The Estonia-based start-up, Bolt, has raised $713 million (Forbes) in a fresh round this month. The ride-hailing app, with over 70 million users across more than 40 countries, is now valued at $4.75 billion — more than twice what it was valued post its previous valuation.
Travel was the last thing on our mind amid a pandemic, as nationwide lockdowns were imposed across the world. The Uber-rival, in fact, reported that sales plummeted down to 80% last year (CNBC), 100%, indeed, in countries like Slovakia, where cabs were banned.
What then was the investors’ rationale?
All hail the ‘super app’
While Bolt has reportedly recovered from last year’s crisis, it is not ride-hailing that has convinced new investors to acquire holdings and existing investors to increase theirs.
Venture firms like Sequoia, G Squared, DI Capital, and Naya have backed the start-up because it now has its sights on becoming a ‘super app.’
Originally called Taxify, the start-up rebranded itself as Bolt after adding e-bike rentals, electric scooters, and car-sharing to its services. Now, the app has grown and plans to strengthen another branch — grocery delivery in under 15 minutes.
Gradually but surely, Bolt could become one app that does it all. The super app.
Super apps, however, are not new. Back in 2010, Mike Lazaridis, the founder of BlackBerry, foresaw them, describing them as a closed ecosystem, a bundle of many apps that offers its users a “seamless, integrated, contextualized, and efficient” experience.
Facebook, for example, has edged closer to becoming a super app for social media, after integrating personal messaging across Instagram and its Messenger.
To become a super app, an app must first offer a basic solution and gradually integrate adjacent solutions, paving a “logical route” from one solution to the other. The aim, of course, is to provide different services across different industries to maximize reach and revenue. Super apps, therefore, represent a win-win: businesses can offer their users more than one service, squeezing out more and more profit-per-user, while users get everything in one place.
One of Europe’s hottest prospects, Bolt, too, to accelerate what it has called “hypergrowth”, has added another service to its array of on-demand services, offering the delivery of groceries in under just 15 minutes. The service, called Bolt Market, is an adjacent solution to Bolt Food, its meal-delivery service.
However, Bolt claims, rightly, that the funding is enormous, but not enough. Grocery delivery is one of the world’s fastest-growing industries, and competition is intense.
Bolt plans to use the capital to launch Bolt Market in 10 countries across Europe, including Sweden, Portugal, and Croatia. Sooner or later, however, to sustain growth, Bolt could provide its all-in-one services to more European countries. Perhaps, even, to the United States.
The problem is, Bolt faces fierce competition in Europe itself, let alone the United States. Then, there is another challenge, the specter currently haunting the OTT market: consolidation.
Are super apps the next OTTs?
Today, the market for grocery delivery is bursting with opportunities.
The frenzy of investors is anything but a surprise, given the stunning magnitude by which online sales increased last year. Online, we shopped not just apparel, electronics, books, and meals, but also groceries. In the UK, grocery delivery went up by 16% (Nielsen). The incline is not alarming, but it is the highest it has ever been.
And therefore, Bolt must raise more money to stand out among the competition, which is currently dominated in Europe by Turkey’s Getir, whose CEO, Nazim Salur, believes that a certain share of the population finds buying groceries a “waste of time.” And so, Getir, valued at $7.5 billion, as of June (TechCrunch), attributes its success to how it “democratized the right to laziness.”
But this is how we really know the competition is intense: Getir claims it will deliver groceries in under 10 minutes. Now, it plans to use the money it raised in June to soon launch in the United States.
Oh, it gets better.
In total, online grocery deliverers raised over $10 billion, in 2021 (CNBC). One of them was also the US-based Instacart, which raised $265 million in March, increasing its valuation to $39 billion (TechCrunch). And what do they plan to do with the raised capital? You guessed it: expand in Europe.
Take a closer look, and you will find that the market for grocery delivery bears an uncanny resemblance to the market for streaming.
For a time, the streaming market represented a consumer utopia: innumerable choices at ever-decreasing prices. With deliveries under 10 minutes, the market for grocery delivery and super apps, too, will be utopian. And while the former is already headed for consolidation, experts argue that, eventually, so will the latter.
Valuations, for example, have been skewed, which could crush the competition, as the bigger, deep-pocketed super apps could gobble up smaller ones to expand their user-base.
Still, other experts argue that the market is too young for that to happen. Salur himself disagrees, arguing that the companies trying to sell themselves have nothing to sell yet. He claims that they have “no footing in the market.”
Finally, there is regulation.
The UK’s Supreme Court, for instance, has ruled that Uber must treat its drivers as employees, not independent contractors, hence granting them entitlements such as minimum wage and holiday pay.
Bolt, too, has been urged to follow. However, it has no plans to make such an arrangement. It claims that its drivers most value their freedom and independence.
To become the super-most, Bolt, like all super apps, is vying to offer the highest convenience at the lowest price. But, surely, it cannot have its cake and eat it too. Or could it?
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