[App Fridays] This Kapil Dev-backed taxi app lets you book free rides by watching ad videos

VAOO Cabs, India’s newest ride-hailing app, is backed by cricket legend Kapil Dev. It is built on an interesting premise – users can earn free credits to ride by watching a few videos.

Imagine if you could earn points every time you watched an online ad? Also, imagine if you were able to convert those points into digital credit and use them to pay for all those cab rides? And, what if all this was possible on one app?

VAOO Cabs, the newest app-based fleet taxi service in town, is making this a reality. 

After it launched in October, VAOO garnered immediate attention thanks to legendary Indian cricketer Kapil Dev, who’s not only one of the investors in the startup, but also its brand ambassador.

The premise is simple: VAOO lets you earn credits by watching ads, and allows you to spend those credits on rides you book on the app.

Interestingly, it promises a free ride if the driver doesn’t pick you up in 20 minutes.

VAOO also customises the ads users see based on their interests and demographic profiles. At the time of creating an account, users are prompted to share details such as gender, age, marital status, profession, hobbies, and more

This feature could, however, put off privacy-conscious riders. (more on this later)

Simply put, VAOO doubles up as a data-driven marketing platform for brands and businesses, and an incentive-driven ride-hailing app for average consumers. 

The app hit Google Play Store in October. In a month, it has crossed 10,000 installs, and earned a user rating of 4.3 out of 5. VAOO runs on any device that supports Android 4.2 or above. The iOS version of the app is yet to launch. 

VAOO Cabs is backed by Indian cricket legend Kapil Dev.

VAOO Cabs is operational in Mumbai and Pune for now but will roll out in other Indian cities starting 2020. At present, the app is available in English, Hindi, and Marathi. More languages will be added going forward.

The startup claims that it has already registered 15,000 cabs in Mumbai, and is promising “100 percent earnings” for its driver partners.

Since its own earnings are driven by brands that advertise on its platform, VAOO has done away with commission cuts off drivers – the model followed by leading cab aggregators like Ola and Uber. 

On paper, VAOO sounds like an ideal service. Let’s find out how it fared on-ground.

You start by creating a VAOO account with your name, email id, and phone number. You also have to provide location access to the app.

Next, VAOO prompts you to share an enormous amount of info - gender, age, marital status, occupation, employer, industry you work in, designation, annual income, areas of interests, and apps you use. 

While this is important for the platform to serve you a customised ad feed, it also means that you have to part with significant personal data.

In an increasingly cyber-unsafe world, it might be a deterrent for several users, and lead to drop-offs at this point.
Once you’re done creating a profile, VAOO credits your account with a token signing bonus. 1 VAOO point equals to Re 1

The homepage is a curated ad feed based on the data you’ve shared in your VAAO profile. Videos range between 10 and 50 seconds. Each video sports a label displaying the number of points you can earn by viewing it.

Once you’re done watching the video, the screen prompts you to rate the ad. Points are credited instantly after you hit ‘submit’.

If you’re in a hurry, you can even skip the entire ad viewing process, and click on the ‘Book a Ride’ option on the homepage. In this case, VAOO automatically exhausts the points in your account, and charges you for the differential fare. 

The service offers hatchback, sedan, and SUVs to riders. You can change your mode of payment (cash/card/VAOO Credit) on the booking page. 

Like on Ola and Uber, you can also save your Home, Work and other frequented locations on the app. 

The side menu gives you access to your profile info, trip history, ads watched, payment modes, etc. You also have the option to switch languages. 

Finally, VAOO also lets you transfer points to another user account with a single tap. This is aimed at enabling peer-to-peer interaction on the app.

Verdict: interesting premise, but erratic availability

The primary thing one would expect of a ride-hailing service is the steady availability of cabs. But, VAOO Cabs, despite all its frills and thrills, leaves a lot to be desired on that front. (15,000 cabs are clearly not enough for a city of 20 million people.)

We were able to successfully book a cab only twice out of our 10 attempts. On most occasions, the app displayed a ‘no drivers available to take the trip’ message. This is irrespective of the day, time, and pick-up location. 

Hence, the first thing VAOO Cabs needs to fix is scale before it launches in other cities.

Barring that oddity, the app is a breeze. It is innovative, engaging, and rewarding

It also presents an interesting alternative to incumbent cab-hailing services that are increasingly plagued by driver strikes, transport union issues, surge pricing, etc.

At just 11MB, the VAAO app is also significantly lighter than other cab booking apps. So, if you’re not averse to sharing tonnes of personal data, VAOO Cabs is worth your time.

After all, what’s not to like about a free cab ride?

(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)