Ride hailing company Bolt secures US$719m for its expansion into new geographies

GLOBAL – Bolt, an Estonia-based startup that operates on-demand ride hailing, shared cars and scooters, as well as a restaurant and grocery delivery service, has announced that it has raised €628 million (US$719.93m) in a new funding round.

The round was led by Sequoia Capital and Fidelity and was also backed by Whale Rock, Owl Rock and some of Bolt’s existing investors, values the eight-year-old company at €7.4 billion (US$8.4 billion) up from nearly US$4.8 billion just five months ago.

Bolt will be using the funds to continue expanding to new geographies and to bring more consumers and partners to its super app.

It also aims to develop newer business lines, such as its 15-minute grocery delivery option Bolt Market, and to build dark stores in more cities to expand the service beyond the 10 where it’s active today.

“All of our business units are growing,” founder and CEO Markus Villig said adding that even its most mature business, ride hailing, ‘is seeing double digit growth,’ while the newer businesses, being smaller, are expanding even faster.

“The new trend of last year is that private cars are a bad thing and increasingly people want to use other forms of mobility.”

He added that Bolt is working on partnering with more city governments to build out its services as part of their updated transportation strategies.

Bolt’s growth is also notable considering the difficulties that some of its competitors have been facing in the wake of COVID-19. First the pandemic had a major chilling effect on people being willing to go into a vehicle where they have to sit in a closed-in space with another person (the driver).

That situation was then compounded when things picked up again, but so quickly that many services are suffering from a shortage of drivers, not passengers.

Villig admitted that Bolt, too, faced some short-term fluctuations in demand when the lockdowns first started. But it has made attracting and keeping drivers a major focus by paying out better commissions than its rivals. Typically, Villig said, it will pay between 10% and 20% better than competitors.

Bolt was founded eight years ago in Tallinn, Estonia (originally as Taxify), with a mission to bring ride hailing to emerging markets and countries where others like Uber had yet to gain a strong foothold.

It used that strategy to expand modestly across regions like Central and Eastern Europe and Africa, in the process attracting investors like China’s Didi — itself having built a massive business in its own home emerging market. Didi quietly divested its stake in Bolt last year.

Over time, the focus has remained on Europe and Africa, but Bolt found that a lot of its learnings from those first launches could just as easily be applied in more developed countries, with more lucrative payoffs.

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