Running a ridesharing business during a global pandemic might not be for the faint-hearted, but for Juan de Antonio, CEO of Spanish multi-mobility ‘unicorn’ Cabify, transformations that were taking place in the mobility world before the pandemic are continuing to shift up a gear.

Coming from a small village where fresh air was a given, Mr de Antonio was on a mission when he started Cabify in 2011: “I wanted to transform cities in a positive way,” he says.

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“Today’s cities aren’t functional — a lot of greenhouse gases come from transportation. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities, so we need to take action now.”

Mr de Antonio says he created Cabify to provide an alternative to private vehicle ownership. “Customers can select what’s best for them. When someone opens our app, they can choose to use taxis, private hire vehicles, bikes or scooters.”

Cabify now operates in Spain and parts of Latin America, including Peru, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador and Uruguay. 

“Our long-term aim was to build a community where everyone was a winner: the drivers were earning enough and the passengers received a service they valued,” says Mr de Antonio. “We were generating profits and were growing rapidly. During Covid-19, though, most of our volume disappeared.”

He adds: “Now that cities have started recovering, safety and sustainability have become more important. We’ve taken steps to keep everyone safe, such as installing screens and using technology to generate a safe working environment.

“People have also changed their habits. They’ve experienced empty streets and realise that cities can be more habitable if there are fewer cars around.

“Additionally, with people not moving around so much during the pandemic ... we launched a parcel delivery service [Cabify Envíos] for passengers.”

Since then, the firm has expanded its logistics services to connect retailers’ stores and warehouses with customers for last-mile delivery in a series of trials in select markets in Spain, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru.

As the world emerges from the pandemic, Mr de Antonio sees more opportunities as citizens and city authorities focus on sustainability. “We’re seeing more bike lanes, more trees and more restrictions on vehicles in city centres. Work from home has also changed how people use transport. Not all pre-pandemic use cases have come back, but we’re noticing that on the outskirts of cities people are using our services more.”

As to the company’s unicorn status, Mr de Antonio is not phased: “We are working on a purpose that’s meaningful to us. Whatever the company is valued at isn’t what drives us.”

Instead, he seems more interested in what’s happening in the rest of the world, saying that Europe is lagging behind in providing the right conditions for innovative start-ups. “In the US, the top companies by market capitalisation are all new, but in Europe, it’s still the same old firms.”

Putting the challenges of the pandemic behind him, Mr de Antonio points out that technology is generating huge transformation in society. “We need to embrace it. We need more unicorns, and society needs to recognise and support innovation, start-ups and scale-ups. Cabify is already active in this area, and a member of a new EU Unicorns Group to create a more resilient, digital, greener future.” n

Juan de Antonio is CEO of ride-hailing company Cabify.

This article first appeared in the August/September print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.