The secret to becoming a unicorn: focus on local users, says 99 founder

99 has been competing directly with Uber in Brazil since 2014. As a small ridesharing company in a market with over fifteen direct competitors, 99 had to be clever to stand out. According to their founder, Renato Freitas, the secret was to focus on a local user base, in order to compete with Uber’s global vision.

99 was the smallest, least-funded option on the market at the time. In the original article for ZDNet, Freitas revealed their strategy:

“We needed a strategy to focus sharply on the Brazilian market. To compete with big companies, we needed to do something special for the local audience – we built a great story and based on values I am proud of, we managed to make it even though it was scary.”

Focusing on technology, they improved services to fit the Brazilian context, starting with simplifying the payment verification process. They also worked closely with the authorities as Brazil considered banning ridesharing services, offering solutions rather than fighting the legislation.

99 also focused on driver safety and experience, improving payment options for unbanked drivers, and allowing them to control payment types based on their location or time of day to protect from criminals who use cash.

Despite their local focus, 99’s investors have all come from abroad. They were recently acquired by Chinese ridesharing company Didi Chuxing, making 99 one of Brazil’s first unicorns with a US$1B valuation.

Read more about 99 here:

Techcrunch coverage of acquisition

Reuters coverage

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