Hello Interconnected Readers:
I’ve been battling a stomach infection this week (finally got antibiotics and trending in the right direction), so I will keep this issue brief but hopefully still interesting, with some on the ground observations about tech in Mexico.
As my luck would have it, my Airbnb in Mexico City is two blocks away from the big WeWork building where DiDi’s local office is located. I would not have found it except that every day, there was a long line of people waiting to get in and get hired as delivery people. Meanwhile, the Uber office that’s literally one block away has hardly any foot traffic.
Obviously, this piqued my interest. What is Didi doing in Mexico? Why is it attracting so many people?
As it turns out, Didi is aggressively expanding into the Mexican market and incentivizing delivery drivers with 10% more earnings than its competitors among other things.
The food delivery landscape in Mexico is largely dominated by Rappi and Uber Eats. Rappi is the Colombia-born grocery delivery app that has taken the LATAM region by storm and fiercely expanding into restaurant and pharmacy delivery, payment, and financial services. Its positioning is more akin to super apps like WeChat, Meituan, or Grab, not any of its US look-alikes.
This super app evolution isn’t accidental. Having talked to both current and former Rappi employees, as well as entrepreneurs in other industries in Mexico, they tend to look for inspirations and references from American success stories first. However, as they grow and scale, they often realize that the LATAM market conditions look more similar to that of Asia, not the US. Both regions are developing markets growing at different stages. So their learning and focus shifts from northward to westward.
Right now, Rappi dominates Uber Eats in the region, not because it has better technology (the app often breaks), but because it is deeply localized with more choices and services that local people want and need. So where does that leave Didi?
While Rappi and Uber Eats are fighting for market share with people who have the money to spend on delivery consistently, Didi is going down market to attract lower-income users. Serving these users may lose money for a long time; many of these people may never move into the middle or upper-middle class to become more profitable customers. Combined with the extra earnings it's promising to attract drivers, Didi’s mission in Mexico appears to be a money-burning machine.
Yet, burning money to gain mass market share is a classic strategy in the Chinese internet giants’ growth playbook. A recent case in point: Douyin was the official Red Packet partner of this year’s Lunar New Year Banquet variety show on TV. During this promotion, Douyin gave away 1.2 billion RMB (~232 million USD) of cold, hard cash to incentivize people to download the app and tie their bank accounts to its payment gateway. This Lunar New Year Red Packet partnership was pioneered by WeChat Pay back in 2015 and has been a focal point in China’s consumer tech scene ever since.
This “pay to grow” strategy is rarely discussed in the US, because: 1. It cannot happen in the US because it would violate certain terms of service of the apps stores; 2. It’s seen as low-brow and obtuse.
Obviously, it also works like a charm.
It works in China, because the majority of the population are still poor, either in reality or in mindset, thus would respond well to simple cash giveaways. And it’s reasonable to assume that the same incentives would work well in Mexico and other parts of LATAM, where the population is even poorer. So while Rappi and Uber Eats are fighting over people who already have money, Didi is betting heavily on grabbing people who don’t with cheaper services and more incentives, hoping that some of them will become better off eventually.
Will Didi’s strategy work? Will Rappi imitate it, since it has been imitating other aspects of Asian super apps already?
I don’t know, but stomach infection aside, I’m glad I’m here to see some of it in action.
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墨西哥的送餐服务格局主要由Rappi和Uber Eats主导。Rappi起家于哥伦比亚，在拉美地区已经是个巨头，并在猛烈拓展到杂货和药物配送、支付和金融服务等领域。它的定位更接近像微信、美团、Grab这种super app，而不是在美国市场类似的产品。
这种超super app方向进化的打法并非偶然。在与Rappi的现任和前员工以及墨西哥其他行业的创业者交流过程中，我发现出一个现象。他们往往先于美国的成功公司对标， 从中寻找产品灵感和参考案例。然而，随着他们的成长和扩大，往往会意识到拉美市场的状况与亚洲的市场状况更相似，而不是美国。两个区域都是在不同阶段成长的发展中市场。于是，他们的对标和眼光从北往西转。
这种 "用现金买增长"的策略在美国科技界很少被议论，因为：1. 它不可能在美国发生，因为做法会违反app store的某些条款；2. 被视为很低俗钝化。