Ayesha Rees

Making a big career transition from vocational education to transport technology, Ayesha Rees, Chief Executive Officer of UVA UK, tells us about the app-based ride-hailing service that her team are set to launch in 2021 and the journey that's led her here.

Tell us about your business, what does it do?
UVA UK is an app-based ride-hailing service that’s set to be launched in a number of cities in the UK early 2021. We put our drivers and passengers at the heart of everything we do - always honest and always safe. 

What sets us apart is that pricing for our services is standardised, there’s no ‘surge charge’ when the roads start to get busy, so our customers will know exactly how much their journey will cost. Delivered by drivers who are trusted by us, and where standards are controlled and cared for by us – so you know every ride will be as good as the one before.


What did you do before you started this business?

Before heading up UVA, my entire career has been in vocational education. I have worked with businesses and teams across the UK and internationally, spanning the private, public and third sectors. 

Ride sharing is a completely new and exciting journey for me but my robust experience in education ties into UVA’s commitment to delivering a world-class driver training programme, which will see our drivers having the opportunity to take regular training modules on subjects including Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ and White Privilege to create a deeper sense of trust and community that goes beyond a name and a star rating system.


What inspired you to start up?

I had a real desire to run a company that didn’t just pay lip service to the importance of people engagement, but really put it at the heart of its entire operations and built a brand 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 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 For too long ride-hailing apps have taken advantage of drivers, with outdated and immoral business models resulting in an unreliable ‘lottery experience’ for passengers.

Ultimately, it’s UVA’s ambition to make urban travel better, changing the way ride-hailing works for good, providing a safe and trustworthy service for both passengers and drivers. That means no more cancelled bookings or substandard service.


Where do you get advice, support or help?

I think it’s important to see everyone you meet as a potential teacher and value everyone’s views equally. Before becoming UVA’s CEO, I have met with former bosses that I admire and reached out across my network to bring in expert support. A successful business is one that works collaboratively with others. 

For me, the benefit of engaging with a wide range of people means that you get so many different perspectives, from the sceptical people who ask, “Are you mad?” to the cheerleaders who say, “This is going to be amazing!” 

If you know where you’re going and what your ‘true north’ is, then you can take on board all comments and use them to build your business. It’s one of the main reasons that we’re bringing a significant number of apprentices to the UVA team as they bring a whole different perspective, energy and enthusiasm, which will be crucial for our business.


How did you access any finance you needed?
UVA is backed by our founder, who is an angel investor in a number of UK companies.


What has been your biggest achievement so far?
There have been so many little wins that have brought us to this point, but personally, the fact we have built a business from nothing, which leaders in the sector truly believe in has been incredible to see and means we can really challenge the ride-hailing status quo. For us, providing an “okay service” isn’t good enough! 

Supporting local people into employment is another big focus for us. We’ve committed to take part in The Kickstart Scheme, which aims to create new job placements for young people between the ages of 16 - 24 on either Universal Credit or at risk of long-term unemployment. We want to ensure that candidates get the fullest and best experience they can when placed with us to create well-rounded, confident young people equipped with the skills they need for the next stages of their career.


How do you differentiate your business from others?

We are more than just a technology company that links drivers with riders, we want to be as solid as a rock. We strive to provide a service that is transparent about costs and do things the right way, both for its drivers and its users.


What’s it like to be your own boss?

Honestly, sometimes it feels like a baptism of fire, but I absolutely love it and it’s one of the most rewarding 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. 


Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
UVA has big ambitions, and lots of moving parts! UVA UK at its heart will be a British company, run by British people with a strong UK investment plan.

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 aspiring entrepreneurs?

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.

Contributed by Ayesha Rees
Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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