How did the idea for your business first come about?
When my marriage ended, I was working several part time jobs and had four teenagers to look after. I needed to buy a house and couldn’t get approved for a loan and so I requested a flexible job. I wanted to take advantage of the Ridesharing industry, but I felt such apprehension about driving men alone at night, and I knew other women surely felt the same. In addition to this, my daughter was at an age where she was having some pretty unpleasant experiences in Taxis and ridesharing services, and I just thought, there must be another way. Women should be able to travel with other women. I was going to have to be the person to do it.
When did you have a ‘f*ck-it moment’ and decide you were going to go all in and start your business
On the 19th of April 2016, I was driving down Punt Road in Melbourne, crying because I was working so hard. I just thought f*ck it, I’m going to do this. Nothing can be as hard as what I’m already doing - working four jobs and taking care of four teenagers with no flexible work arrangements. I had worked so hard all my life, and I really wanted to be able to offer another job opportunity to other women out there. Women are always looking for casual work, and the statistics around women driving Taxis and ridesharing services are just ridiculous. I wanted women to be able to drive when it suited them, in a safe environment and be paid properly. So I took the leap and decided to launch Shebah because nobody else was.
What were some major challenges you had when starting your business? And how did you overcome them?
The most confounding challenge was getting approval to operate around antidiscrimination laws. Trying to get people to understand that a woman’s experience of transport was so different to a man’s, and getting the statistics to prove this, was a huge challenge. Shebah isn’t about excluding anyone, it’s about giving women the opportunity to feel safe as both a driver and a passenger. Women spend so much time and energy worrying about their safety and that’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. Unfortunately, we live in a society very much based on blame. If a woman runs at night with headphones in or she drinks too much, we blame her when there’s any ‘incident’. I just want women to be able to study until 11pm at night, or dance until 4am and be able to get home safely. I want women to stop having to spend so much time protecting each other with messages like; “text me when you’re home safe,” or “make sure you don’t sit up front with the driver.”
I overcame the challenges thrown at me by just persisting - I knew I had to keep going to get my business off the ground. When I started a Go-fund Me page I had so many people writing in and supporting me, which kept me going when things got tough.
What has been your biggest “pinch me” moment?
When the app went live and the first girl got picked up, I realised - oh my god, this is actually happening. The pinch me moments just keep happening, I have one every week. I’ll get an email saying, “I was able to take a promotion at work because my kids have a service which can get them home from school” or “I’ve just been able to take up a swimming scholarship because I can get to the pool at 4am”. These are examples of the types of opportunities that have opened up for women which I had never even imagined. The app has been so widely used and in so many more ways than I anticipated and that has been truly amazing.
Starting a business can be gruelling - what keeps you motivated, and keeps you going?
I’m surrounded by amazing people. The staff that I have working with me are so extraordinarily committed, they love all our drivers and our passengers and will just go the extra mile on every detail.
Essentially, we have two customers - our drivers and our passengers. Both of them need to be kept happy and that’s a large task. Having staff that care so deeply about our drivers and passengers is what keeps me going. Everyone is so devoted to keeping our reputation strong and working according to our values.
What do you do to create a work-life balance?
In the mornings before work I go for a walk – but when things are on they are just ON. What really keeps me grounded is my four children. There is food that needs to be bought, meals that need to be cooked and the kids need to learn to drive – these tasks all need to get done so they keep me highly organised and in the zone.