Michal is one of those high-energy guys who works three jobs. But he doesn’t always wear a smile, he admits in perfect English as he drives me through the slushy streets of Bratislava earlier this week. I must say I find that hard to believe. His cheer is quite infectious.
There’s a little time to chat, because the journey from the local Startup Grind to the city’s memorable (for all the wrong reasons, I’m afraid) main train station will take a few minutes. Having had this Liftago ride (anonymously) ordered for me by the startup’s co-founder Ondrej Krátký, I’m keen to find out what life is like for one of its drivers.
Michal’s three careers are an interesting mix. Apart from driving for Liftago, he also uses his car to deliver salads in the daytime. A recent startup just like Liftago, Fresh Garden Salads is ‘a unique fast food concept, unprecedented in Slovakia.’
For some reason the idea of salad delivery amuses me. I can’t wait to hear about his third job.
“I also work for my father’s paper recycling business, meeting with potential new business clients,” enthuses Michal, waving towards a skip across the road. “Look, there’s one of his containers!
I’m starting to think it must have been a long day for him.
Clearly Michal isn’t one to give his time to large corporates. In all three of his jobs — be in the family business or the startups he works for — there’s an entrepreneurial story. Given his apparent willingness to graft with a smile — just like the stereotypical startup founder — that seems like a perfect fit.
“I like Liftago better than Uber,” enthuses Michal as we plough through the snowy darkness. “I get to set my own prices, decide where I want to go and choose my jobs. I’ve bought a nice car and set my rates quite high, and it’s really good to have that choice.”
It’s true that the car is pretty comfortable. But what’s really uncanny is the way my driver is echoing the words Krátký delivered at the Startup Grind less than an hour earlier.
“Our drivers are the best PR and marketing we have,” I recall him saying. “Our concept is to make the driver proposition and experience a good one. If the driver is happy then it translates to customers who are also happy. We’ve got a lot of loyalty on both sides.
“Giving drivers freedom to make their earnings viable is the only sustainable way for us. A small company can’t afford to have the huge driver turnover that some of our competitors deal with as a result of putting the customer value above driver earnings.”
Michal seems to be the living, breathing proof of what Krátký said. When we pull up before the grimness of the main station, Michal does his paperwork diligently, filling out a receipt for each of us.
“I’ll just close the ride so your friend doesn’t have to pay any more,” he says, playing with his mobile screen.
I smile, then speak up. I have a surprise for him. “Did you know that ‘my friend’ is the owner of Liftago?”
He looks up from his paperwork. He’s lost for words for just a moment. “Really?”
“Yep…your boss! He’s from Prague, but he was here to speak at an event for startups.”
Another pause. “Well, it’s lucky I’m in a good mood tonight!”
“Well, he said you were very pleasant on the phone when you arrived to pick me up. No worries…you said all the right things in the car!”
We both enjoy a chuckle, and then Michal heads off to pick up his next customer.
Liftago began operating in Prague in 2014 before expanding to Bratislava in 2015.