LOCA: Pioneering the Digital Landscape in Laos

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LOCA, the leading ride-hailing app in Laos has overcome many obstacles and B2B Cambodia spoke with Mr. Souliyo Vongdala, the startups founder and CEO during the Digital Economy Forum II to understand how they have navigated the odds in the ride-hailing business to become a thriving ecosystem.

LOCA is a homegrown ride-hailing app in the Southeast Asian nation that has rapidly risen to become the country’s most popular platform. Founded in 2018, LOCA initially catered to tourists, but has successfully expanded its local users as a result of the pandemic and was even listed as one of Forbes Asia’s “100 Companies to Watch” in 2021. 

Mr. Souliyo Vongdala shed light on LOCA’s progress and challenges, and how the company has ventured into other services, such as LOCA Pay and EV (Electric Vehicle) Charging Stations, as well as their plans for expansion into Cambodia.

Watch the exclusive interview between B2B Cambodia and Mr. Souliyo Vongdala, Founder & CEO of LOCA.

Ride-Hailing App to Broader Digital Ecosystem

LOCA has evolved into a business encompassing a comprehensive digital ecosystem, extending beyond ride-hailing services to offer diversified payment options and even extending into encouraging the use of electrical vehicles and installing EV charging stations – so how did this evolution come about?

Initially launched as a solution to transportation issues in Laos, LOCA provided transparent pricing, customer safety, reliability, and improved service availability. As the company resolved these challenges, it encountered new obstacles that led to the creation of new services.

“When we came across those initial problems, we said we have the market, we have the pain points – so we built locally to solve and address the issues. But when we solved one problem, there were more problems to solve,” Vongdala told B2B Cambodia. 

One of the major challenges LOCA faced was related to the supply chain, including issues with cars and fluctuating fuel prices. To overcome this, LOCA took a bold step and encouraged its drivers to switch to electric vehicles, offering them cost savings and environmental benefits.

“By encouraging our drivers to use electric cars, they liked it because it saved them on costs, and it’s cleaner,” Vongdala said.

LOCA had to tackle the EV charging station infrastructure which was basic at best. As a consequence, LOCA delved into building its own EV charging station network around Laos, and as a result, more drivers have switched to EVs, while LOCA also provides financial support to its drivers when needed.

LOCA’s Vision for Electric Vehicles 2030  

LOCA is committed to achieving a 100 per cent electric vehicle fleet by 2030, however, they also needs to respond to issues raised by its drivers. I think the challenge is really exciting for me – when there is a challenge, that means there’s an opportunity,” the CEO told B2B Cambodia. 

LOCA has charted its course from being a small company with an unwavering dedication to learning and now has become a market leader in Laos. 

Vongdala said the most exciting aspect of his business journey is reflecting on LOCA’s growth from an outsider’s perspective. The company has come a long way and still has a promising future ahead. “We still need the extra financing. That’s the final part of our business that we are going to be launching next year (2024),” he said. 

Government Policy as A Stumbling Block to Businesses in Laos?

Vongdala said that people think of Laos as not ‘an easy country’ because of its perceived outdated laws. However, he feels Laos is very friendly on the policy side due to its government’s flexibility, dynamism and open-mindedness to new technologies. 

He emphasised the nuanced nature of operating a business in an environment where the absence of specific legislation can create ambiguity. “When there is no law, it could mean illegal. And it also means legal at the same time; it is instilled in a grey area.”. 

There should be no concern for businesses that are seeking to positively contribute to society and the community by creating jobs and producing economies of scale, said Vongdala. “I don’t think any government would stop something like that”.

Laos’ Digital Landscape In Progress

Vongdala said the Laos government is focusing on streamlining the registration process and being ready for the ASEAN Digital Economy Framework –  they now have many laws and regulations addressing this.

However, he confirmed there are some laws that are still pending, such as the law on digital payment systems which is currently undergoing updates to align with existing regulations and is expected to be approved by the Laotian Parliament in 2023.

There are also related laws that support innovation and startups as well as those which will allow the nation to better access the digital economy. 

Opportunity For Business in Cambodia

Vongdala affirmed that he sees abundant opportunities in Cambodia for LOCA and he hopes that LOCA will be a suitable stakeholder that can serve the Cambodian market.

He added that LOCA is exploring the business model, “We are already planning to enter Cambodia, but it’s a matter of time.”

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