How Uber lost to PickMe in Sri Lanka

Uber is one of the leaders in ride-sharing in the US and in Europe. However, they are having troubles in expanding to Asian continent. For example Ubers expansion to China failed, and Uber in China was acquired by DiDi.

In Sri Lanka the monopoly in ride-sharing is held by PickMe, with Uber at the second place. PickMe started as a small startup in Sri Lanka. They saw what Uber is doing in the USA and basically cloned the idea in Sri Lanka, and instead of taxis they used TukTuks, a popular three-wheel vehicles found in Asia that are similar to a Taxi in New York.

When Uber announced that they are starting operations in Sri Lanka, I thought they are going to give a good run for PickMe’s money, because Uber has deep wallets than PickMe, Uber has better technology than PickMe. And with cash in hand, Uber might be able to give competitive rates, and attract more users than PickMe.

However, years have passed and Uber is still at the second place, while PickMe has expanded and they are way ahead of Uber in Sri Lanka. It’s not the lack of cash or technology that defeated Uber in Sri Lanka, which they have plenty more than PickMe.

So what made Uber less successful in Sri Lanka than PickMe?

Uber didn’t have an office in Sri Lanka, customers weren’t happy

Even though initially there was an Uber office in Sri Lanka, slowly it was replaced by an office in India, which handled operations in Sri Lanka.

This led to scores of unhappy customers because,

  • There was no hotline that handled complaints on behalf of users. The local number of the Uber office never worked, because almost all operations were done by an office in India.
  • Customers could not get any refunds when they were charged incorrectly.
  • Even when a user complained via the app, there was very little response, because for the office in India, they never cared about giving a good customer service for Sri Lanka.

These unsatisfied customers meant more rides for PickMe. Yes, PickMe riders are the same set of riders who are Uber riders, but at least PickMe has a working customer hotline, and are very responsive in their app. I have received multiple refunds though Pickme when I was overcharged, but Uber zero refunds.

Uber didn’t process payments well, and drivers weren’t happy

Uber had this policy where they transferred money received by users who paid by credit cards to their drivers at the end of each month.

This made the drivers very unhappy, because most of these TukTuk drivers made a daily wage from their rides, and they didn’t want to do rides where they received money at the end of the month.

I’m one of those users who pay to ride-sharing with my credit card, I was asked numerous times for where riders asked me to either pay by cash, or they will call upfront and if I’m paying via my credit card they will cancel the ride.

However, PickMe’s payments were instant, when someone paid by card, the driver will get the money to their account within several hours, not at the end of the month.

There were other reasons that made both drivers and customers both unhappy, but these were the to main reasons that I can remember which made people pick PickMe over Uber.

Uber was making both drivers and users both unhappy at the same time, a very bad combination to have.

Soon more and more people started using PickMe more, and drivers also given up Uber towards PickMe.

Now Uber is playing a catchup game with PickMe to win back their lost rides, but at times it feels as if Uber has given up on winning the ride-sharing battle and focusing on something different.

Uber is now king in food delivery in Sri Lanka

For some reason Uber is doing quite well in food delivering in Sri Lanka. Here PickMe was late to the party, and Uber started their food devilry before PickMe.

The Uber eats app is more polished than PickMe. And even though I haven’t tried both food delivery apps, so I don’t know the real reason why Uber is ahead of food delivery in Sri Lanka but not in ride-sharing.

Anyway, the take away message is, even if you have deep pockets, and technology, you still can lose to a startup with far less cash, and technology if you are providing a poor service.