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Europe's Bolt expands to Nepal with ride-hailing service

European startup Bolt is expanding to Nepal and launching its ride-hailing service in the country. The company's previous market expansion was its launch in Thailand in 2020.

On Wednesday, Bolt announced the pilot of its on-demand ride-hailing service in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu. The startup has kicked off the service with more than 400 local drivers.

Nepal, which has a per-capita national disposable income of $1,683, already has two foreign companies operating in the country's ride-hailing market — Mountain View-headquartered InDrive and Bangladesh's Pathao. However, Bolt announced that it won't charge any commissions to its partners to attract existing ride-hailing drivers to its platform for at least the next six months. It also said that customers would get 15% lower service fees than other competitors on the market.

Similar to the experience available to customers in Europe and Africa, Bolt will let riders in Nepal get safety features such as a dedicated SOS button and a "Share my ride" feature for real-time trip sharing. The Bolt app will also allow both riders and drivers to access in-app calls and messaging without disclosing their phone numbers.

Nepal's ride-hailing market is limited to the country's largest urban economy, the capital city, where there is strong demand from locals and tourists. Domestic startups, including Tootle and Sahara, are also catering to the market, alongside InDrive and Pathao. Nevertheless, Bolt does see a market opportunity as it is going forward with the launch of its service in the country.

"It's far from our smallest market, far from our biggest market," said Jevgeni Kabanov, president of Bolt, in an interview with TechCrunch. "We're looking for basically the markets where we believe we can offer a better service."

He added that the startup wanted to be the most affordable option for everyone living in Kathmandu.

Market experts and investors in the ride-hailing space in Asia believe getting money from Nepal is challenging. Kabanov said that Bolt used to localize its business to the actual specifics of the country and is prepared to do the necessary work — whether to comply with local regulations or work with local payment methods and taxation.

Bolt has not made any significant investments in Nepal at the moment, and is coordinating operations from its Estonian headquarters. Nonetheless, the startup may expand its business in the country after seeing some initial growth in adoption among drivers and riders. It also has grocery and food delivery as two other verticals that could eventually launch in Nepal as well.

"As we grow the ride-hailing vertical, we generally, in the medium to long term, are very likely to also launch the food delivery and grocery delivery," Kabanov said.

Bolt's launch in Nepal is opportunistic as the startup can count on an existing supply of drivers to start its ride-hailing business. It can also use this launch to better understand neighboring countries from the ground. However, the startup does not have plans to expand to larger markets, including India, anytime soon.

"We are definitely keeping an eye on all the major markets, doing research and trying to understand what's the competitive situation, what's the opportunity to improve on the service offering," Kabanov said while asked about the plans to launch in India.

Founded in August 2013, Bolt (formerly called mTakso and Taxify) has around 100 million customers in 45 countries and 500 cities across Europe and Africa. The startup raised more than €1 billion from investors, including Sequoia, World Bank's IFC and European Investment Bank. It is currently valued at €7.6 billion.