9 May 22

String of acquisitions raises global profile of Dubai-based Swvl

At the end of April, Swvl announced it had acquired Zeelo in the UK. This marked the latest in a string of acquisitions for the Dubai-based transit startup, which aims to be a global player with a $1 billion annual turnover by 2025. 

For more on the fleet and mobility market in the Middle East and other regions around the world, check out this report from the recent Global Fleet Conference

Launched in 2017 in Egypt but now headquartered in Dubai (UAE), Swvl is a global provider of transformative, tech-enabled mass-transit solutions. Employing more than 1,000 people worldwide, it offers intracity, intercity, B2B and B2G (business-to-government) transport across 115 cities in 18 countries and four continents. 

Range and reach

Zeelo is Swvl’s fifth acquisition since August last year. These deals have helped the company expand both its product range and its geographical reach, previously focused on the Middle East. (Previously, the company had a presence in the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, but also Kenya and Pakistan). 

Swvl was co-founded by Mostafa Kandil, who previously helped launch Careem, the ride-hailing service popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and acquired by Uber in 2020. 

Swvl aims to offer an even more affordable transport option than Careem. Essentially, Kandil had the idea to resolve the traditional problem of long wait times for public transport in the Middle East by linking it to the many privately-owned buses that drive around the region – 100,000 in Cairo alone – and quite often largely empty. 

Semi-private alternatives

Via its platform, Swvl offers semi-private alternatives to public transport for those who cannot access or afford private options. Via an app, customers have 24/7 access to private buses and vans, and can pay using a variety of options. 

The company grew “like crazy”, its user numbers tripling in size every few months. Last year, Swvl took more than 32 million bookings, working with 240 institutional clients (including Alibaba and Unilver) through Swvl Business.

By summer 2021, Swvl was valued at $1.5 billion, making it the Middle East’s latest tech unicorn. The company went public and is now listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

Growth plans

The company has strong growth plans. By 2025, the company aims to be present in 20 countries across five continents, the extra one being North America. Also by that year, Swvl aims to generate $1 billion in annual revenue. The path forward, for now, seems to be acquisitions. 

  • Last August, Swvl acquired Viapool, a mass-transit platform offering services in Argentina and Chile. 
  • Also last year, Swvl acquired Shotl, an on-demand shuttle booking platform in Spain. 
  • In March this year, Swvl acquired door2door, a Berlin-based high-growth mobility platform providing software solutions for on-demand shared mobility, multimodal routing and mobility analytics. Door2door licenses its B2G/B2B mobility software to municipalities, mass transit operators, transit agencies, corporations and automotive companies. It has 70 deployments across 10 European countries, and a 24% share of the German mass-transit market, Europe’s largest. 
  • At the start of April, Swvl acquired Volt Lines in Turkey. Volt Lines is a B2B Transport-as-a-Service (TaaS) operator. It provides its clients, which include ICBC and Axa Insurance, with cost-effective alternatives to public transport or ride-hailing, by offering its own network of smart, shared buses – which it aims to be 100% sustainable by 2030. The deal, valued at $40 million, gives Swvl access both to Volt Lines’ tech and its over 110 corporate client contracts. It also provides Swvl with a foothold on the Turkish market, and will allow it to expand its B2C services. 
  • And at the end of the same month, there was Zeelo, a smart bus platform and technology scale-up. It has a suite of turnkey TaaS and Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions and an established presence in not just the UK but also the U.S. and South Africa. Acquiring the company will help Swvl position itself as a global provider of mass-transit solutions. “Bus transport, done well with tech, can take us beyond our dependency on cars and taxis,” said Zeelo founder and CEO Sam Ryan, adding that buses are more suitable for commutes from non-urban areas.

Another major target for Swvl, besides expansion, is electrification. Hence the partnership with Nigerian startup Moove, which will see delivery of 500 electric buses in the first phase, and then scale up significantly. 

Image: Shutterstock

Authored by: Frank Jacobs