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Business News/ Companies / Start-ups/  Who’s lying about market share: Ola or Uber?

Who’s lying about market share: Ola or Uber?

Tracking the claims and counter-claims made by cab hailing services Ola and Uber India can be bewildering

Photo: ReutersPremium
Photo: Reuters

Bengaluru: Tracking the claims and counter-claims made by cab hailing services Ola and Uber India can be bewildering.

As the market share battle between Ola (ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd) and Uber intensified over the past one year, both companies have released a series of numbers—hard, exact numbers—that are so wildly contrary to each others’ that their claims resemble a he-said-she-said slanging match.

Consider the chain of events.

In August, Ola, through its largest investor SoftBank Group, claimed it had a whopping market share of 85% of India’s cab business as of 30 June. That claim implied that other services including Uber as well as Meru Cabs together battled for scraps.

SoftBank, which first invested $210 million in Ola in October 2014, made the disclosure in a regulatory filing with the Tokyo Stock Exchange, where it’s listed.

A few weeks after Softbank’s disclosure, Uber officials started giving out information to reporters that Uber’s market share had jumped to nearly 40% from just 4-5% in January 2015. Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick, the face of the latest generation of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, reiterated the claim when he visited India two months ago.

Then, last week, Eric Alexander, president of business in Asia for Uber, said the company’s India unit will become bigger than Ola in less than a month.

“In January last year, we were at 5% market share. Now we are right at the edge of 50%. I would say that within the next 30 days we would beat them (Ola). We will surpass them very, very shortly," Alexander said in an interview with Mint, published on 16 March.

According to US-based Uber, the company has wiped out Ola’s massive lead in a year.

A day after Alexander’s interview was published, a senior Ola official said the company’s newly launched low-cost offering, Micro, will soon do more daily cab rides than all of Uber India.

Micro is already registering about half of Uber’s current total daily bookings and Micro alone may become bigger than Uber India within a month, Bloomberg quoted Ola chief marketing officer Raghuvesh Sarup as saying.

That probably is the most impressive feat ever in India’s e-commerce business considering that Ola launched Micro just this month.

In an email, Uber confirmed Alexander’s statement that the company would overtake Ola soon.

In an emailed statement, Ola said it retained a market share of more than 75%. “Keeping loose claims aside, various third party market share reports have pegged Ola’s market share consistently at over 75%. Our recently launched Ola Micro category alone, at current scale does close to 50% of bookings that Uber does in India. In fact, going by current rate of growth Ola Micro alone will be larger than Uber in India within a month’s time," the Ola spokesperson said.

From their statements, one thing is clear: one of Ola or Uber India is not being truthful about its numbers, at least to reporters.

Which one is it?

What adds to the difficulty in figuring out the true numbers is that there’s no independent agency such as Nielsen that tracks sales of consumer Internet companies.

This frees up companies to make claims that may seem untenable but are hard to disprove.

Ola and Uber are fighting for dominance of India’s cab business that may be worth $7 billion by 2020, according to Softbank.

What’s at stake, however, is also the credibility of the two start-ups.

Ola, valued at $5 billion, is India’s third-most valuable start-up and is one of the most closely watched new companies in the country. Uber is the world’s most valuable start-up and is a role model for new-age companies.

They don’t have the disclosure obligations that publicly listed companies do but nevertheless their claims to the public are tracked closely.

When the facts come out, one of the two companies risks losing face, apart from whatever else may happen.

Sayan Chakraborty contributed to this story

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Published: 22 Mar 2016, 10:42 AM IST
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