Wild Digital 2019: Desire to solve basic problems the wind beneath Grab’s wings
By Tan Jee Yee July 4, 2019
- Considers itself a mobility company at its core
- Going forward, plans to grow with more partners
GRAB has certainly come a long way. In the course of seven years, the company has grown from a minor taxi-booking app into Southeast Asia’s most valuable tech startup. Valued at US$10 billion at its most recent valuation, the business is forecast to be worth more than US$20 billion by 2025, according to Google and Temasek Holdings’ report from December 2017.
How did it come so far? The easy answer would be because it’s exceedingly good at solving the problems of the region. As Chris Yeo (pic, above), head of Grab’s seed accelerator programme Grab Ventures put it during his presentation at Wild Digital 2019, Grab is, fundamentally, a social enterprise.
Seven years ago, Grab (then known as MyTeksi) was founded to address a safety issue – specifically the safety concerns of people relying on taxis to return home at night. As Yeo tells it, co-founder Tan Hooi Ling – then a consultant – had to constantly provide updates via SMS and phone calls while taking taxis home at night.
“Grab was started to solve a very basic safety problem. And safety is at the core of everything that we do, even today,” Yeo says.
Today, Grab operates in 336 cities across eight countries. Since its inception, it has had 140 million downloads and facilitated three billion rides, with 4.1 million drivers and five million agents under them.
They’re only gaining traction. Yeo says that it took the company five years to hit one billion rides, but only nine months to reach its second billionth booking. The third billion was achieved in five months.
Individual success stories
Great as these numbers sound, Yeo says that it’s the individual stories of its micro-entrepreneurs that matter most. He tells the story of Rudianto, a former construction worker who – since becoming a micro-entrepreneur with Grab – has gone from being unbanked to a banked individual and is now able to afford a second motorcycle to improve his income.
There’s also the story of Roszana Ali, a 26-year old woman with cerebral palsy who was rejected for jobs for several years until GrabFood gave her the opportunity to be financially independent. She is among the 20 or so GrabFood riders in a wheelchair out of the 13,000 on the platform.
It was something the Grab team did not foresee when they first developed the app. As reported by Channel News Asia, Grab has since added wheelchairs as a vehicle option and limits their deliveries to within three to four kilometres, to reduce the amount of rejections wheelchair riders have to make as they can’t cope with greater distances.
“The wonderful part about this story is that while we didn’t develop GrabFood to serve these drivers, Roszana made it work for her,” says Yeo. “Now it’s our responsibility to make it work for them.”
Mobility at their core
“We are, at our core, a mobility company,” Yeo said, when talking about how the company views its service offerings. “The first part is physical mobility, and the second part is financial mobility.
“Physical mobility is when we move people around.” This is the part that includes GrabCar and GrabBike, as well as the parts where Grab moves things to people, particularly through GrabFood and GrabExpress (their courier service).
Financial mobility is, as Yeo explains, how the company moves money around. This is through mobile payments via GrabPay, and money-lending via GrabFinance. With GrabShield, the company also provides insurance.
“We do all this, because it’s really about driving economic mobility, which is the third type of mobility that we think about constantly,” Yeo says. By delivering everyday services to Southeast Asians, Grab is able to improve the quality of not only their users’ lives, but also those of the micro-entrepreneurs who rely on their platform for an income.
This is, essentially, how they have transformed from a ride-hailing app to a superapp. “The basic thing is, we just want to be the most relevant service to customers, and offer services that are most relevant to them,” Yeo says.
The evolution can be seen through the way their core app looks right now. Earlier versions of the Grab app greeted users with a map when launched, given how transport-centric the platform initially was. Users launching their apps today will first see mobile payments at the top, with services taking up the middle and personalised content at the bottom.
Based on this platform concept, Yeo says that Grab has launched several new services that include a trip planner, hotel bookings and ticket purchasing. “The important part is that, out of the six new services, four are powered by our strategic partners,” he adds.
“This is the way Grab wants to grow and become more relevant to customers – by finding the most relevant partners to work with the Grab platform.”
The way forward, Yeo notes, is hand-in-hand with new partners that complement the service. Grab Ventures was set up for this reason. “It’s for us to find more partnerships. We need help to grow an entire ecosystem. We need to disrupt before we are disrupted ourselves.”
Grab Ventures is now launching the second batch of companies they’ve helped fund – ten startups that all fall under the theme of empowering micro-entrepreneurs. “These are startups that are meant to empower those that form the backbone of the Southeast Asian economy,” says Yeo.
Concluding his presentation, Yeo says that looking ahead, Grab hopes to retain its status as a company that is focused on “outserving” their customers. “We want to look for more partners. We want you to talk to us so that we can outserve our customers in Southeast Asia together.”
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