Nat Rothschild's black cab gamble

Is Nat Rothschild on the wrong side of history? The scion of the famous centuries-old banking dynasty has just launched an app called Maaxi, which aims to help people get cheaper black cab rides in London.

This seems odd, at first glance. The success of apps such as Uber, which help people find taxis that are cheaper than traditional cabs, have proved massively successful in cities such as New York, San Francisco and London. The era of the black cab -- which Londoners consider expensive and infuriatingly hard to find late at night, and which are largely excluded from Uber -- seems to be doomed.

Uber is a classic case of disruption. So to be on the side of the black cab appears perverse. Can Maaxi work? Why not? Rothschild perhaps understands something that those who live in London don’t: that some people, including older passengers and tourists, adore black cabs and consider them a part of the London experience. Maaxi will help them to find a black cab in a more modern way than standing on a street waving their arm and hoping one goes past.

Some passengers probably also prefer relying on black-cab drivers’ impressively encyclopaedic knowledge of London’s roads than someone with a sat-nav. The cabbies seem keen, and Maaxi says that 1,500 have already signed up. The bottom line is that Maaxi aims to fill a gap in the market, not take on Uber head-to-head.

Moving into technology might seem like a departure for Rothschild, whose last high-profile investment was an ill-fated mining deal in Indonesia. In fact, Maaxi seems far more up his street. The marriage of old and new -- the retro black cab and a snazzy app -- is a perfect fit for the 43-year-old, Twitter-loving scion of a dignified old investment house, who like all family business next gens is a mixture of old and new himself.