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The business of car rental in Singapore, with Drive.sg


Singapore is an expensive place to own a car. Firstly, import being the only source of supply makes the car itself more expensive than most other countries in the world. Add to that, increased taxes and the high cost of certificate of eligibility (to own a car!), which is the Government’s way of discouraging people from owning cars. Honestly, the combination of a very efficient public transport system and short distances, makes owning a car pretty redundant, but who doesn’t like a nice long drive?

Drive.sg is an online marketplace based in Singapore for car rental businesses to rent out their cars.

At the recently concluded echelon, there was a talk on 'platform thinking'. It emphasised on how the disruptive businesses 'think' of a platform to make a product/services available rather than creating them. Case in point being Roomorama, that we spoke about recently, which is a platform for travellers to seek alternative accommodation, a much scalable/profitable and perhaps logical business rather than try building 'the right kind of places' across the world. Drive.sg is a startup with similar thought process.

Why Drive.sg

Co-founder Adrian Lee begins saying, it was hard (before they started out) to find a rental car in Singapore that matches the needs and even harder to find one that is of quality and good service.

photo-8"Singapore, despite being a technologically advanced country (approximately 74% smartphone usage), people who needed a car used to call companies after companies to find an available car. What was even stranger was that most of the local car rental businesses did not have a web presence. Therefore, if you wanted to find out what cars these businesses had, you had to call!", he says.

Speaking of the initial stages, Adrian says that like many first-time entrepreneurs, they were simply frustrated with 'how broken and unintuitive certain things were'. "We were amazingly amazingly courageous (another way of saying 'naive'), we started working on fixing how car rental bookings were made and our partners (we don't call them suppliers) were there to mentor and guide us through our growing pains", he smiles.

Drive.sg set out to provide a solution to this in December of 2011, and besides searching for cars, it allows you to compare the rates using the marketplace, make bookings, pay online and get an instant confirmation. Adrian emphasises that they are not merely 'middle-men' who profited from arbitraging the car rental prices. "We provide the businesses a better way to do business with new and their customers", he says, elaborating that getting past that mindset of customers has been their biggest challenge.

How do they do it

Drive.sg works with International and local car suppliers, from Avis/Sixt to Eurokars/Wearnes. (Read more about Indian startup Savaari in the same space). There is one principle difference between those services and what Drive.sg offers, Singapore car rentals are largely self-driven. Speaking of the Indian startups in the space, Adrian says, "I did read your interviews of the startups in India in the similar space and I found myself nodding in agreement about what they had to say".

Drive.sg has partnered with more than 35% of the car rental trade in Singapore. They are also associate member of the Vehicle Rental Association in Singapore. Since the official launch in September 2012, they estimate that more than 13000 bookings have been transacted by their several partners on Drive.SG.

The team which 'drives' this success includes 11 people, and an intern pool of 6 people working in various research projects. Co-founder Paul Tan manages the tech side of things,  with his education in Information Systems (IT) and Adrian,  who studied Computing Engineering and later majored in Business Management, splits his time managing the business and sales. Paul and Adrian are both products of National University of Singapore.

Speaking of their marketing, Adrian asserts that they strongly believe in marketing using measured media and through scalable strategic partnerships, which drives the company's decision to spend big on Google and other Internet advertising platforms, and their partnerships with Credit Cards and other Membership Clubs.

The Singapore startup ecosystem

The startup has so far raised one round of angel funding. Speaking of the Singapore startup ecosystem,  Adrian says, "It is a great place to launch a startup, if you are willing to take the plunge. The government and educational institutions dole out SGD 5,000 to SGD 600,000 to entrepreneurs to start and/or to grow their business. There are also plenty of incubators, credible list of Angels and VCs, to help founders get their ideas off the ground."

Despite all that, through an unofficial survey they did, amongst a tech audience, Adrian says, only 6 out of 100+ participants said they would like to have their own ventures.

Small market, tight manpower, and a young nation in terms of entrepreneurial successes is what you can possibly attribute this to. However, the growing interest in Singapore for entrepreneurs world over is surely likely to bring about the much needed mindset change. "Ideally, to be 'next startup hub of the world' we need to these pioneer entrepreneurs to mentor and guide new batches of 'courageous' entrepreneurs", concludes Adrian.


Calling all startups in mobility and transport sector! Apply now for the Indo-German bootcamp and get a chance to be mentored by industry experts and showcase your products. Only 5 seats available. Apply here.


About the author

Archana was an entrepreneur with a startup in Bombay, working with women from lower income groups on hand-made products. She now lives in Singapore, writing and training in Iyengar yoga. She has also been a corporate lawyer in another life. Follow her on talkingqalam.wordpress.com or @talkingqalam and write to her at archana@yourstory.in.

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