Programmatic Lunch

Pakistani App Challenges Uber with Feature Phones and Rickshaws

Tim Maytom

rixiRide-hailing app Uber has expanded at an unprecedented rate over the last few years, but as it begins to attempt to break into more emerging markets, its finding itself challenged for dominance by home-grown platforms that understand the needs of local consumers better. Nowhere is that more evident than in Pakistan, where a local competitor that blends new ideas and old technology is facing off against the tech giant.

Rixi, a Lahore-based service, is used to hail rickshaws in the busy city, and rather than using an app, the service largely relies on SMS messaging, enabling nearby drivers to bid for any user's business. Pakistan boasts over 130m mobile subscriptions, but only 21 per cent subscribe to data packages and, while that proportion is rising, there are still a vast number of mobile users underserved by high-tech approaches.

There are similar services in Thailand, where Taxi Radio uses calls and text messages to connect cabs with customers, and the Phillippines, where SMS-based service HeyKuya! was recently acquired by Indonesian firm YesBoss. Both services are popular with consumers who lack smartphones, but want to engage with the new convenience economy.

Rixi works with more than 1,000 drivers in Lahore, where people use the small three-wheeled vehicles to beat the traffic. The service uses cellphone towers to locate its customers, and matches their messaged locations to points on Google Maps.

"If you look at...Uber's operation model, they will be depending on the smartphones," said Adnan Khawaja, founder of Rixi, in an interview with Reuters. "In countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, that population is...growing, but it's still smaller compared to the vast market."

Rixi averages around 100 rides a day, and has registered around 100,000 since it launched in 2013. That's a tiny fraction of the 200,000-plus trips on rickshaws that take place in Lahore every day, and while the service is working on expanding its presence and improving its technology, it is tapping into a market almost completely ignored by larger tech services like Uber.

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