When it comes to ride-sharing in Southeast Asia, Grab and Gojek are the names the to mind.
However, while Grab and Gojek are busily expanding their business empires across the region, there are other players that are carving out their own corners in this sector.
Singapore-based Ryde Technologies is one of them, and the startup is building a profitable business and staying true to its commitment to shape efficient mobility solutions in the city-state.
Founded in 2014 by Terence Zou, Ryde was a pioneer in digital carpooling in Singapore – two years before Grab rolled out a similar service, GrabHitch.
Fast forward to 2020. Ryde has raised US$9.5 million from several investors, including Shopee’s parent company Sea Group, which led two of Ryde’s funding rounds in 2016 and 2017.
Ryde is Zou’s first entrepreneurial venture after he spent nearly ten years working in finance and investments.
The idea for this company came when Zou became fed up with how difficult it was to flag down a vacant taxi in Singapore’s busier areas.
There were about 30,000 taxis and 500,000 private cars in Singapore at that time. Carpooling would be the most efficient way for people to get from point to point at half the cost of the taxi, and it can help solve the traffic congestion and pollution problem in the city.
The idea [of carpooling] has been around for a while in many Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore and Malaysia, where the government tried to promote it since the 1970s. But no one made it work because the technology was not sufficient back then, and there was no smartphone and digital payment options. These two things are essential for carpooling to work.
Times have changed, and the requirements that Zou defined are commonplace now. All it took was the right people to tie them together, and many made the attempt.
But with Grab dominating ride-hailing in Singapore and Gojek coming into the picture in November 2018, there were doubts that more modest players like Ryde could survive.
That hasn’t stopped Zou from staying the course, and Ryde has introduced additional services, including a private-hire car service, a pet-friendly carpooling service called RydePet, and on-demand courier service RydeSend.
To date, Ryde has facilitated five million trips, and its app has been downloaded close to 700,000 times in Singapore.
Last year, the company booked US$21.5 million in gross merchandise volume and US$2.15 million in revenue.
Although Zou said the startup will keep its focus on Singapore, he’s still eyeing possibilities to take Ryde to new markets.
In October 2019, Ryde piloted operations in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, and Sydney.
“We experiment with different things. We launched limited operations in foreign markets to get data and see how people respond to our product. When the time is right, we’ll push for regional expansion, but we’re not in a rush for that,” said Zou.
Zou doesn’t see giant players like Grab and Gojek as direct competitors as Ryde remains focused on providing mobility solutions, while other operators have diversified their business offerings by stepping into sectors like food delivery, financial services, and entertainment.
And a small team at Ryde means it can stay lean and cost-efficient, making it more resilient during unexpected but devastating events like the COVID-19 pandemic.
The crisis has reinforced my view. Despite the market slowdown, our financial situation is stronger than ever.
When many companies have to lay off their employees, we have been prudent because we didn’t over-hire before. Our core focus now is to work towards profitability.
With that said, Ryde has not been immune to the slowdown in business brought on by the pandemic.
The Singapore government suspended carpooling from April 7 to June 19 to reduce the chance of the disease spreading further within the city-state.
But just like their larger competitors, Ryde saw demand for delivery soar as people couldn’t leave their homes during the circuit breaker period. RydeSend orders have increased by 600%, and the startup also handled more bookings for private-car hires and taxi rides.<…