On-demand services are under pressure to outperform each other, and the outcome is catching customers in some messy tailwinds. In the world of ride-hailing applications, an industry that is booming as more young people replace car ownership with public transit and on-demand rides, these tailwinds look like overcharging customers, underpaying drivers and often, overlooking user safety. Not anymore, as the new ride hailing app, Wilma, hit the streets of London, Ontario with its first-ever fleet of women-only drivers, reinventing an industry that has often looked the other way when it comes to equity, especially for women.
What drives Wilma?
Wilma was Co-Founded by Mary Morrison and Terri Phipps, good friends and prominent figures in their respective and tenured careers. Named one of the Top 100 Companies to Watch in 2023 by FoundersBeta, Wilma is dedicated to the safety, comfort and empowerment of women and gender-diverse riders and drivers alike. A mobile app available on Android and iOS, Wilma is a membership-based service that acts as an investment towards peace of mind for female riders, while supporting a well-paying income source for drivers. Unlike traditional ride-hailing applications, Wilma does not gamify the driver’s pay, but instead provides a fixed-rate percentage of each ride as payment to the driver.
With a Wilma membership, users are not charged any booking fees (that often vary in price with competitors) and, more importantly, can get from point A to point B safely. With additional technology integrations that ensure anonymity and data safety, Wilma’s foundation remains steadfast in safety. “Since launching, we have seen an outpour of folks saying they are so thrilled to see us bringing this service to Canada,” says Phipps. “It just goes to show that people are excited and that safety precautions like these–and founders like us–are needed in these big tech spaces.”
Launching isn’t Linear
Building its own tech with a roster of impressive in-house employees, Wilma bootstrapped its startup experience like many other tech companies and has seen delays in its go-to-market plans because of the nature of building such intricate tech. Safety was the driving idea behind this innovation, which meant that the Wilma team wanted to consider data safety throughout the process, too. Going the extra mile to ensure integrations that followed ever-changing (and often geographically confining) rules and regulations within the existing ride-hailing empire in Canada, the app launched in the spring of 2023 and is already receiving valuable user feedback that will impact growth and change as the company brings Wilma fleets to expanding Canadian cities.
A focus on community
Wilma is a recent i.d.e.a. Fund recipient. Supported by a $10-million Government of Canada investment, through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), the i.d.e.a Fund is led by Innovation Guelph in partnership with five Regional Innovation Centres (RICs): Wetech Alliance, Haltech, Innovate Niagara, Innovation Factory and TechAlliance of Southwestern Ontario. The program helps high-potential ventures access the tools they need to succeed by providing financial and business advisory supports to develop or redesign products, services, processes and technologies that reduce impacts on the environment and create made-in-Canada solutions.
Approaching its i.d.e.a. Fund project using an array of lenses, the core concept of Wilma’s goals revolved around its valued community. Garnering exposure as the company pressed on with its big launch, Wilma honed in on setting up building blocks to continue creating and caring for its community. “The i.d.e.a. Fund allowed us to have a laser-sharp focus, and we brought in talent that was able to narrow in on London’s demographic and build a customer persona that led to more leads and increased metrics for our social presence,” said Morrison.
In addition to online relationship building, Wilma looked inward to its existing customers and spent some of the funding on building a quality UX and interface, understanding what makes a positive difference or causes friction through customer connections. Building this community of social followers, valued users and dedicated drivers allowed Wilma an opportunity to be reflective of its journey and use new opinions and experiences when developing the app for the end user.
“Wilma is brilliantly positioned for growth right now. As the company continues communicating its differentiated value through the membership approach, we can already see the growing interest in investment and expansion.”
Having raised $1.7 million CAD to date, Wilma is no stranger to the scrappy startup energy that has put its drivers on the roads. With one third of the women surveyed saying that they would gladly use this membership and 100 percent of the men surveyed stating that they would buy this product for a woman in their life, the market is willing and ready to welcome Wilma as it expands. On the vision board for the Wilma team is a North American expansion, with the goal of being on the ground in 170 cities within the next five years. Next stop –Toronto.
To learn more about Wilma, sign up, or become a driver, go to getwilma.app
To learn more about the i.d.e.a. Fund go to techalliance.ca/idea-fund
To learn more about FedDev Ontario, go to https://feddev-ontario.canada.ca/en