Bhavish Aggarwal, the co-founder and CEO of cab aggregator Ola who is famous for his clashes with big-name investors and notoriously media-wary, has his fair share of admirers.
“Bhavish is one of the most talented entrepreneurs in India today,” says Avnish Bajaj, managing director at Matrix Partners India, an investor in ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd, which runs Ola.
“Just how many people can stand up against an investor like SoftBank?” asks a person who has worked with him, requesting anonymity, referring to Aggarwal’s battle with the Japanese investor who holds around a 26% stake in Ola. A conflict that came up yet again last week with reports on why the 33-year-old refused a billion-dollar investment from SoftBank, the Godfather of the Indian startup ecosystem.
But just guts and grinding will only take you so far. “He has worked hard and hustled, and that hustle has brought the company where it is today. But it may not take them to the next level. You need a different playbook, a different approach,” this person added.
Bengaluru-based Ola (ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd), currently the market leader in India, and its founder have set their sights on an IPO within the next four years. And to get there, the company has gone into overdrive.
In March alone, it announced hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investments in new businesses—from “self-drive” (read car rentals) to “electric mobility”. And raised hundreds of millions more from new and existing investors. All aimed at turning the startup into a “mobility” company—not just a cab aggregator.
At the core of this strategy is a new bet on electric vehicles. Last month, the company announced that its EV subsidiary has raised $56 million from existing investors Tiger Global Management and Matrix Partners. Plus, Ola itself raised $300 million from South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia as part of what it called a strategic partnership to work on developing India-specific electric vehicles and—more importantly—infrastructure.
This, in a country where almost every attempt to roll out electric vehicles at scale has either failed or been quietly abandoned. Including Ola’s own pilot in partnership with Indian auto firm Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M). And the government’s policy reversals (more on that later) haven’t helped.
Ola’s not alone in this—around the world, ride-hailing firms from Didi Chuxing in China to Grab in Southeast Asia to Lyft and Uber (which competes with Ola in India) in the US have launched a series of EV projects and announcements.