Late last month, online cab aggregator Ola started integrating TaxiForSure’s (TFS) hatchback cars into Ola’s own booking app. The integration was visible only to Delhi and Mumbai users for starters and was to be rolled out to other cities in phases over the next few weeks. We spoke with Anand Subramanian, Ola’s Director of Marketing Communications about bigger integration, Ola auto, TFS and Ola’s business models…
MediaNama: Could you tell us why only hatchbacks were chosen for the Ola integration?
Anand Subramanian: Hatchback is the most popular category from TFS, of the 24,000 cars that TFS has on its platform across the country. A large number or a majority of it are hatchbacks, so that was the primary reason why we looked at hatchbacks going on the Ola app.
MediaNama: Are more TFS to Ola integrations coming in the near future?
Anand Subramanian: Not at the moment. At the moment, strategically, hatchbacks made sense to us on the Ola platform thanks to the distinction of the category; the way they has been positioned at Rs 49/km (which is the base fare). It is being perceived as one of the lowest fares options in terms of cab transportation in India. And that’s a very strong category to have on the app.
MediaNama: Under what circumstances would you shut down the TFS app or replace it with the Ola app? How are TFS and Ola’s business models different?
Anand Subramanian: Even at the time of the acquisition, we were clear at about the fact that both TFS and Ola have complementary values. TFS brought in complementary value to Ola in terms of its position either on the supply side or on the demand side. Supply side is the kind of operations that TFS runs. Ola runs on a driver-entrepreneurial model where we bring together driver-entrepreneurs or owners of the car on to the platform. TFS works on an operator model, where they work with operators to then work with owners of the cars. Or operators themselves run the cars and manage a large number of cars under them. These are 2 very different models and they bring in their own strengths in different ways.
On the demand side, again, TFS has a very strong focus on economy cab category, be it the Nano or the hatchback priced at Rs 49, and that’s something that we will leverage on from TFS as a brand. So we intend to continue both brands independently and keep them separate, while drawing some synergies. The TFS app will continue to be the way it is. We’ve in fact recently revamped the TFS app with the wallet integration with 1 touch booking operation etc. So both of them will continue to grow in their own ways.
MediaNama: So you see particular kinds of users coming to the TFS as well as the Ola app and they kind of stick to their decisions…
Anand Subramanian: Correct. And then there might be some overlap also, say for instance, a user on the Ola might occasionally want to have an economy cab ride, which is where the option of the TFS in Ola app will allow them to do that. So we will definitely have customer overlap. That is the advantage of one being a platform (Ola) and the other being a focused category (TFS).
MediaNama: What are your views on drivers who work with multiple apps: Ola, TFS and Uber? Do you intend to address this issue?
Anand Subramanian: What’s important for us is that the driver is our first customer. In the marketplace outside, a driver is essentially going to stick with one platform that gives him more business. He’s out there for revenue and all that he cares about is a platform that helps him make maximum revenues. That is the one aspect that we are committed to. Essentially, we’re saying that let us ensure that drivers get as much business as possible, maximise their potential on the Ola platform and the rest will take care of itself. So that’s the approach that we take, the driver as a customer will always have 5 different options available in the bank account. The option he will stick to is the option that will give him the maximum revenue.
MediaNama: Do you have a minimum number of rides for drivers in a day?
Anand Subramanian: I wouldn’t have a number to give there. That’s because drivers have the flexibility to log on and log off the platform whenever they want. We have about a 150,000 vehicles on the platform. To give you a sense of scale, in January we were doing about 200,000 rides a day. We’re growing at about 35% month on month. You can do the math.
MediaNama: What’s the uptake on Ola Auto? What kind of demand are they seeing there, and what kind of users?
Anand Subramanian: Ola Auto in in intense demand because that’s one category which has always been there. With auto on the Ola app, you get a driver a coming to your doorstep, willing to ferry you to where you wanna go with a price that is metered by the government, at an additional nominal charge of Rs 10 per ride, that goes as a user convenience fee of using the Ola app to book the auto. And no surprises whatsoever. So the consistent standardised experience is good for the driver and good for you. Autos is all about availability, so we’re ensuring that availability is transparent and made efficient using technology. To give you a sense of what it is like for drivers in Bangalore and nationally, they are seeing an increase in revenue of about 40% compared to their revenues before registering on the Ola auto platform. And that’s a significant increase in their daily earnings.
MediaNama: How many autos have you tied up with currently?
Anand Subramanian: We’re about 45,000 autos on the app, across the country and in 6 cities at the moment.
MediaNama: Where is the demand for autos highest than any other city?
Anand Subramanian: So by virtue of sheer size, Chennai and Bangalore are the largest, that is about 11,000 and 10,000 autos each on the platform. This is also because autos are very important modes of transport in both of these cities. But having said that, if you look at it from a percentage perspective, I believe it evens out in every city. We’d probably have the same percentage of autos on the platform in terms of size and scale. We work primarily with individual auto drivers and all drivers on the platform work with us individually and that has been the case until now.
MediaNama: Who are the users of Ola Auto?
Anand Subramanian: It could be anyone, just about be anyone. We noticed an interesting trend that many new users repeatedly use the Ola Auto option, probably making them daily auto users. But that is where we validate the fact that transportation is about use cases because a person taking only an auto always will definitely take a cab ride at some point. And that’s more a function of where he’s going, what’s the purpose that he’s going for. (Ola Auto currently plies in Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad)
MediaNama: Do you see a heavy transition from auto to cabs on the platform?
Anand Subramanian: Not really, as I said, there are 2 different use cases and we would explore a transition there. I would say overall consumption of personal transportation is going up because people have started believing more in a platform like us than in owning a car. They know at any point that they need to solve a personal transportation problem, an option will come to them in minutes. So I think the trend of people owning cars is going down, thanks to (transport) availability on the platform.
MediaNama: On an average, what are the number of rides an Ola user takes per month, versus a TFS user?
Anand Subramanian: I’m afraid I can’t share those details.
MediaNama: What about the percentage of their bookings is online vs mobile for Ola and TFS (individually)?
Anand Subramanian: For Ola, over 90% of bookings come through app and for TFS, 80% of the bookings are done through the app.
MediaNama: Do you have any challenges rolling out to smaller towns? How are user expectations different?
Anand Subramanian: Smaller towns are places where there is a high probability of meeting users expectations. That’s because they don’t have any existing mode of personal transport available to them. If you go to smaller towns, you wouldn’t find a (transport) option. It’s not that people don’t need it, people definitely need it. The interesting aspect about smaller towns is that it is a small economy. What happens in a smaller towns is people from towns become drivers, we help them buy cars, get access to finance, get onto the Ola platform and they’re available in their own city and serve it. When it comes to Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns, we’ve seen phenomenal growth of the 100 cities that we’re present in today. About 50 of them should be Tier 2 and Tier 3.
MediaNama: What are the user expectations in smaller cities? How are they different from city users?
Anand Subramanian: I think the user experience is pretty similar, everyone wants a substitute for their car. Or a reasonable substitute for not having their own car. Obviously there would be some very local trends, very specific to specific cities but in that case, the consumption trend differs from one city to another. That’s why we always say that transportation is extremely hyper local. The way it is consumed , the repeat ratios, all of it varies from one city to another but at the same time, if you look at the generic need of how they’ve consumed and what is common to the need of customers across these cities, I think it is pretty homogeneous.
MediaNama: How many of their rides are coming from outside the metros (Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata)?
Anand Subramanian: In terms of number of rides? Oh we don’t share those details, we don’t share data there. Not even the percentage.
(Note: Some of the responses have been edited for brevity)