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Ola founder Bhavish Aggarwal’s meteoric entrepreneurial journey

My Big Plunge - Ola founder Bhavish Aggarwal

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Ola founder Bhavish Aggarwal’s meteoric entrepreneurial journey

There are many aspects that define the level of success one can achieve but nothing seems more important than having a vision to achieve what you strive for. Planning and execution do play vital roles in the journey of a successful venture but the aforementioned vision is what drives and motivates one to reach a set target. Led by the bright young mind of Bhavish Aggarwal and his team, it is this very same vision that formed the building blocks of one of India’s most popular and aggressively growing start-ups – Ola Cabs.

“India will just leapfrog business models of the past and the internet will help it do that” – Bhavish Aggarwal.

In conversation with the CEO and co-founder of popular app based taxi aggregator, Ola Cabs we find out what makes it one of the most successful start-ups of the country.

MBP: Tell us a bit about the concept of Ola Cabs and how it all started?

Bhavish: I’m a Computer Science B.Tech from IIT Bombay 2008 and after I graduated, I worked for Microsoft for two years. During my tenure there, I got exposed to a lot of entrepreneurship stories and successful entrepreneurs who came for an inspirational talk. These interactions planted the seed of entrepreneurship in my mind. I was 24 when I started this company with an initial idea to build a portal for customers to book outstation, full day and half day transport facilities. My vision was simple – People should not own cars. They should use transportation platforms like Ola for their daily requirements. In fact, I personally don’t own a car and I think it’s much easier and economical to use Ola than to maintain and pay for your own car.

MBP: What were the challenges you faced while starting out?

Bhavish: The market was already cluttered with services like Meru, EasyCabs and MegaCabs. It is important to realise that this market is not even a fraction of what the opportunity is. The opportunity here lies in urban mobility.

Bhavish’s straight-forward and determined approach to urban mobility quickly gained a large fan following. In the past year, Ola Cabs has grown 30 times increasing its spread from 10 cities to a colossal 100 cities. What’s remarkable is Ola’s reach to smaller cities where the infrastructure is of sub-par quality and people struggle to get around in these cities.

MBP: How do you provide a seamless experience to your customers amidst external factors like service and traffic?

Bhavish: It all starts from the vision and the product that we aim to build – people should not own cars. The experience should match as close as that. You should get your vehicle in 5 minutes, you should be able to pay seamlessly without having to search for cash or change, your driver should be good enough and the car should be in a condition that it feels like your own. We are still improving on some parameters but that’s the driving vision. As long as I and my team are intellectually honest – the company will move forward.


Ola’s success did not happen overnight. Bhavish talks about the days when the company received only 2-3 bookings a day. He recalls an interesting incident when one of his customers did not receive his cab and was still waiting for one. Since he didn’t have a car, he borrowed his girlfriend’s and dropped the customer to the airport. Surprisingly, the very same customer is now a close friend of his today. Such incidents showcase Ola’s dedication towards customer satisfaction and experience.

MBP: How is the business environment and regulatory framework? Is the ecosystem supportive?

Bhavish: As long as you build value for the ecosystem, there will always be support from somewhere or the other. You can’t predict the source of the support but as long as you solve pain points for the customer in our industry and continue to build value, there will always be support.

MBP: With brands like Uber and others expanding, how do you see the industry growing? Where does Ola’s growth lie?

Bhavish: The industry is growing rapidly and in turn forming a deep opportunity. Ola has a huge market leadership advantage which we will continue to strengthen, increasing our market share as we go ahead. We are building an Indian product for the Indian masses. That’s the real audience. Uber is a good company; it is a well-known brand worldwide. They’ve made a good product but they have built it for the western and not the Indian market. That’s reflected in their market share.

Currently Ola has the highest market share in the radio taxi industry. Its recent $200 million acquisition of TaxiForSure has further strengthened its stronghold. This was the first major acquisition in the taxi-aggregator space in India. Bhavish considers this move to bring in a complimentary value and he also believes that the merger of two companies is better to fight the competition than separately.
Once dominated by Meru Cabs and Easy Cabs, the market made way for this young start-up to aggressively take over its market share while providing exemplary customer service. It is not surprising that Ola also has the highest Twitter following as well.

MBP: Tell us a bit about the Ola’s funding journey.

Bhavish: When we started off in January 2011, we bootstrapped the company. We soon raised a small angel round that year. Then in 2012, we raised a Series A with Tiger Global Management. In November 2013, we raised our Series B with Matrix Partners. Then in July last year, we raised our Series C with Sequoia and Steadview and a Series D with Softbank in October. Most recently, we announced our Series E funding with DST, GIC and Falcon Edge.

Bhavish then goes on to explain what young entrepreneurs should aim for if they want investors to take interest in their brands. He says that people should target start-ups with newer technologies on board to form a transformational company. With the growing popularity of mobile internet and smart phones, young entrepreneurs should see the potential in it and make it a platform. He even says that five years ago, it would’ve been impossible for him to build Ola.

MBP: Are there any threats you can foresee?
Bhavish: There’s an execution threat that Ola does not execute well and we don’t have a team that executes well – that’s an obvious threat. The Indian customer and for that matter, any customer expects a good customer service. How do we get a million driver entrepreneurs who are skilled enough to deliver good customer service? Moreover, how do we get drivers to understand this and how do we get enough of them onto the platform – that is a big challenge for us.

MBP: Can you touch upon the latest offering – Ola Cafe?
Bhavish: Ola Cafe is about getting food from your favourite restaurant in 20 minutes. As a platform, Ola’s strength is to bring new offerings in 10-20 minutes. We have delivered cabs in 5-10 minutes and now we are building on that strength and diversifying to deliver food.

Bhavish wants Ola’s presence in our lives to be quite evident in the not-so-distant future. Since transport and food are basic necessities, Ola’s current aim is to be a part of our daily lives.

MBP: India’s current position in the internet economy is home to companies worth $4-5 billion. Is India prepared to handle companies of that scale?
Bhavish: I believe India needs something like that and internet and mobile technology has helped India leapfrog a lot of business models of the past. For example, we don’t need physical retail; we have online commerce. We don’t need car ownership; we have Ola. The physical reach of bank branches never got to the rural population. But mobile phones have.

Ola is noted for not just its service and high-flying methods but also for its friendly customer interaction. When asked about the recent Twitter incident where a customer requested for a driver of a particular religion, Ola’s social media team gave an apt reply stating their indiscrimination towards their drivers. Bhavish claims that the reaction was not even done by him. He believes that it is the ethos of the company that led to such a response. Naturally, Ola was showered with praise for their effort.

Bhavish’s story shows us how simple ideas and opportunities can achieve great heights with a smart vision. With technology being an integral part of our lives, start-ups and entrepreneurs need to explore this vast field and carve a niche for themselves. With new success stories sprouting frequently across the country, the future of Indian start-ups surely looks brighter than the sun.

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