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UAE's First Pay-Per-Minute Car Rental Concept UDrive Is Reimagining The Country's Mobility Landscape Since its launch in 2016, it has powered over two million trips, secured over 380,000 registered users on its app, and, in July last year, made inroads into Saudi Arabia as well.

By Aby Sam Thomas Edited by Aby Sam Thomas

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Nicholas Watson, co-founder and CEO, Udrive

As the UAE's first pay-per-minute car rental concept, Udrive is clearly one of the trailblazers on the mobility scene of the UAE (and the wider GCC region)- since its launch in 2016, it has powered over two million trips, secured over 380,000 registered users on its app, and, in July last year, made inroads into Saudi Arabia as well.

Investors have taken note of the startup too- Udrive, which is built on "a highly scalable" cloud and internet of things (IoT) stack, has raised nearly US$10 million in funds so far, with its backers including Dubai Cultiv8 (an initiative of the UAE's Mohammed Bin Rashid Fund for SMEs), as well as Oman Holding International, one of the region's experts in the car leasing market. "We are very near breakeven operations, achieving both positive unit economics, and positive operating gross profit, while working towards net profitability," says Nicholas Watson, co-founder and CEO, Udrive. "We have tripled our fleet since 2020, and we are ready for triple-digit percentage growth and accelerated regional profitability over 2023."

And while this may be a great outlook for the startup's future now, Watson highlights that it didn't look so rosy when Udrive was just starting out- but that was part of the plan. "When we started, we were always designed to have negative unit economics," Watson reveals. "Our focus was to build a brand and experience that competitors could not beat or replicate. What we have gained is a loyal customer base and viral acquisition of customers, which, in turn, allowed us to negotiate with suppliers for better rates, and reduce our unit costs. Effectively, we became big enough to benefit from the economies of scale, and foster trust with our suppliers."

Related: Brace For Impact: How Augmented Reality Is Going To Change The Automotive Industry

To understand Udrive's offering, it might be best to look at it from the customer's point of view- for them, it's an app through which they can book a car for a journey, find it parked at a location closest to them, and then, well, just drive it. Fuel and insurance are taken care of by Udrive, as are most public parking fees- as Watson puts it: "All the user needs to do is drive!"

Source: UDrive

This would explain why Udrive -and the car-sharing concept in itself- has been so warmly received in the UAE, and now, given the company's recent entry into Saudi Arabia, it seems safe to expect it to pop up in other countries across the region as well. "We are looking to scale bigger and add more cities to our roster before 2026, while being backed by a strong board, leadership team, strategy, and funding to achieve our goals," Watson says. "While the Udrive technology platform is currently applied to car-sharing, it is also extendable to other use cases, which we are currently in talks to explore. We look forward to setting up shop in more GCC cities in the years to come."

Eureka! Nicholas Watson on how to make an idea a great one

Ideate and recognize "Great ideas are born by recognizing opportunities and gaps in existing markets. To see that opportunity, you have to become knowledgeable about that area, and gain expertise. My first suggestion is to spend time in an industry to understand how it operates as well as its intricate processes. When you are not working, try experiencing the services or products that you find interesting, and look for ways on how it can be done better."

Map the customer journey "It's important to recognize the customer's experience and journey. Once the customer's journey has been mapped, evaluate it against potential competitors, and map their journeys too. Find the areas of weakness where you can digitize or improve the experience. This goes for both individuals and companies."

Digitize and fractionalize "Where possible, digitize the gaps, eliminating human interaction and inefficiencies. Most importantly, evaluate if digitization makes the whole experience better, and if you can fractionalize access to the service or product, making it accessible to a larger audience."

Commercialize "It's one thing to build more efficient experiences and a better product/service. But if you are not able to win customers and scale to profitability, your business will be a never-ending loss-making machine. Almost all major scaleups start out by losing money at low volumes, but once they reach critical scale, they are able to not only monetize their initial business model, but also open several revenue opportunities in addition."

Deliver "Whatever your brand promises, deliver on it. There is nothing worse than exciting a client only for them to become disappointed by the final result."

Related: As The Middle East's First Prevention-Focused Insurance Solution, Dubai-Based Startup Wellx Aims To Build Healthier Communities In The Region

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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