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Interview: Behind Ryde's 'prudent and judicious' marketing and the 'holy grail' of word of mouth

Interview: Behind Ryde's 'prudent and judicious' marketing and the 'holy grail' of word of mouth

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Singapore-based mobility app Ryde Sharing has certainly made a name for itself since its founding in 2014. In September, the company reported that it has organically grown its number of users by over 300% since the beginning of 2020 and also maintained over 13,000 active drivers in Singapore. At the same time, it also underwent a rebranding, with its new logo adopting softer edges for a friendlier look and feel. This aimed to further signal Ryde’s commitment to being a company which is accessible, approachable and in-tune with their riders’ and drivers’ needs.

The new logo also features a geopin to symbolise the business and mission of Ryde. Overall, the new logo takes on a younger and more modern look, to appeal to Ryde’s largest customer base - Millennials and Gen Zs. Meanwhile, in March this year, The Straits Times reported that the company is eyeing an initial public offering on the Singapore Exchange's Catalist board next year, with a targeted valuation of SG$200 million. The company turned profitable during the fourth quarter of last year with the gross transaction value increasing four times during the pandemic. 

The road to success, however, was not easy and the company's very first marketing initiative involved founder and CEO Terence Zou (pictured below) printing flyers and distributing them at car parks.

ryde terence zou

When the company first started out, Zou and a team of three others printed flyers with words such as "Carpool with Ryde" and placed them on all the cars at multistorey car parks. The team worked from 12 am to 6 am daily and combed through the multistorey carparks at Punggol, Sengkang, Woodlands and Choa Chu Kang, Zou told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE in an interview. According to him, those areas were chosen because residents there were more likely to try carpooling since they were far from town.

"We would finish work, go home to rest for a bit and head out at 12 am," he said. The team chose to work at midnight because residents with cars would all be home by then. "It was hard work but you get to understand the ground. You see the cars and the areas they are from and understand why. It was also a good team bonding activity," he said.

At the same time, Ryde also paid for ads with magazines and liaised with companies to promote Ryde's services to their employees, touting the benefit of being sustainable and saving cost when commuting to work. While the days of distributing flyers at carparks are now behind Ryde, the company is still not giving up on an important traditional channel - word of mouth. According to Zou, 70% of its users come from referrals. Ryde's app has a referral feature that offers users SG$5 of Ryde points when they successfully refer a friend.

"We generally don't spend much on marketing. As a start-up, we have been very prudent and judicious on how we use our money, so you won't see us flashing our logo at MRT stations or bus stops. Our word of mouth organic growth has been really good and successful. So that has led to a lesser need for us to spend on conventional marketing," he added.

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Zou also said he is "a big fan of referrals" because of its power of influence. "I feel that even if we need to spend a few percentage points to obtain such referrals, it is worth the dollar value because of the net worth effect it creates," he explained. 

The organic growth coming from word of mouth is also bolstered by the fact that Ryde takes a driver commission cut of 10% compared to "the market rate of 20% to 25%", Zou said. As a result, word of mouth marketing among riders is still strong. "[Word of mouth marketing] has been powerful and we could get to the top 100 apps in Singapore without spending a bomb [on marketing]," he said, adding:

This is the holy grail of marketing where you get your members to do the marketing for you. It's not that we don't want to spend, we also want to create a brand that is community-based.

Interestingly, Ryde was able to achieve such a feat despite having only built up its marketing team this year, hiring Kareena Choo as head of marketing earlier this year to lead a team of 10 individuals. During the first few years of its founding, Zou said Ryde did not have a marketing team and instead, believed in building and perfecting its product to draw customers. "We assembled the team to work on the product because we are a tech company after all. So you need to understand your market and your customers, tweak and the product and give them what they want," he said, adding:

When we tried our hand at marketing at the start, it was too early and the product was not ready.

"We basically paid a very high user acquisition cost because we were new in the market and if we didn't convert them, [the investment] goes down the drain."

According to Zou, the team "held back for the longest time possible" on marketing and only started on it when it had an effective and functioning product. "We dragged it all the way until we had good [revenue] numbers, and then we started to invest," he explained. 

That said, Ryde is also aware that digital has become a common go-to channel for brands and consumers. The team also relies on Facebook and Instagram and found that digital channels were more effective and offered a higher ROI. In fact, it is also ramping up digital marketing for its premium service, RydeLUXE, which was launched in April this year. Ryde aims to position this service as a premium ride-hailing and carpooling app for commuters, business executives and tourists on special occasions and is banking on the growing demand to come from downtown. Users will be matched with professional drivers with luxurious private-hire car hires within the Ryde app. Using digital marketing, Zou said the company plans to target companies and businesses within the CBD and town areas. Meanwhile, it has also inked a deal with business owners, restaurants and hotels to provide this service to guests looking for a premium ride.

Zou described RydeLUXE to be "a very natural extension of mobility" because it started off as a carpooling app before moving into private hire and taxi services. Hence, targeting the ultra luxury market came naturally for the company. At the same time, drivers have always been one of Ryde's key focuses and it noticed that many of the limousine drivers in ecosystem have also been impacted as a result of the pandemic.

"We saw it as an opportunity. When people think it is bleak, we think this is exactly the right time to plan for such a service in anticipation of the uptake," Zou said. While travel has yet to return to pre-COVID levels, Ryde is hopeful that the service will gradually pick up and eventually be ahead of the curve.

With border restrictions still in place for Singapore, RydeLUXE is currently only focusing on the domestic market. According to Zou, Ryde was "less affected during the pandemic" because it has a good understand of its key market, Singapore. "I think there is still a certain level of business activity out there even though people have moved to virtual. There is still a need to meet and to work. That's one of the core constituencies that we are looking to target," he added. RydeLUXE also sees an opportunity to fill the gap for helping restaurants and businesses get their premium customers from one place to another after lunches and dinners.

"We got down to product development and crunching some of the numbers for RydeLUXE sometime in November last year. Our go-to-market was pretty fast because we are nimble, we just needed to study the situation. We saw that the demand for ride-hailing has been increasing progressively since April 2020, which was at a low. By October last year, we started to plan for RydeLUXE," he explained.

While Zou declined to provide a specific number for its usage numbers, he said its numbers "have improved drastically" since the first quarter of 2020. From Q1 to Q4 2020, Ryde witnessed a four times increase in user demand, he said, adding the company is "still on an upward trajectory". It also plans to take up 30% market share in the next few years. 

Separately, Ryde has also been giving back to the community. In June, it rolled out the “Ryde Supports Hawkers” CSR initiative. It aimed to both celebrate local hawkers as icons of Singaporean culture, as well as to offer them support during this time. The company bought a full day’s worth of food from the hawkers and distributed them to drivers, nursing homes, and hospitals. At the same time, its flagship CSR initiative, Ryde Education Merit Awards, also offers cash disbursement and sponsors tech gadgets as a means of supporting awardees’ educational pursuits. The award is accessible to Ryde Driver-Partners’ children. REMA aims to inspire and foster the youths of tomorrow who have a passion for creating a sustainable future through technology.

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