RIP Tapzo: Will the Ouroboros rest in pieces?


The Ouroboros is dead.

The Ouroboros is an ancient mythical symbol of a snake eating its own tail. It’s often taken to symbolize the eternal cycle, especially in the sense of something constantly destroying and re-creating itself. It also represents the infinite cycle of nature’s endless creation and destruction; life and death.

Epitomizing the Ouroborous

As we had written earlier, Tapzo, self-billed as “India’s first all in one app”, is the one Indian startup that epitomizes the Ouroboros—displaying a constant, incessant urge to reinvent itself, pivoting from one avatar to another incondite. The head eating the tail.

However, unlike the mythical creature that could reinvent itself infinitely, Tapzo’s days of reinventing itself are seemingly over. In an email to its users, the Sequoia-backed company announced that it would cease operations by the end of October this year.

“Tapzo app will be shutting down from 31 October 2018. Starting 1 September 2018, we will be switching off all the transactional categories,” read the email. It also detailed how users can close their accounts and redeem any unused balance left in their wallets and accounts.

The email goes on to say, “Since we launched the app 3 years ago, we’ve been fortunate to serve over 5 million customers. Your feedback and reviews (200,000+ on PlayStore alone) and the 4.5 ratings kept us motivated and always learning. It’s been a pleasure listening to you all and continuously shipping an app update every few weeks consistently. But all good things must come to an end.”

All good things must come to an end? I suppose this is true in a broad philosophical sense. But if you are an eight-year-old startup that has raised more than $30 million in VC funding and believe that you have a “good thing” going, you don’t come to an end by way of a summary email to your customers. You don’t shut down your service overnight and move on.

So, did Tapzo really have a good thing?

A flawed value proposition

Tapzo’s all-in-one app premise was that mobile users in India need not download multiple apps for cabs, food-ordering and other services. Instead, Tapzo provided access to all these services within a single app. The value proposition was that users could save space on their phones. In addition, they would be able to compare services to choose the cheapest/best offering at any point in time.

Ankur Singla, the company’s CEO, and founder had claimed in November 2016 that “close to 140,000 users use our app daily and we do close to 55,000 transactions a day with an annual run rate (ARR) of Rs 210 crore (~$30 million) in GMV/bookings.

And we plan on growing 2X in the next six months.” The company also claimed to have more than five million app downloads—a metric that was touted in the farewell email as well. Singla had also stated that Tapzo was going to break-even in March 2018.

And yet, here we are today with the platform shutting down. For a company that claims millions of downloads, the announcement of the service shutdown met with sepulchral silence on social media—there was hardly any reaction from its ostensible user base; no one expressed love or regret that Tapzo was shutting down.

Vanity Metrics

No one seemed to care. A telling sign that vanity metrics such as downloads and user reviews are not necessarily indicative of a loyal customer base, much less of having achieved product-market-fit of any kind.

As we have pointed out before, the basic flaw in Tapzo’s value proposition was that in trying to become all things to all people, it ran the risk of not representing anything to anyone.

An all-in-one kind of super app might seem like a seductive value proposition, most of all to VCs with Chinese Renminbi signs in their eyes. But for such an offering to gain traction it needs to have two aspects nailed down.

First, there needs to be a strong core use case that can serve as an anchor for other services, and secondly, the portfolio of offerings should have some adjacencies so that one service seamlessly blends into the other as an in-line user experience.