In less than two years, Costa Rica’s OMNi has gone from a modest platform with 1,000 bicycle shares in the Latin American country’s capital to become the nation’s dominant and uncontested super app. By bringing modern digital technology and payments expertise to existing businesses, the startup has been able to double its offerings – and then double them again – at a time when the world was contending with the coronavirus.
“The first few months of COVID were pretty hectic, as you can imagine,” OMNi CEO Nayid Aguilar said in a recent chat with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster.
After the government shut down bike-sharing for three months due to health concerns, Aguilar realized the company had to try something different, and knew digitalization was where it wanted to be.
“So we launched an entertainment platform,” he said. “Basically, we did like 150 live music sessions. They were pretty good. They got almost five million views, and we got a lot of people engaged with our company, so we were pretty happy about that.”
That kind of “can-do” business model is exactly what OMNi has done to grow its platform, which has gone from bikes to taxis to news-and-lifestyle information. Then it added banking, financial services, QR codes, bus service and, as of February, healthcare.
Aguilar said OMNi simply looks to bring its digital prowess to businesses and industries that don’t have it. Ultimately, he sees the company running about 20 to 25 different verticals.
“When we talk with a potential partner, what we’re saying is, ‘we’re a tech company. You know your business, and we can do tech. Let’s do this as a joint venture,’” he said.
From there, it’s just a matter of quickly leveraging existing relationships within its platform and incorporating them into the super app.
So Far, So Good
Aguilar said OMNi has been able to achieve rapid growth by listening to its increasingly large user base and trying to understand its needs and concerns.
“When we launched the ride-hailing service, there was almost 200 percent incremental growth on all the transactions in the application, and we got more than 100,000 downloads in just a week,” he said.
With the benefit and unique market view that comes with operating five verticals, OMNi’s super app has been able to do things that standalone businesses couldn’t.
“The entire concept of giving people all the connections they need in their phone [is] a great concept,” Aguilar said. “We compete with a lot of companies in the different verticals, but there is none right now offering the entire package as we are.”
It would be hard to think of an aging industry with less growth appeal than operating a bus service, but Aguilar said that’s exactly what drew OMNi into the space.
“We’re getting into the bus service industry because all of them are cash,” he explained. “We’re doing a pilot with them to digitize [their fleets], because 1.8 million people use buses every day in Costa Rica. And if you go to Central America [as a whole], it is more than 50 million people.”
With those kinds of metrics, the business of collecting 50-cent bus fares starts to make a lot of sense.
OMNi As A Neobank
But like any super app or payment platform, OMNi doesn’t own the buses, hospitals or taxis it works with – it just looks to make them better and easier to use.
In most cases, that digitalization process involves taking payments, which is why the company has also expanded into banking and financial services.
“If you look at the neobank industry, a lot of them are not profitable,” Aguilar noted. “We’re trying to use a bunch of verticals that work well together to make people use the super app more.”
From there, it’s a situation where digitization meets monetization in order to streamline legacy processes for OMNi’s existing relationships.
“We’re a pure neobank,” Aguilar stated. “We’re the front end of a financial institution.”
How that plays out for OMNi is that it now offers bill pay, funds transfer, group discounts and even lending.
“With our artificial intelligence solution, we can grant a loan in 45 minutes with no in-person interaction,” Aguilar said. “You just can do everything on the app.”
But whether it’s bikes, bus rides or bill pay, OMNi’s business model follows the same path.
“We introduced our first thousand bikes in the capital here in Costa Rica, and then we moved forward,” Aguilar said. “We see it as our Trojan horse to get users in and get people onto the platform.”