. on the roof facing sideways) as I thought it gave the optimal viewing for digital signage. Also, it’s above the height of other vehicles (therefore visible in traffic), it’s at eye level to pedestrians and also is most visible from both sides of the road (where the majority of pedestrians are). In my opinion, if it’s not broken don’t fix it! Other options included screens on the doors, screens facing front / back of vehicle and screens placed behind the vehicle on the boot / rear window. On balance, the Americans had it right with the taxitop so we did the same!

How much did you invest in getting started?

Initially I had budgeted about £45,000 to get the project off the ground. Once, I realised the sheer scale and difficulty of the task in hand, this investment turned into in excess of £250,000 to get the project moving!

How quickly after starting did you experience what you’d describe as ‘success’?

I would say that “success” is relative to your personal goals and aspirations. We’re first to market with this new digital media format, we’ve overcome significant technical barriers, we’re global, we’ve been featured in the global press, we work with some of the world’s biggest media companies…but still the biggest success is yet to come – gaining approvals from the TFL for this new and innovative media format in my home town London. We’re almost there on this one!

Where did you go for advice?

Having a good support network is important. I would say that my friends and family have been the best at giving advice, both on a business and personal level. Starting a business is not glamorous and takes a lot of hard work.taxi

It’s often likened to a rollercoaster ride of successes and failures. The difference between a good and bad entrepreneur is the speed in which they can pick themselves up from a failure, learn from it and improve. Having a good support network can make all the difference here!

What advice would you give to others who travel looking for start-up ideas?

I’m not sure if there’s a formula for creating great ideas, but I would say that opening your mind to new experiences and environments helps. When you’re stuck in the monotony of work-home-work-home, you fail to see opportunities.

I would also say that some of the best business opportunities are formed around addressing a real world problem. My recommendation would be to experience these problems, challenge yourself everytime you experience a problem and investigate ways to solve the problem!

When travelling keep your eyes and ears open to possible solutions to the previous problems you’ve experienced. Can you replicate / learn from the ways in which these problems have been met? Can you do this profitably?! If so, go for it!

Remember, if you try something new, you risk failure. If you don’t try something new, you guarantee failure. So try something new and develop that start-up idea!

What are your future plans?

World domination of the taxi media market. We won’t stop until every major city has iTaxitops broadcast live news, info and relevant ads to city dwellers!

ABIGAIL VAN-WEST, published this post originally on startups