London-based taxi app Hailo has announced a whopping $17m Series A funding round, which is one of the largest European first-rounds in recent times.

The Next Web first covered Hailo back in November, noting that it could change the way you book taxis forever. Available to download for free on Android and iOS, the mobile taxi-booking app launched in London first, and our impressions when we first tested it out was that it was really pretty good.

When you download Hailo, you see the real‐time location of the closest cabbies, including how many minutes away they are, and a couple of taps on your screen will beckon the closest one using the wonders of GPS.

Scre London taxi app Hailo takes on $17m in series A funding led by Accel, and gears up for US launch

Hailo initially raised $3m in seed funding from Atomico and Wellington – who also participated in this latest round of funding – to get the show off the road, which helped it grow from its 6 founders, consisting of three ‘Internet entrepreneurs’ and three London cabbies, who were formerly part of another taxi-themed startup. When we caught up with Hailo in November, it had around 20 hires, all based on a boat on the Thames.

In the period leading to today’s announcement, the company has grown to more than 40 employees, which co-founder and CEO Jay Bregman tells me consists “mainly” of engineers. But now with $17m extra in its coffers, led by global venture capital firm Accel Partners, this will see Hailo expand its presence in London, launch into Dublin and finally hit North America later this year.

Accel has already invested extensively in the mobile sector, and its other interests include the likes of Rovio (Angry Birds), Admob, Amobee, Dropbox, Lookout, and Hotel Tonight. “We believe that mobile will transform the personal transportation market and Hailo is well positioned to be a global player in this process,” says Adam Valkin, Partner at Accel. Valkin will join the Hailo Board, and Palo Alto partner Sameer Gandhi will also join the Board as an observer.

Talking numbers

In terms of hard numbers, we understand that Hailo has been downloaded nearly 200,000 times across Android and iOS, and the company is seeing 8-digit revenue figures in its short lifespan so far. In less than five months, it has carried around 100,000 passengers, with 3,200 black-cab drivers registered with the service. “That’s about 15% of the London black-cab population,” says Bregman. “And it’s still growing.”

“A Hailo cab is booked every minute of every day in London,” continues Bregman. “We have embraced cutting-edge technology to change the way people use taxis, while providing a much-needed shot in the arm to one of London’s longest-standing and loved traditions – the black cab.”

Check out the Hailo Promo video:

London, Dublin, Chicago…the world

So will this substantial investment see London play second fiddle to a headquarters elsewhere, say, in San Francisco or New York? Well, as it stands, Bregman says there are no plans to up sticks and move its HQ elsewhere, however there might be hubs dotted around the world, and longer term, who knows where the HQ may end up.

“We view one of our strengths is being a global business,” says Bregman. “And our London team is top-notch. So when it comes to product engineering and the core functions of the business, London will always be a core hub. We have no plans to move to San Francisco, or New York or anywhere else. But we do have plans to execute on a global level.”

For the record, Dublin will be next up for launch, some time at the end of Q2 2012. And whist New York would be the obvious contender for its first foray into North America, it seems that regulations are rather tight there, so it will look to Chicago in the first instance, where it already has a general manager in place. The Windy City can expect Hailo some time this year, though there is no specific date in place, and other US cities – as well as Canada – are also on its radar for this year.

The one appeal of Hailo as a global app is this. The plan is that you will only ever need one app – so wherever you touch-down in the world, be it London, Dublin, Chicago, Tokyo…your app will work seamlessly wherever you go. This will obviously have ramifications on data charges, but they’re far from insurmountable.

“Every day in major cities around the world, people waste millions of hours hunting for taxis, and drivers leave tens of millions of dollars on the table due to inefficiency in the market,” adds Bregman. “Hailo has rapidly transformed from an exciting concept to the world’s largest app-based personal transportation network in a single city and a force in putting dollars back into drivers’ pockets and saving customers time and hassle.”

Hailo