By providing ride-sharing, ride-hailing, parcel delivery, booking in advance, and tourism trips all in one platform, the startup is aiming to become the next super app of the region.By Aalia Mehreen Ahmed September 16, 2021Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Since its inception in 2016, the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator, a program powered by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in collaboration with Riyadh-based Saudi British Bank, has been able to boast of providing a nurturing environment for many successful startups. TAQADAM Tales is a series of success stories of six such businesses, and through these, what is made evident is TAQADAM’s secret for success, which seems to be a combination of the best of technological advancements and mentorship, with a keen focus on building a sense of community within Saudi Arabia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Born out of an idea inspired by the French car-pooling marketplace BlaBlaCar, Rehla Car essentially functions as a ride-sharing company in Saudi Arabia. A 2017 TAQADAM alum, its founder Abdulrahman Alshikhy says he had observed many glaring issues in the way intercity travel in the Kingdom occurred. “I found there is a lack of resources when you want to find ways to move from city to city, and during times like Ramadan, the roads are even more crowded than usual,” explains Alshikhy. “And with issues like fuel and maintenance, travelers also cannot sleep during long-distance journeys. It was around that time when I came across the BlaBlaCar app and I thought why don’t I create a similar concept for Saudi Arabia.”
Launched in 2019, Rehla Car’s business model is quite simple. Potential drivers can register their vehicles on the app, and specify which city they will be traveling to and when, and these routes are then presented as options for travelers to choose from. Currently, Rehla Car’s offering caters to tourists visiting Jeddah, as well as the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, which see hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visiting every year. “Rehla Car has now created a way for tourists and visitors to travel in an affordable way, while also getting to find out more about our culture,” Alshikhy says. “We have also added some services like ride hailing and booking-in-advance, which are similar to what some other companies offer, but a concept like ride-sharing is not heard of in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”
Abdulrahman Alshikhy, founder, Rehla Car. Source: Rehla Car.
And in bringing an unfamiliar idea to the Saudi market, TAQADAM had a huge role to play to ensure its success, admits Alshikhy. “In terms of the grants we received, to the special mentorship it offered, TAQADAM’s resources supported us a lot,” he explains. “They also helped us in raising SAR2.3 million, which we were able to use to run the company for 12 months. It would’ve taken a long time for us to be here had it not been for this program!”
The lockdowns during the COVID-19 crisis proved to be the biggest hurdle for the startup, since road travel and social distancing protocols challenged the very essence of its business model. But that opened doors for some new features to be added, says Alshikhy. From a sociological perspective, there is one interesting point Alshikhy raises when speaking about his future plans: with Saudi Arabia now issuing driving licenses for women, it opens up the opportunity for female drivers to use Rehla Car. “Women in the country can now also travel in the safety of having all-female passengers and drivers by using our app,” says Alshikhy. “So I really hope more female drivers use Rehla Car.”
Now, with a new workspace provided by KAUST, the opportunity to avail its many connections, and a keen focus on Vision 2030, Alshikhy is working to further expand his business. His aim: to make Rehla Car a super app. “There are 53 million monthly road trips between Saudi Arabian cities,” he adds. “Now, imagine if that could be significantly reduced- we can also reduce pollution, traffic, and accidents. By providing ride-sharing, ride-hailing, parcel delivery, booking in advance, and tourism trips all in one place, we plan to become a super app in the region.”