India’s Uber rival Ola is headed to Europe with ride-hailing launch in the UK

The UK is getting a new alternative to Uber after India-based ride-hailing company Ola announced plans to expand to the country, which will become its first market in Europe. Ola was founded in 2010 and it covers over 110 cities in India where it offers licensed taxis, private hire cars and rickshaws through a network […]

The UK is getting a new alternative to Uber after India-based ride-hailing company Ola announced plans to expand to the country, which will become its first market in Europe.

Ola was founded in 2010 and it covers over 110 cities in India where it offers licensed taxis, private hire cars and rickshaws through a network of over one million drivers. The company has raised around $3 billion from investors that include SoftBank, Chinese duo Tencent and Didi Chuxing and DST Global . It was last valued at $7 billion. Ola ventured overseas for the first time when it launched in Australia earlier this year — it is now in seven cities there — and its move into the UK signals a further expansion into Europe.

Ola’s UK service isn’t live right now, but the company said it will begin offering licensed taxi and private hire bookings initially in South Wales and Greater Manchester “soon.” Ola plans to expand that coverage nationwide before the end of this year. That will eventually mean taking on Uber and potentially Taxify another unicorn startup backed by Didi which is looking to relaunch in the UK — in London and other major cities.

So, why the UK?

Ola CEO and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal called the country “a fantastic place to do business” and added that he “look[s] forward to providing a responsible, compelling, new service that can help the country meet its ever demanding mobility needs.”

It’s no secret that Uber has struggled in London, where its gung-ho attitude to business — ‘launch first, apologize later’ — has seen it run into issues with regulators. Uber (just about) won a provisional 15-month transport license earlier this year following an appeal against the city’s transportation regulator, Transport for London (TfL) earlier rejected its application.

The’ New Uber’ — under CEO Dara Khosrowshahi — is trying to right the wrongs of the past, but compliance with regulators takes time and requires wholesale changes to business, operations and company culture.

Ola isn’t commenting directly on its rivalry with Uber — we did ask, but got a predictable “no comment” — but the tone of its announcement today shows it is focused on being a more collaborative player than Uber.

Indeed, there’s been much groundwork. Aggarwal met with regulators in London last year and he said in a statement released today that he plans “continued engagement with policymakers and regulators” as the Ola service expands across the UK.

International expansion is very much part of Ola’s ambition to go public, which Aggarwal recently said could happen in the next three to four years. But Ola isn’t alone in looking overseas. Didi, the firm that defeated Uber in China and has backed Ola, Taxify and many others, has also been busy moving into new markets.

Last year, the firm raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and go overseas and it has come good on that promise by entering MexicoAustralia and Taiwan. It also landed Brazil through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99 and it is preparing to go live in Japan, where it will operate a taxi-booking service through a joint venture with SoftBank.

Uber’s Indian rival Ola is aiming for an IPO in 3-4 years

Ola, Uber’s chief rival in India, is planning to go public potentially as soon as in three years time, according to its CEO. Co-founder and chief executive officer Bhavish Aggarwal told the audience at an event in Bengaluru last week that seven-year-old Ola is poised to become a cash flow positive business — having recently hit operational […]

Ola, Uber’s chief rival in India, is planning to go public potentially as soon as in three years time, according to its CEO.

Co-founder and chief executive officer Bhavish Aggarwal told the audience at an event in Bengaluru last week that seven-year-old Ola is poised to become a cash flow positive business — having recently hit operational profitability — and that’s a key driver towards a listing. That’s despite intense rumors of a tie-up with Uber following a spree of global exits from the U.S. firm, most recently in Southeast Asia where it struck a deal with local player Grab.

“The ambition for both me and [fellow co-founder] Ankiti [Bhati] has always been to build a sustainable, long-term independent institution,” Aggarwal said. “In that direction, we are definitely going to IPO. Our goal is to aim for an IPO in about three to four years. We are on that path, our focus on building a sustainable business model [and] a profitable business builds into that ambition.”

Notably, he didn’t specify where a listing might take place for Ola, which was most recently valued at $7 billion following an investment last year.

Doubling down on his belief in building a sustainable and independent business, Aggarwal made a sly dig at Uber in suggesting that the U.S. company is preoccupied with short-term strategies in India.

“The Indian market, which I believe many internet companies don’t fully appreciate, especially the ones who are not Indian, if you give consumers a lot of free things they’ll take it. But the focus has to be to build a long-term sustainable business model… consumers are not price-conscience in India, consumers are value-conscious,” he said.

Despite that, he did acknowledge the role of a strong rival in building Ola’s business over the years. There’s no clear metric to judge which company is ahead, but with its coverage of more than 100 cities and towns in India, Ola’s numbers are higher than Uber, which has stuck to tier-one and -two locations. Although, anecdotally, the gap is slim in urban areas of the country.

“Competition makes you stronger, we don’t fear competition,” Aggarwal claimed. “We have a much stronger business, strong market position and we’re getting to a place where we can list the company.”

A deal with Uber has been consistently mooted as part of Uber’s global exits that seemed aimed at cleaning up its balance sheet in preparation for a public listing of its own, which CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said is likely in 2019. Then, of course, there’s the SoftBank factor. The Japanese firm is a shareholder in both companies, as was the case with Grab, where it is believed to have pushed for a deal with Uber.

While there have been talks, sources on both sides have confirmed to TechCrunch, Aggarwal said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that “so far nobody’s made an [acquisition] offer I can’t refuse.”

Uber, on its side, has said it has no interest in more minority deals — which see it leave a market in exchange for equity in the local rival — but that could be gamesmanship or a hint that, in the event of a deal in India, Uber intends to make Ola the minority partner.

Is Ola genuinely aiming for an IPO in three to four years, or are these tactics aimed at dissuading Uber, SoftBank and others from forcing a union with its big rival? That’s unclear. Aggarwal reiterated that Softbank is merely an investor, one of many Ola investors, but the questions are sure to continue either way. We’re all just going to have to get used to the speculation.