This Good Friday I completed 5 months with Rapido and boy, have the days flown by or what? Barring a week, I have been regularly working out of the lovely physical office in Bellandur. Believe me! there’s a world of difference between onboarding in-the-time-of-a-pandemic and its immediate aftermath. Coming as it does, 5 months later, this post is a more complete answer to the question “Why I joined Rapido”.

The mGaadi “hop”

The story starts in 2013 when Solomon & I decided to start mGaadi. A different kind of Indian city was our vision and I’m excerpting the key bits below:

We would like to see a different Indian city. A better city. A city where more people use public transportation. A city with less privately-owned cars plying on roads. A city with more green vehicles than ever before. A city with seamless multi-modal transportation options. A city where you stop associating vehicles with owning or EMIs or renting… actually a city where you stop thinking of vehicles altogether and instead think of commuting options. A city where commuting via an auto rickshaw is no longer a game of Russian roulette. A city with significantly less friction between commuters and auto rickshaw drivers. A city where your taxi company will not call you at the last minute to regretfully convey their inability to fulfil your airport booking.

As I unpack the vision 9 years later, a combination of wry smiles, sighs and a rekindling of hope. But more on that in the “jump” section.

mGaadi didn’t live up to its potential (to put it mildly) but we salvaged the equivalent of a “test match draw”.

The Gojek “step”

I was not done with mobility and this time a bike taxi pioneer in Indonesia beckoned.

In a global landscape dotted by Uber and its aggressive-playbook-copycats, Gojek stood out as a veritable oasis. Founded with a mission to solve the ojek drivers’ livelihood problem, Nadiem would take pains to emphasise that the mission could only be realised by delivering a kickass experience to its consumers. At a town hall soon after I joined, Nadiem kicked proceedings off with “Guys, who’d have thought this tiny ojek hailing startup would become the market leading super app of Indonesia? I don’t know HOW we did it but let’s make it count now!”

I had seen the tuk-tuk economy first-hand in Nairobi and Mombasa in 2015. The most transformative visual from that trip was seeing burqa-clad women riding pillion on tuk-tuks with aplomb. I would also learn that the commuting landscape in the rest of East Africa, notably in Uganda and Tanzania, wasn’t very different. None of this, however, would prepare me for my first glimpse of Jakarta and Surabaya. A “sea of green” (Gojek and Grab) dominating the roads.

One of Gojek’s essential innovations (instrumental in maintaining pole position against Grab) was to create→grow→optimise a core suite of on-demand daily use services (transport, food, groceries & logistics) on the back of a multi-service dispatch platform. Customers naturally loved the super-app offerings but, more importantly, these multiple services enabled an organic increase in driver earnings - critical for both driver retention and a sustainable business model.

So why did I leave?

Before I answer that question, I need to first tell you why Gojek’s product development model was successful despite a large majority of its org located outside Indonesia. One word - travel. For most product leads, this would mean one quarterly visit. In my case, it was one week in Indonesia every month - a streak that would only be broken in Feb 2020. Alignment with business leaders and Indonesian teams was the primary agenda of these trips. Personally for me, these trips were critical in energising my raison d’être - to experience Gojek product iterations first-hand and finding product gaps — in short, seeing direct product impact.

The protracted Covid siege put paid to my monthly motivational recharge. It was also evident that normalcy (whenever it would come) would be different from the pre-2020 era. A latent desire for a return to India-focused domains started rumbling. It was around this time that Rapido came calling.

The Rapido JUMP!

Visualise a venn diagram with the following overlapping circles:

  • Ambition
  • Tightly aligned co-founders
  • Humility
  • Startup with audacious mission
  • Laser focus on execution

The rarity that is the Rapido founding trio (Aravind, Pavan and Rishikesh)! They are as hard to visualise as the overlapping area of the above five-circle venn diagram.

What was the problem they decided to solve in 2015?

“A girl riding on a two-wheeler behind a person who is not her brother, father or husband! Now wouldn’t THAT be something if we pulled it off?”

Going back to the 2013 vision, our big miss was bike taxis. The category just didn’t exist and, barring a few also-rans, it was a blind spot for everybody. After seeing Ola’s scorched earth strategy, I didn’t think it was possible for any new mobility startup to survive.

A, P & R proved me wrong. Rapido didn’t just survive. They created the bike taxi category and forced the biggies to take notice. Once they did, they promptly fast-followed and got beat. Rapido has 60% marketshare across 90+ cities.

90 cities is HUGE. Scanning the roster of Tier 2/3 cities makes me giddy. It includes the town where I was born, the small town where my mother was born, the town where my father grew up, temple towns, steel townships, towns that I’d be hard-pressed to locate on the map.

And then came the auto rickshaw category. What started as an experiment in 2021… became a focused bet and… after dodging multiple pandemic waves has already stolen 30% marketshare!

How did Rapido do it? By adopting the exact opposite of a scorched earth strategy. A marquee early-stage VC recently made a rhetorical statement that sums things up - “Can focused companies win in crowded and highly contested red ocean markets? You bet.”

The common motivational theme that weaves through my triple jump journey is livelihood platform.

  • mGaadi was about creating a livelihood platform for India’s auto drivers
  • Gojek was about creating a livelihood platform for bike taxi drivers in Indonesia
  • And Rapido is a livelihood platform for millions of bike taxi drivers and auto drivers in India

I can’t think of anything else that’s more exciting than this mission. A mission that can only be realised by making transportation Affordable, Accessible and Convenient.

I’ll end with Aravind’s share on LinkedIn yesterday. Read it slowly.

How big are we? What will we do with the $180M we have raised last week? From inception, we have done more than 300 Million Orders and as of now, we do 20 Million orders every single month with the help of 450,000 monthly active captains on our platform across 90+ cities.

Our vision is to make transportation Affordable, Accessible, and Convenient.

We want to build a platform that is reliable and has both customers and captains (our drivers) satisfied on the same platform.

We want to provide the same experience to 100 Million+ Customers with various modes of transport is what keeps us busy.

Don’t let the tone fool you. The intent and aggression is there (as always) and Rapidoers will be firing on all cylinders (as always) to make transportation Affordable, Accessible, and Convenient.