Business

Money-burning taxi apps go to war in China

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Taxi-booking apps experienced booming development in the past year. Investors are still bullish on the taxi app market and continue to invest heavily in the sector, despite the facts that the sprawling growth of the industry is highly dependent on capital injections and none of the leading companies generate any profit so far.

Two crucial considerations for venture capitalists in determining whether to invest in a company are team (background, experience, execution power, and complementarity) and direction (market potential, policy, and competitors). The investment rounds of domestic taxi apps can be explained from these aspects (source in Chinese).

Round 1 (2010-2012): Emergence of Uber clones

Uber, an American online car booking service founded in 2009, ignited the craze for taxi-hailing apps. The company received $1.25 million of angel investment in 2010, $11 million of Series A financing in February 2011, and $37 million of Series B funding in December 2011, becoming the most popular startup of the year.

Yongche, the first Chinese Uber clone, launched service in September 2010 and secured angel investment from Xu Xiaoping, founder of ZhenFund. Gaining fundraising momentum led by Uber, Yongche booked Series A financing in August 2011, just half a year after Uber’s Series A financing. The company recently announced $60 million funding led by Ctrip and DCM.

A dozen Chinese taxi apps emerged between late 2011 and early 2012, including Yaoyao Zhaoche, Dache Xiaomi (developed by Yongche), Anyimob, Easy Taxi, and Didi Dache.

Nearly all of the taxi apps received first-round funding during this period, if only because the vertical field is popular in the U.S. Although there are still restrictions on the taxi industry in local markets, it does not prevent investors from dipping toes in an emerging market at the angel-round level.

Round 2 (first half of 2013): Shuffling begins

In order to grab a larger share of a crowded market, taxi app companies are competing to pay hefty subsidies to users and taxi drivers, because a high-quality product alone is not enough to attract them. For the sake of market share, none of the taxi apps is taking transaction-based commission or any other fees. The whole industry experienced more impacts when the governments stepped in to regulate the market in the first half of 2013.

Didi Dache, Kuaidi Dache and Dahuangfeng survived the pressures and stand out from rest of the rivals.

Didi Dache snapped up nearly the whole Beijing market with outstanding execution powers, which are reflected in public relation, ad promotion, and subsidy strategy. The company then received a $15 million capital injection from Tencent.

Kuaidi Dache, which raised several million U.S. dollars from e-commerce giant Alibaba, grabbed the Hangzhou market and expanded quickly to Shanghai.

Dahuangfeng gained presence in Shanghai market after receiving $3 million of angel investment from Morningside Ventures.

Backed by these funding, the three companies vying to distribute subsidies extravagantly and competed head-on for market shares in Shanghai.

But the monthly net loss of Kuaidi Dache reached millions of yuan, and the company does not expect profits in future two years, according to COO of the company Zhao Dong (source in Chinese).

Round 3 (second half of 2013): Emergence of an oligarchy

In the second half of 2013, few taxi apps can sustain the staggering money-burning speed. Two bellwethers of the industry, Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache, survived, while most of their rivals sunk into obviation. Didi Dache consolidated its foothold in Beijing and expanded into 30 second-tier cities. Kuaidi Dache acquired Dahuangfeng, the fourth largest taxi app.

Therefore, it is not surprising to hear that Didi Dache finished another $100 million maga-investment in a Series C round from Citic and Tencent, given the clearer market scene, outstanding execution power of the team, and endorsement from Tencent. Didi Dache has been integrated in Tencent’s products, including WeChat and the latest version of Tencent Maps.

In addition to mainstay markets in south China, Kuaidi Dache also made foray into the Beijing market via cooperation with AliPay.

Round 4 (2014): ?

Kuaidi Dache will sure to fight back after Didi Dache secured new round of funding. This is not end of the battle, and the war will escalate in 2014.

This story originally appeared on TechNode.

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