With 2016 seeing Careem become the Arab World's second unicorn of the year as well as making its debut in Qatar, 2017 could be the year the disruptive startup brings driverless cars to our roads. Ibrahim Manna, General Manager of Emerging Markets at Careem talks to us about growth, trust and the future of transport.
Since launching in Qatar how fast has business grown and are you winning the race against the competition?
Qatar has always been a high potential market for Careem and the country’s incredibly well-rounded and equipped ecosystem never ceases to amaze us. Being a home-grown startup, we are not in a race to win the market, but more committed to playing our part in enhancing the transportation infrastructure of the cities, empowering our Captains and simplifying people’s lives. We also hope to inspire other local startups to step up their game and join the global entrepreneurial wave that is positively contributing to societies.
We have launched in Al Wakrah as part of our wider growth plans to continously empower more and more commuters in the market while simplifying their lives, not to mention the national preparations to host the 2022 World Cup games. This also extends our contribution towards supporting the efforts of the Ministry of Transport to streamline transportation and provide greater commuting access to more cities in Qatar. So yes, if you ask us if we are winning—we definitely are. We are winning the trust of our Captains and customers looking for a simpler way to go from point A to point B.
You have faced some operational and regulatory challenges, as well as a growth in competition—how has this affected business and do you foresee any more bumps in the road?
As a home-grown brand, we believe in working hand in hand with local authorities, including governments and regulators, to achieve our overarching mission, which is to solve local transportation problems in the region and in doing so, simplify people’s lives. That combined with the rising demand for Careem services in the Qatari market has fuelled our ambition to leverage our local expertise and continue offering communities across the region a safer and seamless mode of transportation. We embrace competition as a way to constantly improve our services and strengthen our focus on being our customers’ preferred choice. We also stand apart from competition for mainly two reasons: we are homegrown—by the region, for the region, and our mission will always revolve around making a difference in the lives of people in the markets in which we operate.
As a company you’re known for treating your Captains well and you have bold ambitions for employment in the region. How many Captains do you currently have in Qatar and how do you see that expanding? Are your benefits attracting many drivers from the competition?
Captains are the backbone of our operations. We believe that the essence of good service that we all seek is a happy Captain behind the wheel. Their ability to work efficiently and make more riyals per hour without letting it take a toll on their health and wellbeing makes them happy ambassadors of Careem. And sustaining this level of efficiency leads to our audience becoming more accustomed and more loyal to the high standards they know we hold for them. We have over a thousand Captains in Qatar and aim to step up our on-boarding drive even more, so that we cover more areas and further expand our customer base. We have many applicants right now, and each potential Captain goes through a rigorous screening process before coming on board.
How far off are you from launching your first driverless taxi in the Qatari market?
We are currently working on developing driverless electric pods in partnership with Dubai’s Roads and Transportation Authority (RTA) and Next Future Transportation following their unveiling last year at GITEX 2016. Once commercially launched, these electrically-powered vehicles will revolutionize the way people commute on public transport, allowing passengers to conveniently be picked up on demand and dropped off at different locations, as the pods link and detach accordingly. We expect them to be in operation in 2017 in
Dubai, which will serve as a test market before we launch the service in other parts of the region, including Qatar. We foresee this as a highly successful offering in Qatar given that it has proven to be one of the most technologically advanced countries in the region and has a solid ground to scale new technologies and bring them to the people.
What other plans do you have for expansion?
Backed by a recent $350 million investment in our company—which has made us one of two tech uncorns in the Middle East and North Africa—we are looking ahead to expand into more cities and collaborate with more local entities. We have already initiated some partnerships with telecom providers and mall properties, as well as entered into strategic alliances with key organizations who believe in the benefit of streamlining their commute across the region. In addition, as we hire more staff and bring more Captains on board, we look forward to playing an even greater active role in the creation of more jobs across markets.