Ola Cabs has raised more funding than any other taxi operator in India, and is present in more cities than traditional radio cab operators. It has also expanded to sectors beyond cabs, such as food delivery. At the same time, it has run into obstacles in Delhi, where the government asked Ola and other such app-based operators to procure a radio cab license, which would effectively mean changing their business model.
HuffPost India spoke to Anand Subramanian, Director, Marketing Communications, on the company's efforts to resolve the issue, response to its food delivery business and weird requests from customers.
Q: What is happening with the license issue in Delhi? No app-based taxi operators has received it yet.
A: You know we are looking at the broader perspective and working with the government on the way forward. I think it's about putting measures in place. We are currently three steps ahead of what the government mandates when it comes to checks for drivers. We hired one of the best agencies for background checks. You have a SOS button, your friends or family can track your rides.
Q: And despite all of that, you still are required to have a license but don’t have it.
A: I think we are providing a great experience even as we try to resolve the issues at every level with the government. India only has three percent per capita ownership of cars, compared with 70 percent in the United States. The number of cabs in New York is five times that of Mumbai, which has four times the population! So this is a great market to be in, where you can contribute to making drivers as entrepreneurs.
"We certainly need industry-wide legislation for our sector"
Q: Do you think it is impractical to have such a requirement, because getting a radio cab license for companies like yours is asking you to change your business model completely.
A: We certainly need industry-wide legislation for our sector. That would benefit everyone. Today we have created a new business model, and in near future there will be more such innovative models. Things that nobody could predict 4-5 years ago are happening now, driven by demand from younger demographics. Most of the laws lag behind what is happening. We are engaging with relevant authorities and find many of them, like Bidhan Nagar, more progressive about legislation.
Q: Which areas are you going to use the latest round of funding for?
A: I won't comment on the funding. But we are growing fast. We are currently in 85 cities with Ola, and want to spread to 100 by the end of April. We have grown our presence five times compared with the same time last year. We are targeting the tier 2-3 towns. In the last 20 cities we launched in, there never was a organized cab service. To help drivers buy cars, we worked with SBI for a loan product so that would also remain an important area.
Q: Last week, you turned down a request from a customer who wanted a Hindu driver. Do you get such weird requests often?
A: We get a wide variety of requests, including unusual ones, and try to respond. With respect to this case, our response was just the stand we believe in.
Q: You recently launched a food delivery service in four cities. How is that doing?
A: It is still in beta stage. Ours is a tech platform and an on-demand platform and we are addressing multiple layers of personal transport needs, one of which is food delivery. We have expanded in more areas within the four cities and its doing well.
Q: There are other food delivery services, most restaurants have their own delivery people as well. How will you differentiate your service in this crowded field?
A: We are bringing limited food options from popular restaurants and delivering in 15 minutes. You know that a roll from Oh Calcutta tastes great, and might want to repeat the experience. The delivery time is quicker than others. We are using existing cabs at the moment.
Q: How does that work?
A: A delivery boy arrives with your food in an Ola cab.
"We want to be in all on-demand categories that our platform can serve"
Q: How did you think of this service? Uber started it a few months ago in the United States.
A: Ours is a different approach. We think of ourselves as a tech platform that makes multiple on-demand categories possible. On the cab front we have multiple types of cabs from mini to prime, autos, Mumbai cabbies. The food service is delivered through the same platform. We will expand such services further, and want to be in all areas that our platform can serve.
Q: You are now present in 85 cities. After acquiring TaxiForSure, your reach must have widened.
A: TaxiForSure exists in 47 cities and will continue as a separate brand because it serves a different category of customers than Ola. TaxiForSure is for entry level customers, with its Rs 49 base price and Nano cabs. They are very strong in that area. So we certainly have spread wider in terms of the types of customers who choose us.