The Indian startup you need to understand

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Dear Quartz members—

Our field guide this week takes a long and hard look at Ola, India’s ride-hailing unicorn.

It’s worthy of your attention: The young company is locked in a cutthroat battle with US ride-hailing giant Uber, and recently Ola has taken the war abroad to Australia, New Zealand, and the UK as well. Meanwhile, it is also fast-becoming the face of India’s electric-vehicle revolution. And its ambitions extend much further than that, with food-tech experiments and financial services too.

You can today read our new state of play analysis on the company, a look back at how angel investors laid the foundation for the behemoth to build its empire on, a scorecard of where the Uber-Ola war stands today, and a photo story showcasing the victories and plights of the drivers that hit the road with their Ola apps daily. The field guide is written by Mumbai-based Quartz reporter Ananya Bhattacharya.

Over the next few days, we’ll be releasing other articles in the series, too, including the on-the-ground reality of Ola’s electric vehicle dreams, ride-sharing beyond four-wheelers in the world’s largest two-wheeler market, and the overall driver boom in India.


Here are a few conversation starters from our guide:

  • India’s ride-hailing market is worth over $10 billion. Ola and Uber are neck-and-neck when it comes to saturating cities with cabs, but it’s still anyone’s game. Are they India’s only two options?
  • Ola Electric wants to put one million electric vehicles on the roads by 2021.
  • Driving is the sixth-most common job in India.
  • Drivers say that their earnings have more than halved and they get fewer rides in off-peak hours because of the influx of cars on the platform. Many drivers can’t repay their loans and sustain a livelihood.
  • The average order value on Ola’s food-delivery service, Foodpanda, fell from over Rs300 ($4.22) to under Rs120 ($1.69) during 2018, and market share and reach plummeted, too. Ola is revamping the business.
  • Like Uber and other American unicorns, Ola has been posting massive losses for years now. Will the nine-year-old startup ever make a profit?


Join us for a discussion on Thursday at 9am EDT with Ananya and Quartz India co-editor Itika Sharma Punit, where they’ll walk through their reporting on Ola and its various business arms as well as its overall impact on India’s startup ecosystem. We’ll be taking questions and comments live on the video conference call, accessible at the usual location.

If you’d like to dial in, use the following numbers:
UK: 0800-014 8469
USA: 866-226 4650
India mobile phone: 1.800.267.0965
India landline: 000.800.100.5776
For all of the numbers, the access code is 722 994 440.


  • Mon., Sept. 16, 11am EDT: Digital strategist Don Tapscott and Quartz Ideas editor Georgia Frances King discuss the perils of providing Big Tech with unfettered access to your personal data, and what you can do to take your data—and your digital identity—back. Don is executive chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute, and a leading authority on the impact of technology in business and society. He has authored 16 books, including the best-selling Blockchain Revolution.
  • Fri., Sept. 20, 11am EDT:  Quartz entrepreneur-in-residence Khe Hy and editor in chief Kevin Delaney discuss the newest crop of productivity apps. Khe will deconstruct the elements of a good “to do” system, efficient ways to take notes, and how to blaze through your email, covering apps like Omnifocus, Notion, and the much-heralded Superhuman email app. You can review some of the background in a new member presentation about productivity strategies and apps.

(To add our complete schedule of upcoming conference calls to your Google calendar, click here.)

Please send a note to if you have any feedback, or suggestions for other things we should cover. Another great way to give feedback on Quartz membership is to complete this short survey.

Best wishes for a productive week,

Kevin J. Delaney
Editor in chief, Quartz