Ola’s Success Journey: From The Eyes Of Its Elusive Co-Founder and CTO Ankit Bhati

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Ola. Yes, the famous and the second largest cab and taxi service in India that has been founded merely a few couple of years ago.

With a net valuation of $3.5 billion and a presence in over 100 cities, elusive co-founder and CTO Ankit Bhati has ridden Ola on a long journey of success.

Ankit is inherently a shy and bespectacled man from Jodhpur who has worked days and nights to build the entity that today is valued at $3.5 billion, and leads a tech team that has over a 1,000 people.

In 2010, when two co-founders of Ola: Ankit and Bhavish started Ola Trips, it was the latter that would be out in the field trying to sell trips, while Ankit stayed back up in an old apartment near IIT Bombay, coding the website.

I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A CURIOUS PERSON. I COME FROM A MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILY IN JODHPUR AND FOR US, COMPUTERS WERE A LUXURY. BUT THEY ALWAYS INTRIGUED ME. IN THE LATE 90S, THIS MEANT SAVING YOUR POCKET MONEY SO YOU COULD VISIT A CYBER CAFÉ AND SPEND TIME ON CHATROOMS TO DISCOVER THE WORLD OF INTERNET.

Ankit’s has been alumni of IIT Bombay, where he used to spend most of his day-time at the computer center.

Now that Ankit has led Ola for seven long years he recounts:

SEVEN YEARS IN OPERATIONS AND IT’S IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO HAVE ENCOUNTERED MANY TECHNICAL GLITCHES, BUT OUR TEAM STRIVES ON.

Ankit has always believed that it is the data that will give Ola the advantage over its competitors.

EVEN DURING MY DAYS AT IIT AND AT THE COMPUTER CENTRE, I REALISED THE IMPORTANCE OF DATA AND HOW THAT WOULD DRIVE THE ENTIRE PROCESS OF INNOVATION.

And it is only this very data that, Ankit believes, the company use to combat glitches and monitor the driver conveniences.

EVERYONE TRIES SOME FORM OF ‘JUGAAD’ TO FIGHT AND GAME THE SYSTEM. WHILE SOME OF THE THINGS THEY (THE DRIVERS) DO, LIKE ASKING THEIR FRIENDS TO BOOK A RIDE (SO AS TO GET A CERTAIN NUMBER OF RIDES TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR AN INCENTIVE) OR TRY SWITCHING OFF THE SYSTEM SO THAT SURGE KICKS IN, IS SIMPLE AND I CAN GAUGE. SOME OTHERS KEEP ME AND MY TEAM ON OUR TOES. IT REALLY IS FUNNY, THINGS LIKE TRYING TO BARTER A DEAL WITH THE CUSTOMER. THEN IT JUST COMES TO COMPLETE INVESTIGATION. IT FEELS LIKE WE RUN OUR OWN SMALL INVESTIGATIVE TEAM IN-HOUSE!

On the operational front, Ankit took the charge during the very inception phase and became the administrator. It was he who conceptualized the entire website and built it from scratch.

The first thing I built was the landing search page of what you want to book. The next page was to get all the details. Once you book, it didn’t do anything but just send a mail to Bhavish and me. We would go through that email,  call all the car operators and check if they are available.

But soon as the company expanded, Ankit and Bhavish started seeing an increase in scale, they needed more coders and people.

Ola’s first employee was Pranay Jivrajka, followed by Fahaad, who managed the call center.

Two years after an angel funding and setting up operations, the team decided to shift base to Bengaluru.

I would shuttle between Mumbai and Bangalore to set up the tech team here. It was at this point that we faced a major crisis because we didn’t have people. In the evening, I had gone to meet a few friends and I got a frantic call from Bhavish that the website was down. There was one person in Mumbai, my right hand in technology, and we were on phone all night. It was the largest outage. It was a wakeup call that we needed a great team.

By 2015, Ola had Sequoia Capital and Softbank as its prime investors on board.

Simultaneously as it started making heat, Ola naturally started facing competition from Uber and another homegrown company- TaxiForSure.

Therefore, in the same year, the company acquired TaxiForSure for $200 million, setting the stage for a one-to-one battle with Uber.

Today, Ola has come a long way and does not need to carry his landline and laptop around. Neither does he need to spend countless hours on the phone rampages with employees to get the work done.

He has made the entire process and hierarchy process-based and now it runs swiftly without any major interventions. On his one-line statement to define Ola’s journey till now, he happily says:

The Ola journey has been anything but easy, but yes, it’s well worth it.