Creating awareness and culture of ride-sharing top priority for now
May consider raising more funds if need arises
ONLINE carpooling or ride-sharing services are not new. In Malaysia alone, there are several websites that offer such services: Carpool World, Carpool King, and Tompang Buddy.
In Europe, players in this space include BlaBlaCar, RideFinder, RoadSharing, and Carpooling.com. In fact, it was reported recently that BlaBlaCar is acquiring Carpooling.com as part of its strategy to grow market share.
The existence of all these players certainly did not prevent new kid on the block Tripda from setting up a presence in Malaysia as well as other markets around the world, mainly in Asia and Latin America.
The company, which is about a year old, also managed to raise US$11 million in funding from Rocket Internet and a New York-based venture capital fund early this year.
“The funds will be mainly used to improve our product, the user experience, and also to reinforce our operations in markets we have a presence in,” says Tripda cofounder Pedro Meduna, in a conversation with Digital News Asia (DNA) in Subang Jaya recently.
Currently, Tripda, a carpooling and ride sharing platform, is present in 13 markets, including Brazil, India, Taiwan, Singapore, Colombia, Uruguay, Mexico, Pakistan, and the United States.
These markets have a combined population size of over 1.9 billion, and the company claims a registered user base of around 100,000, saying that its platform helps to match “thousands of rides” every month, a number that is growing by over 100% month-on-month.
Although Tripda’s current base of registered users seems low compared with the market size of the countries it has a presence in, Meduna claims that the numbers are commendable and its investors are happy with its progress.
“We don’t have our private drivers, we don’t have our own cars, so it’s a good number,” he argues. “The task now is to keep the momentum going.”
No hurry to monetise
The priority now for Meduna (pic), who is also chief executive office of emerging markets, is on scaling Tripda’s business effectively, with monetisation taking a backseat for the moment.
Pointing to Tripda country manager of Malaysia and Singapore Victor Ang, who was also present at the interview, Meduna says, “If you ask him or anyone in the company how much time I spend discussing or talking about monetisation, the answer would be ‘zero.’
“We believe … that carpooling is the future, but we have to be patient. We need to market it and make the product as easy to use as possible.”
He says that once Tripda has the scale, the company will have plenty of options for monetisation.
“These options include advertising, charging users a membership fee, taking a cut for every transaction, and many more ... but for now, that’s not the main focus. The business model is about scaling,” he says.
Meduna says one reason why he is not in a hurry to start thinking about monetisation is that the company has a very lean operation.
“Also, our business model doesn’t require us to own any of the cars. The cars belong to the users. So, in some ways, the cost is significantly lower,” he says.
He says that Tripda’s investors Rocket Internet and the unnamed New York-based venture capital firm understand this and are in line with the company’s strategy to focus on scaling first.
But wouldn’t a large investment firm like Rocket Internet at least set rough guidelines on its investee company’s roadmap?
Meduna says that Tripda’s investors have not set any key performance indicators (KPIs) as the company is still growing at a strong pace.
“We [the company and its investors] look at the performance and numbers every month. They are very satisfied with the numbers,” he claims.
Discussions between Tripda and its investors also include areas such when the business would need to accelerate, whether more capital needs to be raised to fuel growth, and others.
“Currently, there is a lot of excitement among the current base of funders and investors. It’s also nice that they kind of trust our judgement on when to accelerate or when to go slow,” says Meduna.
“For now, we are comfortable with the US$11 million we have raised. If the need arises, we may consider raising more, a round much larger than the Series A,” he adds.
In terms of the funds already raised, he says his biggest challenge is deciding how to properly allocate the capital and launch various initiatives.
Competition from all angles
Meduna says Tripda has no direct competitors in the markets it is in now, when it comes to the ride-sharing space, but acknowledges that it is not entirely alone either.
“In most markets we are in, we have a lot of local players doing this already. These players are usually small in scale.
“In terms of the bigger players, such as BlaBlaCar or Carpooling, they have not really expanded into emerging countries,” he argues.
He believes that Tripda’s rapid expansion into various emerging markets has helped it build a foundation that would enable it to become one of the leading ride-sharing platform providers in emerging markets.
If the big players from Europe decide to expand into emerging countries, it will be easier for Tripda to defend its turf.
But in that case, how is Tripda faring against the small local players who are already present and more established in what is currently their home turf?
“At the end of the day, the markets we are in are mainly still quite new in terms of the ride-sharing and carpooling culture. There is still a lot of potential in these markets,” says Meduna.
“For us, the decision to expand into various emerging markets is not about grabbing the customers or users of existing players, but more about growing the carpooling community and user base.
“We want to grow the pie,” he says.
In fact, Tripda is also open to partnerships and acquisitions. In Argentina, it partnered with an existing player to grow the ride-sharing market, while in Brazil, it acquired two companies in related businesses.
It has however made no acquisitions in South-East Asia.
Different from Uber
Despite Meduna’s insistence that Tripda has no direct competitors, it will invariably be compared with Uber, the US-based ride-sharing startup that launched in South-East Asia to great fanfare in January, 2014.
Malaysian-founded taxi-booking startup GrabTaxi also launched GrabCar, a similar, ‘premium’ service in July last year.
Meduna says the difference is in the ‘intentions’ of the drivers.
“With Uber, drivers make a living or make money from the service. They take you from point A to point B and you pay them. It is usually a short distance.
“With Tripda, the drivers are already making the trip anyway, with or without you. Regardless if there is a passenger, the driver will leave from Kuala Lumpur on Friday night heading to Penang.
“The driver's intention is more about sharing the cost of transportation [such as fuel and toll],” he says.
Besides allowing passengers to get to their destinations at a lower cost, and helping drivers in subsidising their travelling costs, Tripda has also helped many people in various ways, he says.
“I met this couple in the Philippines. They told me that they met and started dating as a result of using Tripda.
“I have also heard stories about how people get offered new jobs or made new friends because of Tripda,” he adds.
The magic number
Talking about scaling, when will Tripda hit critical mass?
“Honestly, I don’t know the magic number. Is it one million? Two million? I don't know,” Meduna admits.
“But I do know that in 10 years, ride-sharing will be a big thing. Our challenge now is to make it happen within a much shorter period,” he adds.
To make Tripda more ‘viral,’ the company will be focusing on two main groups: Universities and corporates.
University students may need to travel a fair distance from their homes. With limited parking space, solutions like Tripda seem a logical choice, according to Meduna.
“Our solution was used by one university recently. In fact, it came to us and told us that it was about to develop it own carpooling system as parking was an issue.
“The university has about 12,000 students and we were able to grow viral in that micro-segment,” he says.
He believes that it is these quick wins that will help Tripda achieve exponential growth.
The company is also focusing on corporates, where employees from different departments can carpool.
Meduna says Tripda’s strategy is somewhat similar to how Facebook grew its business.
“It started in Harvard, then moved to Stanford. Then it started to focus on an even younger audience, and today, even grandparents have Facebook accounts ... so we are going to start with the younger market first, and then expand the target market gradually,” he says.
Uber starts its engines in Kuala Lumpur
MyTeksi’s GrabCar launches in Singapore
Uber for Business rolls out in South-East Asia
Easy Taxi launches Premium service with private hire limos in Singapore
For more technology news and the latest updates, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Like us on Facebook.