Week in Review: The ‘cultural edge’ and winning in SEA

  • Grab gears up to face hotter competition from Uber and Blue Bird
  • Is being physically present in the markets you are in truly an edge?

Week in Review: The ‘cultural edge’ and winning in SEACOMPETITION in the ride-sharing space has just got hotter for Grab in Thailand and Indonesia, from both a foreign entrant as well as a pioneering local incumbent bent on regaining lost momentum.
I am talking about Uber entering the two-wheel transport space via its UberMOTO in Bangkok, and leading Indonesian cab company Blue Bird aiming to regain its market leadership in Jakarta that it lost to Grab, despite having been the pioneer in the ride-sharing space.
As it faces this enhanced competition, I wonder how big an advantage it is that Grab’s founders are from South-East Asia (SEA) and spend most of their time in the markets they are in.
Grab, naturally, is full of fight and welcomes the intensified competition in its motorbike and cab space. In Bangkok’s motorbike ride-share market it seems to be in a strong position, with its vice president of marketing Cheryl Goh telling Digital News Asia (DNA) of the “immense runaway growth” it is witnessing.
According to Goh, GrabBike, launched a year ago, has become its fastest-growing service across the region, growing 75% month-over-month since mid-2015 in terms of bookings.
The key to winning across any of its South-East Asian markets has been Grab’s ability to really understand the nuances of the markets it is in, and to solve both the problems of the service providers – be they bikers, cabbies or even private drivers (though this is a grey area in some markets – and of course, the paying public.
Goh highlights this point to us, as have Grab cofounders Anthony Tan and more recently, the less well-known Tan Hooi Ling who said, “Grab has always been about local solutions, local champions, and understanding local needs.”
If you just take a step back and reflect on this statement, clearly it is not rocket science to replicate. Any competitor – even Uber – will be hiring locals from each market it is in.
Obviously, there are a lot more ingredients to this local market formula than what Grab is sharing. I wonder how much of this is about the passion of the entrepreneurs themselves, and the fact that they are from South-East Asia – not sitting remotely in San Francisco and trying to lead and manage from there.
I highly doubt you will see Uber’s founder in any of the South-East Asian markets it is in, whereas Anthony Tan is regularly in the six markets that Grab is in. How much of his fire, drive and determination rubs off on his teams?
The Blue Bird Cab story is more interesting as it is born and bred in Indonesia, and even launched its app in 2011! Surely it understands its market better than Grab can.
So what made it lose its market lead? Complacency? Not being customer-centric enough? Not caring about its drivers enough?
It will be interesting to see whether Blue Bird can make a comeback in its home market, having presumably learnt some valuable and painful lessons.
Have a restful weekend and a productive week after.
Editor’s Picks:
Slugfest: How Malaysia’s Big 3 performed in 2015
UberMOTO? Bring it on, says Grab
Indonesian taxi-hailing app pioneer Blue Bird aims to catch up
VMware Malaysia head leaves to set up AWS in KL
Salespeople: Cold-calling is passé, here’s what you need
Go digital or lose the Asian consumer: Accenture
MWC 2016: New devices, 5G rhetoric ratchets up
Previous Instalments:
Week in Review: The words they use
Week in Review: Lessons in spectrum refarming and e-commerce

Week in Review: Formidable competitor to Lazada in Indonesia
Week in Review: Malaysia’s spectrum refarming
Week in Review: Grab-bing a piece of the bigger pie
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