In this series of ‘Getting to know…’ we are catching up with Ayesha Rees, Chief Executive Officer here at UVA UK, ahead of the launch of our challenger brand, to find out about how UVA has set its sights on changing the ride-hailing landscape for good.
What do you currently do at UVA?
I am the CEO of UVA UK, an app-based ride-hailing service that’s set to be launched in a number of cities in the UK early this year. Ride-hailing is a completely new and exciting journey for me. Before joining UVA, my career has been in vocational education and working with businesses spanning the private, public and third sectors.
My extensive experience in education ties into UVA’s commitment to delivering a world-class driver training programme, which will give our drivers regular opportunities to take training modules on subjects that affect our communities including Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ and White Privilege.
Safety, honesty and transparency are our core business beliefs and we are passionate about creating a deeper sense of trust and community with our app that goes far beyond a name and a star rating system.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
I had a real desire to run a company that didn’t just pay lip service to the importance of high-quality customer service but put it at the heart of their entire operations. We’ve built UVA around the ethos of customer care, satisfaction and engagement.
Separately, as a woman who often gets taxis alone for business meetings, I am passionate about providing a safe, reliable and easy-to-use service for all commuters. For too long ride-hailing apps have taken advantage of drivers, with outdated and immoral business models resulting in an unreliable ‘lottery experience’ for passengers.
What sets us apart is that pricing for our services is standardised, there’s no ‘surge charge’ when the roads start to get busy or cancelled bookings, which means that our customers will know exactly how much their journey will cost and when they can expect their driver.
Who do you admire?
I don’t think I’ll be alone in saying that the past 10 months has made me reevaluate what truly matters, and as a result the people I admire. Those people who keep going in the face of adversity are the most inspirational of all to me: the parents who are working full time, while juggling homeschooling; the elderly who have had limited contact with their loved ones and still manage to be cheerful; those of us who have lost work during the pandemic, and so many more.
Most importantly, I admire those who aren’t afraid to ask for help. Asking for help and accepting it shows such a real strength and it’s something I remind myself of every day. There are so many everyday, unsung heroes in our society that deserve the same recognition, respect and admiration as we freely give to prolific business leaders and celebrities.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Alongside determination and hard work, timing is a vital ingredient to the success of any business. UVA UK was founded in December 2019, with the aim of launching in 2020. However, the pandemic had other plans for our new venture!
Being able to identify the best time to launch in the face of the swiftly changing safety regulations has been one of the most consistent challenges we’ve faced over the past 12 months, but it has definitely made us stronger. We’ve been able to develop a robust brand proposition, refine our operations and prepare ourselves for whatever the future may hold.
We’ve all been working so hard to make this dream a reality and we’re raring to go. Once restrictions are eased, we’ll be launching with a big bang, which will make it all worth it.
What defines your way of doing business?
UVA is a brand built on our strong moral compass. We strive to provide a service that is transparent about costs and do things the right way, both for its drivers and its users.
I believe that a successful business is one that works collaboratively with others. It’s important to see everyone you meet as a potential teacher and value everyone’s views equally. Before becoming UVA’s CEO, I met with former bosses that I admire and reached out across my network to bring in additional expertise and insight.
We have big ambitions and in the long term, we will become a UK-wide operation, synonymous with outstanding service. The timing of a national roll-out is largely dependent on how the initial launch goes, although roughly we aim to be in a new city across the UK every six months.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
I’d say to be prepared for some long days and sleepless nights, because ultimately the buck stops with you and everyone will expect you to have all the answers, all the time. However, don’t let that pressure cloud your vision and passion for why you started. Accept that you will never know the answer to everything and know when to ask for help. You’ll find inspiration and support easily, so long as you know where to look for it.
At first, being your own boss can sometimes feel like a baptism of fire but there’s no other feeling like it. It’s definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done. To be in control of my own destiny, to do things the right way and to have an amazing team on that journey with me is such a joy to be a part of and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.