How Oway plans to win Myanmar as the country strives to build a digital ecosystem

With its online travel agency, ride-hailing services, and corporate fleet services, Oway is one of the leading names in local tech ecosystem

Looking at the services that Oway is offering, it is hard not to compare the Myanmar-based startup with its regional competitors Grab and gojek.

Starting off an as online travel agency, which was the first in the nation, the startup expanded its offerings to include ride-hailing and corporate fleet services.

Apart from that, Oway also counted Northstar Group, one of the early investors in gojek, as one of its backers.

Speaking to e27 over the phone, Oway CEO Alok Kumar even explains how Oway has also implemented the super app concept ahead of gojek and Grab. But he sees that their move has not been “well-discovered” since the startup has been focussing on the Myanmar market.

“We are constantly looking at options to upload more and more services and products onto the platform, but we have to be cautious with the timing of the market, whether they are ready for those services or not. One big challenge that we have is the capability and investment balancing act.”

Myanmar itself is considered as one of the emerging markets of Southeast Asia. Having been closing itself from the international world for years, in 2012 the country began to open itself up, marked by the entrance of foreign telco companies such as Ooredoo and Telenor into the country.

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Operating a tech startup in such market certainly comes with its own unique challenges. A Telenor report in 2018 mentioned underdeveloped digital infrastructure and low digital literacy rate as some of the challenges; the government itself has responded by establishing the Digital Economy Development Committee (DEDC).

But Oway manages to come out as a top player in this market. In terms of ride-hailing services, the company is the biggest in Myanmar due to its physical presence. It is also the largest fleet service provider in the country at the moment.

What is the secret sauce of taking over this promising new market? Kumar reveals the secret to e27.

Within Myanmar
The story of Oway began when chairman and co-founder Nay Aung returned to Myanmar from the US in 2013. Having worked in tech giants such as Google, he set up an online travel agency (OTA) business in 2014.

Back then telco penetration in the country was quite low, with only seven to eight per cent of the population having access to it.

But Nay Aung saw an opportunity coming his way when the telco licenses were being given to Telenor and Ooredoo, which fundamentally meant that the market will leapfrog in digital services and online biz.

The business was eventually expanded into two new verticals: ride-hailing (Oway Ride) and corporate fleet services (Oway Fleet).

Kumar explains that there are three important milestones that the company has made: Having the largest inventory of airlines and hotels in international and domestic destinations in its platform; pioneering and inventing a new business model in the ride-hailing space; as well as the partnership with Telenor and Wave Money.

These milestones are playing a crucial role in Oway’s strategy in winning the market, which displays a behaviour that is distinctive to an emerging market.

“What we are looking at in Myanmar today is a behavioural shift from the physical to digital. Myanmar was a closed economy and there is already a really strong behaviour existing in the market. People still have a certain higher level of trust … on purchasing with travel agents they know well,” Kumar begins.

This is why the startup invests heavily in making sure that the behavioural shift happens successfully.

“We want people to move and interact with us online because of three core reasons: We bring widest choices online, conveniences and ease of transaction that is not limited to store operation hours, and price value.”

The partnerships that Oway has fostered enable them to make these lucrative offerings for their customers. For example, its partnership with local digital payments provider Wave Money enables Oway Fleet drivers to digitally process any advance payments which include tolls, maintenance, and repair costs.

Oway is also not beyond offering discounts to customers of its OTA, a practice that remains common among fast-growing tech startups.

Beyond Myanmar
Since its inception, Oway has raised over US$14.7 million from investors such as Northstar Group, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Openspace Ventures.

The company says it is “on track” to raise its Series E funding round, which is aimed to further improve its existing verticals and operations.

In Southeast Asia, Grab has long expanded its business beyond its home country with massive investment plans in markets such as Indonesia and Vietnam.

Its rival gojek has also begun to expand its presence beyond Indonesia by entering Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and soon Malaysia.

When asked if the region is going to see Oway launching its services in countries other than Myanmar, Kumar reveals that the company is actually embracing the idea.

“It is in our wishlist and we are constantly evaluating options. But this is currently in the evaluation phase.”

Source: e27

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