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Grab is an evolving lifestyle influencer to a growing middle class in ASEAN

Interview - November 8, 2018

Expecting to be part the fourth largest economic region by 2050, Lim Kell Jay, Country Head of Grab in Singapore, talks about the expansion and innovative services that are changing the way people live in ASEAN. Grab includes services from ride sharing and food delivery to e-payments.



With Grab being in Southeast Asia, how do you see the evolution of ASEAN regarding technology, embracing disruption and digitalization?

Southeast Asia is home to 650 million people and growing, and a big proportion of them are young people. They're also coming into affluence and are very tech savvy, and that represents a tremendous opportunity for tech companies like Grab.

What we have done in the transport space is really just the tip of the iceberg, and we're constantly looking at other ways to serve the needs of those people. On top of that, we also empower >8 million micro-entrepreneurs who are using our platform to make an income and elevate their standards of living by helping them embrace digitalization.


The company originally started outside of Singapore and then decided to move here. How does a company like Grab benefit from the ecosystem in Singapore?

As a tech company headquartered here, we have been benefitting tremendously. The government provides the framework and tech companies provide the innovation; we believe that we are the fuel that will help power the government through this transformation.

For example, the government recently announced a unique move to unify all the different payment schemes in Singapore. You’d be surprised to find that cash is still quite prevalent here and the cashless payment space is still very fragmented. This is why the government stepped in to make sure that it's coherent to both the consumers and also the merchants. Now consumers are be able to pay for goods and services with a common QR code and merchants don’t have to deal with the 30 different payment schemes. Grab is part of that program that will hopefully help to increase the adoption of mobile payments and e-wallets here.


Grab started in Malaysia under the name MyTeksi, became GrabTaxi, moved into the Fintech space and now to a more general service. How would you define Grab today?

Grab started as a taxi-booking app in Malaysia in 2012. Anthony and Hooi Ling, our founders, started the company because back then, taking a taxi in Malaysia was not the safest thing to do. They had one simple objective: to provide safe rides for people. Later we expanded out of taxis and launched GrabCar in 2015. It was really successful for Singapore in particular, because it is a supply-constrained market, and that helped to meet the demand for transport without adding more cars on the road.

At the end of 2017, we made a concerted push towards going cashless, allowing GrabPay users to pay for things outside of the platform. We’re glad to share that today, GrabPay is accepted in over 6,000 locations in Singapore.

And this year, we acquired Uber and Uber Eats, opening up the options for food delivery and allowing us to be an everyday app with transport, food delivery, payments and more – all within a single app.


You recently completed 2 billion rides. In terms of size and market penetration, are you still a startup?

Today, we're generating over a billion dollars in annual revenues and operating in 235 cities in eight countries, but we want to maintain the nimbleness of a startup that has been very helpful for us. We have a business arm called Grab Ventures, which builds and experiments with new businesses in-house and helps growth-stage startups scale across Southeast Asia, essentially acting like a startup within a startup. This is how we try to balance between being a big company and retaining some of that startup spirit, to achieve the best of both worlds.


Can you elaborate on the Super App concept?

The idea of the super app is basically to serve the everyday needs of our customers. We recognize that we can’t do everything by ourselves and in order to make the biggest difference in the shortest time, we need to collaborate. This is why we launched GrabPlatform, a suite of APIs that enables partners to access components of Grab’s technology including transport and logistics. For users, they get to enjoy more relevant, valuable services. For drivers, we give them more earning opportunities. For partners, we help them scale their growth with our assets.


You have partnerships with Yahoo, CapitaLand, Samsung and many others. How important is that synergy with larger companies in this ecosystem?

These partnerships are unique and we see them benefiting our users in different ways. For Yahoo, it's about user engagement and feeding them with useful content. For CapitaLand, it's about bridging online and offline. For Samsung, it's about accelerating smartphone adoption in developing markets.

In fact, we took a partnership approach ever since we started Grab, because we recognize that we can’t do everything by ourselves, and believe that strategic partnerships is how we can grow together as an ecosystem to benefit the most people - be it drivers, merchants, users and partners.


How do you incorporate your in-house innovation center with AI and big data to create a more seamless experience for your consumers and partners?

Today, we’re one of the biggest tech employers in Singapore, expecting to double our workforce from 2017 to hit around 2000 positions in technology across our R&D center network. We have also built a sizable in-house data science team, whose objective is to continually improve the experience for all our users. By learning passenger travel patterns, for instance, we can pre-fill pick up and drop off locations in the app once they open it up. It's very subtle, but it saves people time during the process.

Another example would be for our drivers. We try to predict the demand patterns in Singapore, using both historical and real-time data so they can find jobs on a visual heat map that is predictive and lets them know where the demand is going to come from in the next 15 minutes.


Are you working towards key trends like renewable vehicles in Singapore?

Yes, and this is why we announced a partnership with Singapore Power a few months ago to drive the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) here. Essentially, Singapore Power is going to provide the charging infrastructure and we're going to bring the EVs onto our platform.

Outside of the US, Singapore is probably the next biggest tested for autonomous vehicles (AV). We have done tests and pilots with AV companies and are studying the results. Our focus will continue to be to evolve in the Southeast Asian market through key trends and innovating technology that can be integrated into everyday use.