Ibibo started as a social network and ended up being a direct challenger to MakeMyTrip, the Big Kahuna of India’s online travel and tourism space.  Under its hard-charging CEO Ashish Kashyap (nicknamed “AK-47”) it became the second largest OTA (online travel agency) in India and the number one in the lucrative hotels booking space. Then in October, after a few years of a bruising war for market share, MakeMyTrip decided to acquire (or merge with, depending on how you want to see it) Ibibo when it became apparent that burning money indefinitely wasn’t a sustainable strategy.

Company NameIbibo
Official Company Name, as per MCA recordsIbibo Group Private Limited
CEOAshish Kashyap
Headquartered inNew Delhi
Total funding$400-500 million
InvestorsNaspers, Tencent

What has Ibibo been up to, the last year?

After acquiring India’s largest bus ticketing service Redbus for $100 million in 2013, Ibibo gradually ramped up its strategy and spending to win market share in one of the world’s most lucrative and fast-growing travel markets, India. This culminated in a bloody no-holds-barred, who-blinks-first fight with market leader MakeMyTrip for market share during the last 12-18 months. The ammunition was capital – $180 million for MakeMyTrip from Chinese CTrip and $250 million for Ibibo from parent Naspers. The bulk of Ibibo’s spending was on the hotels & rooms space (distinct from airline ticketing), where it both expanded the market and captured market share.

Eventually both Ibibo and MakeMyTrip blinked, decided to shake hands, and merged to form a giant worth $1.8 billion.

ibibo

Results

2.82: Number of times Ibibo’s annual revenue its outstanding debt was in 2016. That ratio was just 1.07 in 2014.

Rs 645 crore: the money it spent on “advertising promotional expenses” in 2016, up 162% from the year before even as its revenue went up by 55%. This helped it become number 1 in the hotels space.

-12,428,958,498: No, that’s not a telephone number but Ibibo’s accumulated losses as on March 2016. That’s Rs -1,242 crore.

$109 million: what Ibibo forced MakeMyTrip to spend on marketing and sales promotion in 2016, up from $42.7 million the year before.

It’s clear that Ibibo used capital, chutzpah and strategy to establish itself as a clear challenger to MakeMyTrip, forcing the latter to acquire it. What’s not clear is if that was always Ibibo and its parent shareholder’s (Naspers and Tencent) goal, or did they ever think they could dethrone MakeMyTrip and end up as a profitable and sustainable number 1 player? In the ultimate game of high stakes poker, did Ibibo call MakeMyTrip’s bluff, or did MakeMyTrip call Ibibo’s?

It’s a question worth pondering.