Another routine day with an early morning client meet in a fairly crowded part of Bangalore. Since my driver called in sick last minute I called and booked a cab from another cab company at short notice the old fashioned way, and it was a decent ride though more expensive. .


After a satisfying meeting and wanting to head back I tried booking a cab on my Blackberry smartphone. Now that’s a phone that has a mind of its own and does not allow most cab apps to be downloaded in this day and age. How smart is that?


So I had to rely on my client to do a booking on Ola and sure enough the app said 3 mins and 5 mins later the cabbie called him to check directions and came in more than 15 minutes later after 3 calls to him. Are these 3 minute wait times  just bait to get the bookings ? Finally got a cab which looked like it had come from the garage – dirty outside and not so inviting inside. Since it was less a 10 km ride I said to myself, fine, getting back is more important.


Little did I realise that after 40 years of driving experience I would have the ride of my life over the next 30 minutes. The cabbie was on the phone from the time we started talking seriously about some financial transaction with someone. Every 2 minutes he would ask me the directions which I myself was not clear about. Where was his GPS? After a few guess work turns by me he somehow landed up on the route which I knew ! He was still too busy driving fast with one hand, talking and endangering lives on the road.


Then he hung up the phone and connected it to the music system and blasted loud music as if he wanted to entertain me and all the surrounding traffic. And yes he never even bothered to check if I wanted the ac … or the music ! He was too busy telling me he performs bike stunts in Kannada movies and how he was trying to swing a stunt role in some movie !! So far so good with the script since driving a cab is a supplementary or main source of income for many now.


Then I guess he wanted to show me how good a stunt driver he was. In that short 20 mins left he drove like maniac on the crowded Bangalore roads, his one hand on the horn, the other fiddling with the phone music and a couple of calls. . all while driving. He weaved his way through the traffic, squeezing between vehicles, coming dangerously close to knocking down a few 2 wheelers riding peacefully or scraping a few cars or buses . And all this despite me asking to slow down – maybe the music drowned my quiet voice from the rear ! Or maybe he was an ambulance driver in his earlier avatar ! The way he was driving we would need one soon.


I was clinging on to the door handle bracing for that impact which miraculously did not happen, nor was there any damage nor loss of life.  Heaved a sigh of relief ,but it was the most horrible experience I have ever had with a cab. Have never been too much of an Ola fan after a few bad last minute driver cancellation  experiences before the earlier journeys , but this took the cake. Will never touch an Ola again for sure even if someone offers it free for one year .


This took me back to an article I published many months ago on Lessons from the cab story – The Brand perils of changing rules of the game rapidly

It spoke about


  • A cab hired from a well known company with all the technology tools and funds at its disposal. And that opens up concerns for what process and back end audits other rapidly expanding services evolve to keep pace with rapid online scaling up in different industries.
  • Technology cannot compensate for the quality of the human interface that actually completes the brand experience.
  • And one wonders how much of this mad paced expansion is driven by the founders who may have been hungry for growth and making big bucks soon. And how much by the investors who so often just brush aside founder concerns and literally call the shots on how quick the scale up has to happen to quickly build valuations. Nothing wrong with building valuations and cashing out but certainly it should not come at the expense of safety, reliability, credibility and trust that are the keystones of an enduring brand.


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