inDrive: The mysterious inner workings of a new ridesharing app

August 18, 2023

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Free service, intercity expansion, but no office or BRTA approval — what is up with the Russian-origin company?

If you have been online recently, your YouTube and Facebook feeds must have been buzzing with ads of a new ride-sharing app with an eye-catching green logo.

So, last Monday, when I was unable to hitch a ride through my regular app, I thought of giving inDrive a try.

Since it was new, I asked my driver about the app, how many ride requests he gets through it and so on. To my surprise, he said the app did not cut any commissions from drivers and he had been using it for months. I knew about marketing strategies like giving discounts, promo codes, first few free rides, and so on. But free for months? This was new.

Contacting the app authorities in Bangladesh proved difficult — there was no address mentioned on their app or website. Even their Facebook page, opened on 5 April 2019, does not mention any physical address.

When users comment on their Facebook posts looking for their office, they reply that they do not have a customer service office, and suggest that users contact them through social media or the app’s support chat box for any assistance.

That too was far from efficient. When I tried their customer support chat box, it took me more than 10 minutes to get a reply. Then another 10 minutes to get another response.

Since there is only one inDrive app on the Playstore, it is certain that the inDrive app being operated in Bangladesh is the original inDrive operating in 655 cities in 48 countries with 175 million app downloads.

A biker waits for his rider on a Dhaka street. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Globally, the company is growing fast. According to a Forbes report, it saw an 88% year-on-year growth in gross revenue in 2022. It was founded in Russia in 2013 but has been based in California since 2018. And it has focused on international markets since then, says the same Forbes report.

However, in Bangladesh they have yet to gain as much traction as other apps. “From Uber, I get a lot of calls but from inDrive, the number is lower and also calls come from very long distances,” said Rezwan Rumi, an inDrive rider.

“They did not give us any office address. Approximately two to three months ago, one day they called us in a makeshift office at Banani and handed some T-shirts and helmets to around 15 drivers,” said Harun Ar Rashid, another inDrive driver.

Drivers of other ride-sharing companies need to go to their respective office physically and sign up with proper documents, including their guarantor’s documents. When asked about where he submitted his documents for signing up on the app, Harun said, “To sign up on the app, I did not need to submit my NID or any physical documents. It just required information about my bike registration and driving licence.”

Furthermore, their business model is also unclear. We found no official information about their commission policy. But according to an Oyelabs blog post, inDrive offers commission free service for the first six months in a new city. Then it starts charging 5-10% of the fare.

But in Bangladesh, it has been running for around a year without commission and drivers were not told of any time period when they will be charged. “I have been using inDrive since last October, they did not charge anything until now, nor have they told us how long it will go on like this,” said Rezwan.

Even if they charged the drivers, as they do not have approval, it is unclear how they will repatriate their revenues.

To know more about the app, I reached out to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). Since 2015, the BRTA has approved 15 ride-sharing platforms. But inDrive is not on the list.

“inDrive doesn’t have a licence from BRTA, they are operating illegally,” said Md Faruque Ahmed, assistant director (engineering) of Digital Number Plate and Ride Sharing Wing at BRTA.

“We did not know about inDrive. They must get BRTA approval before starting their operations. Now that we are notified, we will definitely take action against them,” stated Md Mahbub-E-Rabbani, director of Road Safety at BRTA.

Digging deep, I found that this was not the first time inDrive had chosen to operate without a licence. They have a similar history in Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos State declared inDrive as an “unlicensed” operator, according to a report published on 30 May 2022 on Benjamindada.com, an independent media portal in Africa.

When contacted, Shafaiauth Hossain, driver acquisition specialist at inDrive, and the only employee we could trace, refused to reply.

Shafaiauth said he was in Chattogram since they are expanding their operations to the port city and he promised an interview. But he cancelled it at the last hour, stating, “Before talking to the media, I need to get permission from our PR team.” However, he did not pick up the phone afterwards, nor have we heard from the PR team.

When we dig deeper into where they operate from in the country, it turns out that they have a small office of, or to say, a work station of around 50 square feet at CoSpace’s Banani floor.

“inDrive has been with us for a year. I heard that they were working with their papers. Anyways, we clearly state that if any of our clients has any business issues or financial issues, we have no connection with that whatsoever. We just rent the space,” said CoSpace’s Operation Manager, Sohanur Rahaman Sohan.

“If the organisation takes space for a workstation, they cannot use the address as their business address. But if one takes office space they can use our address for their business purpose and deal with their clients here,” Sohan added.

Response so far

“I am using this app just because they don’t charge commission. As soon as they start charging commission, I will definitely uninstall the app,” said Harun.

“I get calls from 4-5 km away, there is no point in getting this far to pick up a passenger. Also they send a call to a lot of drivers and drivers pass bids. It takes a lot of time to confirm a ride. They can send the request to the nearest three to four drivers. But I guess they send it to over 10 drivers at a time, ” elaborated an annoyed Harun.

He wanted to call and complain but they do not even have a customer care number. “When we face any issue, we don’t have a customer care number to call; everyone is not comfortable to lodge a complaint through a chat box or email,” added Harun.

Users found out about the app mostly through social media campaigns. They are running ads and collaborating with popular social media influencers. Even their competitors got to know about them from social media.

“We found out about it through Facebook and YouTube. We know that inDrive is operating in the global market but we did not know about any legit presence in Bangladesh, since we did not see any news of them launching in the country,” said Rahid Chowdhury, Executive Director and COO at Obhai Solutions Ltd.

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