Can you please give us some background information about yourself and the factors that prompted you to switch from a corporate consulting career to a role with a startup like a Careem?
I was looking for a change of environment and the opportunity to learn new things. I’d learned a lot in consulting, but wanted a role where I could have a more direct impact. I wanted to be in a place where I could be a part of building something and work for a mission driven organization. The mission of Careem, “to improve and simplify the lives of people” resonated with me and I was inspired to join.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman in an industry that is almost entirely dominated by men?
I think people are often still quite surprised to see a woman doing my job, especially a woman under 30. It’s a challenge to overcome perceptions that I think exist all over the world about how a woman will perform in what traditionally has been a man’s world. I’ve found Careem to be a supportive environment, however I do sometimes have to overcome the “surprise factor” when working with people outside Careem. In those situations I have needed to make clear my role in the business as a P&L owner and also highlight my knowledge of the UAE market and the ride hailing industry. Once those points are noted, they usually understand why I’m in the role and we carry on.
What do you enjoy most about working at Careem?
The fact that I can have an idea and work with my colleagues to make it live in the market in a matter of days. I also love the immense learning opportunities I’ve been given due to our rapidly growing business and organization. I also enjoy working with people who are driven to build an technology institution in the Middle East.
What is a typical day at work like? What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
I know it’s cliché, but there is no typical day. Each day I review our performance (KPIs) on both the demand side (trips) and supply side (available cars/captains). I also spend time making sure our big strategic projects are on track and getting the support they need from other teams within Careem be they technical teams or marketing. I also frequently speak to customers and am out in the market meeting with prospective partners or clients for some of our new products. My role is challenging because there is not a job description or template for how to succeed. I have to work with my team and supporting teams to figure out our best options for growth and then work hard to make them happen in a short period of time.
Careem was an entirely new concept in the Middle East when it was first established. What kind of marketing strategies did the company use to make its presence felt in the UAE market?
In the early days Careem relied heavily on grass roots activations and working with partners who could help us tap into new audiences. Back in the day, the concept of a ride hailing app was not well known in the UAE, so our challenge was not only to introduce our brand, but also to educate the market on all the benefits and reasons to download our app to book a car. We managed with very little budget, but with the help of our strategic partners and a highly passionate team, we were able to burst onto the scene and quickly get into the mindsets of early adopters who then went on to champion our brand and spread the word for us,
Is there a typical Careem customer? When it comes to marketing campaigns, who are your target customers?
This depends a lot by market. In the UAE, business travelers rely on us heavily for their airport runs and getting to their meetings. Families, especially moms also are big users due to our scheduled booking option “Ride later.” They use us for school runs and use Careem Kids for little ones when they need a child safety seat. We also have people who use us to commute every single day because they like the reliabily and quality of our service. There is no one size fits all campaign, we need to make ourselves relevant to each segment, helping them to understand what Careem can offer them and why they should invest time downloading our app.
Careem was in the news after getting funding to the tune USD 100 million from Saudi Telecom? What made Careem an attractive bet when it came to investment?
Careem is an attractive investment because the size of the transportation market in our region is massive. In our region, Careem is essentially crowd sourcing reliable public transport infrastructure because in markets outside Dubai it is not advanced or non existant. As the local player we are best positioned to capture this market because we are close to our customers and understand their needs. Saudi Telecom are also hugely supportive when it comes to helping us navigate our way around and succeed in Saudi.
Careem has already made considerable impact in Pakistan. Will the company be expanding to other countries in the subcontinent?
We are assessing a number of countries for expansion at this time and we will be announcing new cities sometime soon!
Which companies do you consider as your main competitors in this business? What differentiates Careem from its closest competitor, Uber?
Our main competitior is actually car ownership. The UAE has one of the highest rates in the world with 1 car for every 2 people. If more people used Careem or booked Dubai Taxis through our app imagine the reduction of traffic!
As far as differentiators, we are a product designed to meet the needs of this region. This is why we’ve had a call center and the option to schedule a ride in advance from the very beginning. Our introduction of cash was also based on our understanding of the region’s needs. In Dubai we also offer the ability to book a Dubai taxi on our app. This is a excellent example of the public sector and private sector working together to deliver value to consumers.
Careem recently teamed up with RTA to launch its Ameera personal chauffeur service in Dubai. How is this different from the Pink Taxi service? How many female captains do you have in this service and what are your plans for further expansion of this service?
Ameera is a limousine service and offers a premium level of service. Although we never share exact numbers, I can tell you that our partners at Dubai Taxi Corporation have been training more captains in the past weeks and the fleet is expected to double in the coming months.
The Dubai government is actively encouraging the large scale use of public transport. What kind of impact will this have on the demand for Careem’s services?
We see our services as complimenting public transport and not as a threat. Bringing Dubai taxis onto our app means we are part of that public transport ecosystem which is very exciting for us. Using our technology to bring an affordable transport option to the people of Dubai is a major milestone.
Autonomous and electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular. In a bid to reduce emissions, the UAE government too offering incentives for more widespread use of electric vehicles. Does Careem’s fleet have any electric vehicles and what are your plans in this regard?
We do not currently have any electric vehicles. We have worked with partners on autonomous vehicles and are still pursuing such partnerships- exciting times not just for us, but for the world!
Careem relies heavily on technology. How important are online and social media campaigns when it comes to your marketing strategy?
We do use digital marketing however we also rely on more traditional forms of media. For us, social media is a way to stay connected to our users rather than a way to acquire new users. Social media has become an important way to address customers issues very quickly so it’s actually become an extension of our Customer Care team.
Has Careem moved on as an organization from the “startup” mode? How has the company evolved over the years?
We have matured as an organization and added support teams in our head office that work with all markets. Because we’ve added so many people in a short time it does mean that we are quite different from a standard corporate environment. We’re working at a very fast pace and with a lot of “building” still to do. On the market level we are still very much in start up mode meaning we’re constantly testing new ideas and finding new ways to grow.
More and more driverless features are being added to vehicles. Do you think there ever will come a point where your vehicles drivers would be replaced by driverless cars?
I’d say we are a fair way off. There is much work to be done around how driverless cars might exist on the road at the same time as regular cars, the right infrastructure and consumer adoption are core areas that would need to be in place for this to happen.
Renting a car has become a lot easier now with the introduction of hourly and minute-by-minute billing from firms like UDrive and ekar. Will this have any effect on Careem’s business?
We haven’t seen any impact on our business, but then their offering is very different. People choose Careem because they want a hassle free solution meaning they don’t need to deal with parking, traffic or having to drive themselves or navigate the city.
If you had the chance to convey one message to our readers, what would that be?
Careem is more than just an app to book cars. Our company is proof there can be a different narrative about the Middle East region – a technology company can be built and succeed here. Talent does not have to go to the West to find good career opportunities. The Middle East can build institutions that last and address the core challenges here from providing stable jobs, to offering safe and reliable transport for everyday people and business travellers alike, to motivating the region that we can be a leader in the technology space.
Manju Mathew, an MBA in marketing, completed publisher training courses from the Oxford Brookes University and New York University. She started with marketing and PR roles before moving on to her current position as a full time writer. Currently living in Dubai, her life as an expat has sharpened her observation skills and flair for writing. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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