Why Ola crushes Uber in India? (published for Linkedin)


Call it occupational hazard, but I can no longer be a consumer of a service without thinking about the design language of the business and the entrepreneurial vision behind it.

I have recently moved to Bangalore – the silicon valley of India – to work as a growth advisor to startups. Those who’ve been to Bangalore know that it, for lack of a better expression, doesn’t offer the most pleasant driving experience in the world. As such, off late I have been taking a lot of taxi rides and I primarily use Uber or Ola.

For the benefit of the international startup ecosystem participants that I support through my firm GrowthEnabler, Ola is a taxi service in India much like Uber.   Many consider it the Indian version of Uber. The app design of Ola too looks the same as Uber, although, probably not as intuitively designed.

But here is where things get interesting: Ola (post acquisition of TaxiForSure) has 75% share of the market, while Uber has only 5%.   YES, 75% MARKET SHARE.*

So, what’s going on here? There are a few factors that have led to the success of Ola in the Indian market. Factors include, but are not limited to, allowing cash payments, introducing auto-rickshaw booking, and offering ride discount coupons. Ola’s success has forced Uber to modify its global-standard policies to compete.

The key reason why Ola has stolen a march over Uber is that both companies follow a fundamentally different design philosophy. The primary design language of developed economies, such as US, is of CONVENIENCE. While the primary design language of emerging economies, such as India, is of PRACTICALITY. Ola understands the design language of India better than Uber. Indian consumer likes the freedom to pay by cash at the end of a trip, traveling via auto-rickshaw is more natural to many consumers than hailing a cab, and using discount coupons makes one feel smarter.

What does it mean for your business?

As you build a global business, to succeed in any country, you need to learn the design language of that market. You must focus on understanding the local culture and context.

YOU NEED TO TALK TO CUSTOMERS. Talk to your customers more than your competition does. Empathize with them. It will give you a new perspective on their problems, which in turn will give you insights into new solutions.

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