Vikas Agarwal, CTO, Head of Engineering, GRAB

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GRABbing Frontiers

SNATCHING SOUTHEAST ASIA
Grab’s ride-hailing services are available across 336 cities in Southeast Asia, while Grab’s financial services are available in over 500 cities. They are the largest ride-hailing platform, leading fintech platform, and largest regional food delivery service provider in Southeast Asia. They have evolved from a ride-hailing app to an everyday super app that is focused on delivering value to consumers’ lives where it matters the most.

They are laser-focused on Southeast Asia, continuing to build their ecosystem to better serve the daily needs of the company’s customers, and create more economic opportunity for Southeast Asia’s millions of micro-entrepreneurs. “We still feel like we’re only just scratching the surface of the impact we could make in Southeast Asia, so we currently don’t have any plans to expand outside the region.” says Vikas Agarwal CTO and Head of Engineering at GRAB

SCALING UP TO A SUPERAPP
GRAB began focusing on food delivery in 2018 after becoming the leading ride-hailing player in Southeast Asia. Vikas explains, “In Southeast Asia, you have to get transport right before any other on-demand services can scale.” With the largest ride-hailing fleet in the region which also doubles up as their food delivery network, they were able to scale the GrabFood business quickly and efficiently across Southeast Asia. This strategy paid off as the company has seen extreme rapid growth in every market in 2018.

The platform grew their food business with the acquisition of Uber Eats in Singapore and Malaysia, and very quickly scaled to 6 countries last year. The platform welcomed Uber driver-partners, as well as some ex-Uber employees.

In 2018, GRAB expanded from 1 to 6 major Southeast Asian countries, namely Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. Operating in 187 cities they have the largest regional presence in Southeast Asia today. Across the region, GrabFood transaction volume grew over 10 times from January to December 2018.

Platform businesses need to attract users and achieve network efficiency. Food is the largest expenditure in Southeast Asian households. Vikas explains, “By offering the most essential daily services in one app, such as food delivery, transport and payment services, we have created an extremely attractive and highly relevant platform for Southeast Asian consumers.” This puts the ambitious platform in an undisputed position to further expand their services and become the first super app in Southeast Asia.

SETTING STANDARDS
“Grab welcomes the move by the Ministry of Transportation (MoT) in formulating standards around the ride-hailing industry”, Vikas comments on Indonesia’s initiative for regulation in ride-hailing services . “Grab is committed to comply with all prevailing regulations in regards of our services.”

However, when talking about the recent rule for four-wheeled transportation (MoT Regulation 118/2018), there are several upcoming regulations to complement the current regulation and the view will be better once these upcoming regulations are in place [such as regulation about tariff and allocated quota per region, as well as the possibility for individual partner to join the service and data sharing].

The decision-making process about ride-hailing regulation should be consultative and involve all related stakeholders, such as ride-hailing companies, existing cooperatives and other related legal entities. Vikas says, “We hope that the government can accommodate ride-hailing companies’ point-of-view, to ensure the new regulations does not restrict the growth of innovative services and business-models emerging from our industry or negatively impact the livelihoods of the millions of micro-entrepreneurs on our platform.”

STEPPING UP INNOVATION
The company has one of the largest, if not the largest tech teams in Southeast Asia, to match the scale of Southeast Asia’s biggest challenges. Between the end of 2017 to end of 2018 they have doubled their number of R&D headcount across the 7 R&D centers that they have in Bangalore, Beijing, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Seattle, and Singapore.

Vikas says, “We’ve set up our R&D center network as it is because we believe it is important to develop highly localised products in the countries where our consumers live, while tapping into the best specialised tech talent around the world to enhance the user experience and efficiency and effectiveness of our platform.” For example, as one of the global capitals for fintech, having an R&D center in Bangalore has allowed Grab to leverage the deep bench of tech talent there who have deep knowledge of new mobile-first technologies, and experience in developing new payments solutions.

They are investing heavily in areas such as AI, data science and machine learning – not only to improve their products and services but also with the view to help solve some of the bigger challenges that Southeast Asia faces – e.g congestion. Vikas comments, “Our tech team doesn’t build tech for tech’s sake, we build to solve problems. This is what has been core to our strategy over the past 6 years – a ‘hyperlocal’ approach to create innovative features and products tailor-fit to the pain points of each city.”

SHAPING SOUTHEAST ASIA’S FUTURE
Grab has invested heavily in data science, machine learning and AI capabilities. On one hand to improve the reliability and efficiency of their platform, e.g. Optimizing their supply and demand, offering drivers a way to earn more, faster; offering passengers the safest, most affordable and most convenient mode of transportation. Grab believes they can play a role in shaping what Southeast Asia’s cities will look like 10 – 20 years down the road. Vikas explains, “We want to use AI and data science to solve some of Southeast Asia’s biggest challenges, such as congestion and financial inclusion. These challenges are too big for one company to solve. Hence, collaborations with governments and both private and public sector companies have to work hand in hand to tackle these challenges.”

The evolving app is valued at a whopping $11 billion. Commenting on the platform’s success, Vikas says, “We are building Southeast Asia’s first everyday super app that is focused on delivering value to consumers’ lives where it matters the most and providing information that is relevant. SEA is complex and complicated. To make the biggest difference in the shortest time – we need to collaborate. This is a key differentiator.”

Another differentiator is GrabPlatform, which is an open platform that adds value for everyone on Grab’s platform, be it, drivers, merchants, users or partners. Grab has developed a combination of SEA assets: Wide SEA footprint and large user base across 336 cities in SEA; Largest distribution network of drivers, delivery partners, agents, merchants; Suite of robust tech and products tailored to SEA. Vikas expounds, “We are opening this up to like-minded partners through GrabPlatform who want to enter and scale across Southeast Asia”. By doing this, Grab can expand quicker into new verticals For consumers it means they can gain access to more relevant, valuable services. Their driver-partners get access to more income opportunities, and their partners can use Grab’s assets to scale their business. Grab’s goal is to enable 100 million micro-entrepreneurs on their platform by 2020.

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