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Careem: Driving the region towards a better future

From being an on-demand-taxi service to now venturing into other activities like food-delivery, Careem has lately witnessed a lot of movement. Smart SMB discusses the brand’s future moves with Mr Bassel Al Nahlaoui, Managing Director of Careem Gulf.


1. Careem was amongst the first providers of on-demand-taxi service. How did the idea come about?

It all started in 2012, when two men, Magnus Olsson and Mudassir Sheikha, decided to leave their jobs working as management consultants at McKinsey to start something that mattered. They had a burning desire to create a service which connected with people and that’s when Careem was born. Today, Careem is brand that strives to inspire everyone it interacts with and a brand that exists to drive our region towards something better.

2. At a time when the region was still adapting to the technological advancements around, Careem was born. Did that pose any major challenge?

Speaking statistically, the average age of people in the UAE is 25 which means that people are fairly young, and willing to adapt and change fast. Considering the smartphone penetration if 40% upwards, our market is thus also more connected. On the other hand, our total annual consumption is about $1.8 trillion. But only two percent of that happens online, compared to 15-20 percent in more developed markets. So instead of a challenge, here we had an opportunity to convince others who didn’t purchase services online to do so for their own comfort, which they did.

3. What sets you apart from the rest in the market?

Our OS outlines a common structure and set of principles that define how we work and how all the moving parts of our organisation come together. From the way we talk to each other, to how we allocate resources, to our processes (or not), to how we hire, and what we prioritise. It’s the essence of what we want to establish as the Careem way. We strive to keep everything consistent and clear for better collaborations. This way, we make way for a healthier business focused on inputs and where the organization is getting the appropriate focus it needs to be running at its full potential.

4. You’re also launching a couple of new initiatives like Careem Now which is like tapping into another industry. Are you looking at cross industry expansions now?

Our boldest initiative is to become the Internet-commerce-enabling platform for the region. In the process of building Careem, we have built a lot of the infrastructure required to build and run a regional consumer internet business at scale. We are moving into ‘platformization’ for our infrastructure now and the plan is to open it up to the ecosystem to build on top of our infrastructure and build regional consumer Internet businesses much faster and cheaper.

5. Which one of your strategies do you give credit to for your exceptional success?

It has to be our focus on the human interest. Careem puts customer support at the top of their focus and invests in a multi-channel approach with an emphasis on serving local dialects. With an investment in contact centers in all the core operating markets - Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE, a customer has the option to speak to someone during their ride to quickly resolve any issues. Care agents work across all channels to support customer queries over the phone, on email and posted to Careem social platforms. An average of 80% of all inquiries are handled within 20 seconds or when needed escalated to the relevant teams within Careem to provide a solution. For priority customers, this increases to 90% of inquiries within just ten seconds. Customer Care goes beyond having a dedicated department for us, it’s part of our DNA and culture.

6. In the near future, what are a few things that we can expect to see from Careem?

Unfortunately, our region has always imported innovation, which in a way has been undermining our capabilities. It is high time we build it locally and hopefully export it to the rest of the world.

We are going into 3 main areas:

1- Food delivery: we have acquired a food delivery business last year (round menu) with the aim of learning more about the industry. We have recently launched our new service, Careem Now, in Dubai and in other cities in the near future.

2- Mass transportation: We have also recently launched Careem bus in Cairo. Our survey revealed that 40 percent of the Cairo population not being adequately served by public transport. One bus could mean 13 less cars on the road, 13 parking spots freed up, and 13th’s worth of CO2 emissions reduced. And that’s just one bus. When you will start looking at many you can estimate the impact.

3- PEER to PEER: The P2P feature gives customers the ability to easily and instantaneously transfer Careem prepaid credit through their wallet on the app to other Careem customers, including, for example, family members and friends that may need credit for a Careem ride. Transferred prepaid-credit can only be used to pay for Careem rides and cannot be redeemed for cash.

We are also about to start providing digital-payment solutions that can address the vast number of unbanked people in our region, enabling them to participate in e-commerce and have greater access to the services that can benefit them.