With e-hailing startups such as GrabTaxi and Uber both vying for the top spot, will a clear winner emerge in the region?
Editor’s Note: Here’s a story from our archives we feel is relevant even today and deserves your attention.
Anyone who keeps abreast of technology trends or even follows mainstream news would have come across either name at some point. High figure investments, scandals and aggressive marketing campaigns have earned these two big names in the e-hailing space a near-permanent fixture in the headlines of our newspapers, blogs and websites.
These e-hailing startups have caused a disruption in the taxi booking industry in places like the UK and Singapore. Traditional taxi companies are waking up to the idea that the playing field is no longer level and that they need to upgrade their services and innovate in order to compete.
A quick examination of some statistics will give you a clear idea of how big the e-hailing market has grown.
Launched just three years ago, Malaysia-based e-hailing app GrabTaxi started with a paltry fleet of 30 taxis and now oversees over 111,000 drivers in its network. It experiences 11 bookings every second. It has also been downloaded 6.1 million times and is now servicing 22 cities in six countries.
In comparison, US-based Uber launched in 2010, has more than 160,000 drivers, services 58 countries and experiences about 12 bookings every second,
As both of them scale and attract more investments, whetting their appetite for a bigger market share, the more hurdles they have to cross. These e-hailing startups may be able to outwit traditional taxi companies but can they best each other?
Applying the right marketing strategies
With a more established branding, more manpower and funds, it may seem that Uber has the upper hand in infiltrating new markets in Asia.
However, it lacks one advantage that GrabTaxi has — being a company that was started by a local, which allows for finely-tuned localisation strategies. It’s also able to focus all its resources on Southeast Asia, seeing that the region is its only market, unlike Uber which has a global focus.
For example, GrabTaxi discovered that many taxi drivers were not tech-savvy enough to use smartphones. To overcome this, its team spoke with the drivers to understand their needs. The company then liaised with several mobile manufacturers and service providers to help subsidise Internet and smartphones for the drivers. The team also engaged students to go to neighbourhood coffee shops — a very frequent hangout for taxi drivers — to boost sign-ups.
Being regional, GrabTaxi is able to get under the skin of local cultures. For example, it understood the importance of national service to Singaporeans and launched a campaign offering national servicemen and military personnel a discount.
To top it off, its CEO also regularly drives a GrabTaxi cab in other cities to gather additional feedback from customers, keeping a finger on the pulse.
In fact, a few weeks ago, e27 reported yet another GrabTaxi’s highly localised campaign – its special durian order event for customers in Malaysia (a cheeky counter response to Uber’s global ice cream order event).
Fostering a healthy public image
They say that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Any form of publicity gives your company exposure and increases brand awareness. But does the cliche apply to this category of companies?
It’s no secret that Uber has been the subject of several unfortunate incidents of late. A few notable ones would be the recent high-profile lawsuits by its drivers in the UK and US, the mass protests against Uber by taxi drivers taking place in France and Mexico. Then you have the rape and sexual assault cases in New Delhi and Washington D.C, among others.
In contrast, GrabTaxi seems to have gone relatively unscathed with just a couple of complaints against its drivers, such as this incident in Bangkok. To top it off, it appears to be proactive in cultivating a healthy public image.
For example, it set up the GrabTaxi Provident Fund this year to reward the efforts of its drivers in Singapore. Launched with an initial sum of S$3.5 million (US$2.5 million), drivers can use this fund to cover their medical fees, pay for accident coverage and crisis support. Every month, GrabTaxi will also deposit S$300 (US$214) into the welfare fund for every driver who hits the service and usage criteria.
Wooing the investors
Looking at the fact sheet, Uber is the clear winner in terms of raising investments. Since it’s founding in 2009, it has raised 10 funding rounds totalling up to US$5.9 billion with its latest investment being a US$1 billion Series E round from Foundation Capital and Times Internet.
In comparison, GrabTaxi has only a fraction of its investment with four rounds totalling up to US$340 million.
However, you need to understand the context of these fundings. Since GrabTaxi is only focussed on Southeast Asia, the sum that it has raised is immense compared to other Southeast Asian players. Last year’s US$250 million Series B round led by SoftBank was the largest investment round any Southeast Asian startup had ever raised.
If this trend of healthy PR and investment prospect persists, GrabTaxi may well be on the way to becoming the top e-hailing player in this region, leaving other players such as Uber behind.
Disclaimer: This advertorial is written in partnership with GrabTaxi.
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