True to its word, homegrown cab aggregator Ola has started trials in Australia, in what is likely the first step towards setting up full-fledged operations in the country. According to an official statement, Ola is now available on a limited basis to customers in Perth, the capital city of Western Australia.

As part of the soft launch, which is intended primarily for evaluating customer response, Ola is offering Perth-based users two free rides up to the value of $10 per ride.

To avail the cab aggregator’s offerings, customers based in Perth will have to download the Ola app from either the Android or the Apple App Store.

Once they have registered for an account on the platform, they will be able to book their rides.

According to the company’s spokesperson, during the trial phase, Ola will be collecting feedback directly from customers and driver-partners on how its customer experience and services can be improved.

To that end, Perth-based users will be able to drop comments in the app after each ride. Additionally, Ola has also invited private hire vehicle owners in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to register with Ola.

“Ola is offering affordable fares for customers and higher commissions for driver-partners to create a high-quality travel experience for Australia, and is excited to start with the Perth community. Ola will build on these values as it launches across other cities in early 2018,” the ride-hailing startup said in a statement.

Ola And Its International Expansion Plans

Having cemented its presence in the Indian cab aggregator space, the homebred unicorn Ola has been doubling down to expand its geographical reach outside the country.

In line with its expansion goals, the company has already set up teams in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Colombo, Sri Lanka. At the time when reports of this development surfaced, sources had revealed that the company was also eyeing expansion in other countries in Asia and North Africa.

Apart from these countries, the cab aggregator was also eyeing to enter London’s ride-hailing market. As per a report by Business Standard, Ola co-founder and CEO Bhavish Aggarwal had even met London Mayor Sadiq Khan last December for a discussion about the same.

However, according to sources close to the development, Ola is hesitant to set up operations in London as the market is highly-saturated and is currently dominated by rival Uber. A person in the know said requesting anonymity, “You need deep pockets to enter London. The money can as well be used to go into other markets.”

Reports of Ola’s plans to enter the Australian market first emerged in January 2018. The move, at the time, was said to be aimed at accelerating growth, while also furthering investor Didi Chuxing’s plans to capture the globe ride-hailing market.

Recently, in the last week of January, it was reported that Ola would soon be exploring Australia as its first destination outside India.

Commenting on the development, Bhavish Agarwal said at the time, “We are very excited about launching Ola in Australia and see immense potential for the ride-sharing ecosystem which embraces new technology and innovation.”

“With a strong focus on driver-partners and the community at large, we aim to create a high-quality and affordable travel experience for citizens and look forward to contributing to a healthy mobility ecosystem in Australia,” he added.

No Signs Of Stopping For Cab Aggregator Ola

Founded by Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati in January 2011, Ola is currently present in 110 cities with over 1 n driver-partners. Ola’s wide array of services includes online booking of auto-rickshaws and bikes, as well as vehicles. It has also come up with a connected car platform for ridesharing called Ola Play.

Till date, Ola has raised funding of $3.9 Bn in 11 rounds from about 20 investors. In November 2015, Didi Chuxing along with Baillie Gifford, Falcon Edge Capital, Tiger Global, SoftBank Group and DST Global had participated in a $500 Mn Series F funding round in the homegrown cab aggregator.

The funding round of $350 Mn raised in February 2017 took its valuation to about $3.5 Bn. Later in June, the cab booking platform reportedly picked up about $50 Mn funding from hedge fund Tekne Capital Management, as an extension of its ongoing round.

Later in October, the ride-sharing startup confirmed a $1.1 Bn investment in a round led by Tencent Holdings Limited, in exchange for a 9.75% stake. In the official statement, Ola also revealed that it was in advanced talks with other investors to close an additional $1 Bn as part of the same financing round, taking the total fundraise to over $2 Bn.

Recently, in the month of November, Lee Fixel, Partner at Tiger Global Management, stepped down from the board of Ola. Immediately afterward, reports surfaced that the US-headquartered hedge fund was gearing up to sell a portion of its stake in the cab aggregator to SoftBank for somewhere around $400 Mn-$500 Mn.

Around the same time, it was reported that Ola is looking to become profitable by FY 2019. As per a valuation report filed with the ministry of corporate affairs compiled by chartered accountancy firm Jain Ambavat and Associates, Ola is projected to become profitable during 2018-19 and report a net operating profit of over $180.7 Mn (INR 1,170 Cr), which is further expected to grow further to $992 Mn (INR 6,423.33 Cr) by FY 2020-21.

The company is also preparing to enter the Indian electric vehicles market. To that end, it has partnered with giants like Tata Motors and Indian Oil.

Interestingly, Ola’s arch nemesis Uber has a long-standing presence in Australia. While there are local startups like GoCatch that are operating in Australia’s ride-sharing space, the market is currently dominated by Travis Kalanick-founded Uber.

At present, Uber is present in a total of 23 cities in Australia and New Zealand. Even in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the Ola rival has been present for a while now. While Uber launched its Sri Lanka operations in December 2015, it entered the Bangladesh market in November of the same year.

With Ola taking its first step towards launching operations in Perth, Australia, how the rivalry between Uber and Ola culminates will be interesting to watch.

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