OBilet

We invested in OBilet recently together with Earlybird. Founded by Yigit Gurocak and Ali Yilmaz while still in college, OBilet is the leading online bus ticketing marketplace in Turkey. The company also offers flights, hotels, and car rentals but its primary focus is on the intercity bus market.

I first grasped the uniqueness of Turkey’s bus sector when I took an intercity bus in the US. As a child, my family and I would travel by bus from Ankara, Turkey’s capital, to vacation destinations like Antalya, Bodrum, and Cesme during our summers in Turkey. These buses were equipped with comfortable seats, a lot of leg room, and personal mini-TV screens. They also offered great on-board service including food and beverages. As I hadn’t taken an intercity bus outside of Turkey, I thought that the experience would be similar elsewhere.

I then got onto a bus from Boston to New York during my first year in college. I still remember the experience. I was stuck in a small seat, with no leg room, and no on-board entertainment or service. On top of this, the bus smelled bad.

As a result of the poor bus service offered in the US, the rise of low cost airlines has had a big hit on the US bus industry. Most customers prefer the faster travel and relative comfort offered by plane travel over the cheaper price and poor experience offered by buses.

This is not the case in Turkey. Despite the emergence of low cost flight travel options, the intercity bus sector in Turkey continues to grow. There are three reasons for this. The first is the high quality of service offered by bus companies which I described above. The second is Turkey’s very large middle class which, despite increasing affluence, remains more conscious about their travel budget than US passengers. The final reason is because Turkey is a smaller country than the US so plane travel offers a relatively smaller time advantage over bus travel for most city departure-destination pairs. For example, it takes 4 hours to travel between Turkey’s capital Ankara and Istanbul by bus. The flight is an hour long, but adding the time you spend getting to and from the airports which are outside of the city centers, the comparable time by plane is over 3 hours.

OBilet has emerged as the leading online player in a very attractive sector. Despite not taking any outside funding to date, it is a clear market leader over its better financed rivals in terms of both traffic and transactions. Now that OBilet also has the funding, it’s in a very strong position to grow its bus sector leadership and its presence in adjacent sectors.