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How to keep your ride-hailing app afloat through the pandemic

How to keep your ride-hailing app afloat through the pandemic

Drop marketing efforts, quit planning, and just try to survive 2020—sounds familiar, but that’s exactly what a ride-hailing brand shouldn’t do now. OTaxi (Oman) shares their experience of getting ready for the world after the pandemic—read and get some inspiration!

Keeping ride-hailing services afloat in the pandemic: OTaxi case

With the pandemic, ride-hailing brands were literally forced to think of ways to provide business resilience. Innovative, disruptive businesses often underestimated the importance of recovery planning—simply because we are not inclined to expect the worst to happen.

While the vaccine is finally coming, it is not the time to chill out yet. It’s a way smarter to reflect now and take our business resilience lessons. Harith Maqbali, the founder of OTaxi (Oman), shares the experience of surviving the lockdown and thinking strategically.

Read up, raise your spirits, and don’t hesitate to share your experience, too!

How it started: building OTaxi ride-hailing brand before COVID-19

Just as for many local companies that provide ride-hailing services, things were beautiful and hopeful for OTaxi before the pandemic. The company was working on expanding its services, gaining more customer loyalty with every trip, and working actively on marketing campaigns.

Harith shares:

"Back then, a huge ride-hailing brand, Careem was in the market, and investing in marketing was crucial for OTaxi — you can’t compete with a multinational without consciously working on your brand name recognition. So just before the COVID-19 situation, we’ve run a quite successful marketing campaign with Onde."

The goals were:

As Harith tells,

"This branding part was essential to us—we needed to differentiate from Careem and communicate clearly to the customer why we’re better. So we wanted to emphasize our ride-hailing company being local and foster a strong emotional link between our business and national symbols and values. To do so, we made use of traditional imagery and references that are really crucial to Omani culture. Emphasizing our roots is what makes us visually different from a multinational ride-hailing brand."

Onde’s Marketing Agency accepted this challenge. The scope of work was great! 🤩

What has changed in business performance?

How it’s going: pandemic hitting hard

But then the pandemic happened. The operations dropped by 60% for OTaxi, the revenue flow was growing alarmingly negative. Just as for any other local ride-hailing services company, the influence of COVID-19 on the business was dramatic.

Harith tells about the impact of the “new normal”:

"Because of the lockdown, our profit is still negative — and this is very, very frustrating. However, our hard work and elaborate marketing efforts at the end of 2019 helped us to generate some extra money back then. We didn’t reinvest it immediately—we’ve set it apart. And that really came in handy when the pandemic hit. It was our airbag to pay business expenses when things got worse."

Thanks to a successful acquisition campaign for the ride-hailing app, OTaxi was able to gain a financial reserve that ensured the company’s survival. While multinationals like Uber and Careem rely on large investments and don’t need to puzzle over how to survive great losses, smaller ride-hailing companies really need to have a safety fund.

There was an upside to the pandemic for OTaxi, though. Harith tells:

"First of all, Careem has left the market. The market was too small for them, and the whole COVID-19 situation just helped them make the decision. For us, it’s great! It proves, to begin with, that local ride-hailing services are just so much more emotionally invested in what they do. For us, keeping OTaxi afloat is about providing people with high-quality, reliable transportation. We can’t just drop it. Careem or Uber simply don’t care.

We’re working for this vision now—we need to fill the gap in the market, to be there for our customers. So we said: let’s think strategically. 2020 is just the year to forget, and it’s almost gone. In 2021, we want to be ready for new opportunities. We work actively to rearrange our services and make OTaxi future-proof. We’re waiting for legislative thumbs-up of our new service types, getting a contract with the airport. A crisis is really not the place where you should stop. It’s the place where you can pause and think of your priorities."

Another unexpected good thing about the pandemic was that OTaxi had time to really think through the ride-hailing branding. Harith shares:

"Our previous logo and all was a 5-minutes job. Clients and business partners actually saw that it didn’t tell our story well, neither did it communicate what kind of company we are. So now we’ve got a new logo, promotion videos, and represent ourselves better — and this is something we really need for our strategic goals."

"We’re communicating the new ride-hailing brand identity through our social media channels, and at the moment, even without paid advertising efforts, the reactions are very warm. As a brand, we’re more professional now, and our potential business partners and customers see and value it. Which is a great starting point for 2021."

Some takeaways

Business resilience planning is, of course, something a business should have done before a crisis starts. Therefore, having a financial airbag just in case is the smartest thing to do — and the OTaxi ride-hailing services case shows that.

One of the ways to generate such a safety fund is to set aside the extra revenues your ride-hailing company earns with successful marketing campaigns. Marketing is, after all, not a goal in itself but rather a tool that brings your business where you want it to be.

Aside from the importance of having some spare resources to live through the tough times, there are several other things the story of OTaxi teaches us.

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