In August 2016, it started as a whisper, water cooler gossip, a comment in passing but soon graduated to a serious conversation within Ola. By January 2017, the Indian unicorn, which was once valued at $5 billion, was often discussing it at its weekly meetings: it is losing market share to Uber. And it is nervous.

Ola is the largest—by fleet size—cab-hailing aggregator in India. It is present in 102 cities; Uber, in 29 of them. According to multiple sources, Ola, currently, holds 57% of the market share. But its grasp is slipping. That market share in March 2016 was closer to 80%. An Ola spokesperson referred The Ken to a report generated by TrueCaller on the number of calls made between drivers and riders and not bookings.  

In Mumbai, the market share tilts in favour of Uber, with the US-based company taking 60% of the bookings. Ola, sources say, held 75% of that market, a year ago. In Delhi NCR, the numbers are similar. In Bengaluru, Ola’s home market, there is now an even split between the two. Bengaluru was Ola’s market once. It took 80% of the bookings in the city. Not anymore.

Getting around

Source say that Ola operates around 1 million trips a day across the 100-odd cities. Uber, meanwhile, operates 750,000 but in 29 cities

Source say that Ola operates around 1 million trips a day across the 100-odd cities. Uber, meanwhile, operates 750,000 but in 29 cities. Ola also counts autos, shuttle, outstation, rentals and luxury car rides in that 1 million. Without them, the two almost mirror each other on the number of rides a day.

The Ken spoke with several Ola employees, both current and former, and they all declined to be identified for fear of retribution.

“In almost every market, except Chennai, Uber is ahead of Ola now. Or pushing close. Chennai is the only clear winner left for Ola,” says a former employee.

The market, which is set to grow to $7 billion by 2020, has been Ola’s to lose. The company invested in maps and spent on incentives to win over the drivers and discounts to keep customers happy. Now it has started running out of cash. Its investors, SoftBank in particular, which holds 26% of Ola, demanded more than just growth.

And in the months leading up to the down round late last year, Ola reined all of that in.

AUTHOR

Patanjali Pahwa

Patanjali has spent over seven years in journalism. He last worked at Business Standard as Principal Correspondent, where he wrote on startups, e-commerce companies and venture capital. He has worked at an array of institutions, which include Forbes India, Caravan and Outlook Business. He is a Mumbaikar, born and brought up. Patanjali did his BSc in IT from Mumbai University and then got his journalism degree from IIJNM in Bangalore. He is enamoured by Ernest Hemingway and Tom Waits and may try to sneak in references to them in his stories.

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