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Singaporean startup Ryde challenges Grab's ride-hailing empire

Founder seeks 20%-25% market share in city-state with asset-light approach

Ryde debuts the ride-hailing service in Singapore on May 2, five days before Uber formally exits the market. (Photo by Mayuko Tani)

SINGAPORE -- Homegrown mobility app Ryde takes a seat in Singapore's ride-hailing market May 2, hoping to carve out space for its pink and orange logo and prevent Grab's green trademark from covering the entire country.

The 3-year-old carpool app operator starts the ride-hailing service five days before Uber formally exits the market.

The new RydeX service will offer booking up to seven days in advance. And riders can expect to wait an average of 20 minutes for their booking to be completed. The platform has registered 5,000 drivers with the necessary license and plans to expand the fleet to 15,000 in three months. Once the pool of private drivers reaches critical mass, RydeX will add on-demand booking as well.

"It is a natural extension of what we have been trying," Terence Zou, founder and CEO of Ryde Technologies, told reporters Wednesday. "With Uber's exit, it provided us the opportune time to accelerate our plan, to crystallize it and to go to the market faster." Zou said "a significant proportion" of the 5,000 drivers came from Uber.

Zou established Ryde in 2015, providing a carpool matching service in Singapore and expanding later to Hong Kong and Malaysia. In Singapore, the platform has 400,000 registered users and 40,000 drivers. A Ryde executive said this is the first technology venture for Zou, a Harvard Business School graduate and former investment banker. The company has received funding from investors, whom Zou did not name.

Singapore-based Grab agreed in late March to take over Uber's Southeast Asian businesses, driving increasing concerns that the company may raise fares or adopt other monopolistic tactics.

Terence Zou, founder and CEO of Ryde, seeks sustainable competition rather than a "burn and bleed" battle for market share.

"The market share for the second player should be ... 20% to 25%," Zou said.

Ryde plans to lure drivers by taking a 10% commission from them, half of Grab's 20%. Passengers will pay 5% less than competitors, Zou said, thanks to "cash-back" incentives paid into the app's mobile wallet after each ride. The digital cash can be used to pay for the next ride.

The company will not attempt car leasing, which Uber and Grab used to increase their fleets. Ryde seeks an "asset light" approach to avoid heavy investment.

Zou said his company focuses on building the platform and devising innovative features. One unique option will let a passenger tip the driver directly from the mobile wallet, encouraging good service.

Ryde is the first in Singapore to fill the void created by Uber's exit. Go-Jek reportedly aims to enter the city-state as well, as online media source TechCrunch suggests the Indonesian rival is exploring a tie-up with ComfortDelGro, Singapore's largest taxi operator.

Zou appears unfazed by challenging Grab's empire. "We are not afraid of competition ... [it] is good for everyone," he told reporters.

"The landscape is changing as we approach the next phase of the private hire," he said, stressing that it is time to introduce sustainable practices rather than fight for market share in a "burn and bleed" fashion.

To keep the market open, Zou called for regulations to block ride-hailing operators from using exclusive contracts that "tie drivers to a particular platform."

"This is very unfair to the driver, and it also creates a monopolistic situation," he said.

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore issued measures designed to maintain an open market following Uber's departure, temporarily preventing Grab from raising prices after the merger or signing drivers to exclusive contracts.

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