As Uber and China’s Didi amass billion-dollar war chests in preparation for their fight for ride-share market dominance, it’s easy to forget that not all markets are alike. The greatest current contrast to the Uber-Didi competition is Uber and Rixi. Rixi is an SMS-based rickshaw ride-hailing service in Lahore, Pakistan, according to Reuters.
The market in Pakistan doesn’t follow typical Uber demographics. While 131 million people in Pakistan have cell phones, only 21 percent have data plans. Text messaging is the predominant messaging mode in the country. And three-wheeled motorized rickshaws are the most common way people get around Lahore, where an estimated 80,000 rickshaw drivers serve much of the city’s 10+ million population. Most people do not own cars or ride in taxis.
So Uber, a company that uses a smartphone app to connect people who need rides with people who have cars, is going into business in a country where most of the population doesn’t use smartphones or ride in cars.
Uber has indicated it is not going to switch to SMS messaging for communications, but it sounds like the company is not ruling out alternate forms of transportation. “We continue to explore products that would stimulate demand … and better service the city, whether that is a motorbike, whether that is a rickshaw, whether that is a chopper,” said Uber’s Zohair Yousafi in Pakistan.
Rixi, however, the SMS-based rickshaw-ride-hailing startup, is capitalizing on the ride-hailing concept but fully adapting to Lahore’s realities. Rixi founder Adnan Khawaja says the company has signed approximately 1,000 rickshaw drivers since 2013. Rixi has arranged approximately 100,000 rides since the company launched, averaging about 100 rides per day. There’s ample room for growth. Majeed Ghauri, head of Awami Rickshaw Union, that represents about 60,000 of Lahore’s rickshaw drivers says that on an average day there are 200,000 rickshaw rides in the city.
Direct ride-hail revenue isn’t Rixi’s only profit center — it also offers advertising on the backs and sides of its rickshaws as they scoot around the city.