An Exclusive Chat with Junaid Iqbal, CEO of Careem Pakistan

Junaid Iqbal, CEO of Careem Pakistan has been invited to a professional exchange program to Austria.

ALPS (Austrian Leadership Program) invites 100 international leading executives with an economic or political background from across the world. Participants meet CEOs of Austrian global leading companies and exchange thoughts with representatives of both Austria’s public life and international organisations. Moreover, candidates are invited to a meet and greet with Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.

We recently sat down with Junaid and talked about a number of things regarding his incoming trip, Careem and what this means for Pakistan’s future.

Q. How does it feel to represent Pakistan at such an important platform?

A. It’s an absolute privilege and an honor. Brand Pakistan is a joint projection of how we represent ourselves as a country through its foreign policy, as businesses via their conduct and quality of offerings, as cultural ambassadors through arts and music, as culinary experts through projection of our splendid tastes at Pakistani restaurants around the world and as individuals and our interactions with decision and policy makers from around the world.

It’s important to share on every platform the depth of beauty, talent and opportunities like those in Pakistan, and I will do my best to project that.

Q. What are your future plans for Careem?

A. We see Careem not just as a ride hailing platform for mobility, but as an internet company which can help simplify lives and create millions of jobs in the mobility, delivery, payments, e-commerce and online marketplace (on-demand service) segments.

US and China for instance are dominated by a few key players in the wider internet space (Ali Baba, Google, Amazon). Our region sees a void and we aim to be a key player.

Q. How are you planning to establish Careem as a key market player in the market?

A. Alhamdolillah, we are already the largest e-commerce company in Pakistan. Our next step would be to bring mobility of people and things available on an even lower price point with newer vehicle ranges, followed by opening our platform for marketplaces.

Q. Do you have any response to the recent proposition of taxing and regulating Careem?

A. We are actually working very closely with all provinces for establishing enabling regulations for the new online marketplace, and are very hopeful for growth friendly and tech friendly rules.

10 years ago, barely 2 out of the 10 most valued companies in the world were tech companies. Today the situation has flipped, with 8 out of the 10 most valued companies in the world being tech companies.

I think our government will see tech as a growth engine and design regulations keeping that in mind.

Q. If you had to say, which is Careem’s best performing market so far?

A. All markets have their strengths. Pakistan clearly is the fastest growing. Dubai certainly has a quality niche.

Similarly Saudi Arabia has been a pioneer on so many fronts, in terms of trying new lines of services and building some ground-breaking internal processes. The ground realities of all cities where we operate in are different, which allows us to learn from everywhere and share the best practices.

Q. Who/what would you credit as the inspiration behind your business success?

Success has many meanings, but I would say our team’s burning passion to create 1 million jobs by Dec 31st 2020 is a bonding force which keeps all of us running and working as hard as we possibly can.

Beyond that you need luck, prayers and blessings. We cannot thank God enough. 

Q. How are people responding to the digital services in Pakistan and how can it be improved?

A. The adoption rate on the user front is phenomenal. People are starved for services. There are many challenges.

The overall general skill level of our workforce, whether it comes to customer service or handling, map usage or even the quality of address level map data, etc, everything needs improvement.

The onus is on us to keep building and improving those skill sets. It’s a learning process and we are getting there. 

Q. What is the most important factor new digital start-ups need to account for in your opinion?

A. Fulfillment. How quickly and efficiently can they fulfill the offered service while maintaining quality.

I see start-ups focusing more on the tech front only. The offline fulfillment component is equally if not more important.

Q. What challenges do you see for the start-ups in Pakistan to get to the next level?

A. The fact that we are still a predominantly cash economy hurts growth. The rise of fintech companies will surely help.

We have a lack of quality mentoring, early stage funding and people who experience in scaling business. The development of so many amazing incubators should really help.

Q. How supportive is the government and the regulatory regimes in this country for digital startups?

A. I won’t say that they are not supporting. I feel like there is an awareness gap. Once the government truly understands how quickly tech companies can be a considerable GDP growth driver, they will help with all guns blazing.

Again, the onus is on us to do a better job of explaining this to them.