The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated digitization across the world and forced solution providers to scramble to adapt to changing needs. As people stay indoors more and prefer contactless ways to transact and shop, tech players in Pakistan have responded swiftly to enable the much-needed digital shift.
But not all tech companies have had a reactive approach.
Careem, for example, has proactively aimed to become an all-in-one app in the region and cater to the digital needs of its users.
A few days back, the company announced that its Super App would provide multiple services alongside its core business of ride-hailing. Beginning to expand its core business initially with food and delivery in 2019, Careem is now offering services across three areas: Mobility of People, Mobility of Things, and Mobility of Money.
ProPakistani got an opportunity to sit with Careem CEO, Mudassir Sheikha, and get his take on Careem’s vision and the current gaps in the local market which its Super App is aiming to plug.
Here is how the conversation went.
What is the timeline for launching these new services in Pakistan?
Mudassir Sheikha: The Super App is already live in all big cities of Pakistan including Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore. But in Karachi, we’re currently offering more services than in other cities, like Food and Shops.
Our first priority is to expand the food service in other major cities of Pakistan, mainly Lahore and Islamabad, over the next few months. Then, we’ll also be rolling out P2P (peer-to-peer) payments in Pakistan among other new services.
What is your vision for Shops? Is it something that, some years down the line, could compete with Facebook Shops, Shopify, or however their recent partnership evolves?
Mudassir Sheikha: I don’t know what Facebook or Shopify are or will do or offer. But I can tell you what we have in mind when it comes to facilitating people and businesses through Careem’s Shops feature.
In busy cities like Karachi or Lahore, going out to buy stuff remains a hassle. And the situation is only worsening with increasing commercialization and urbanization. You get stuck in traffic very often and then spend time to find a safe parking spot. Afterward, there’s the unavoidable price haggling once you find the right product.
Our basic idea is to relieve people of this tiring exercise which should become obsolete with the availability of robust digital platforms like Careem. Our simple idea is to put product catalogs from different shops on Careem Shops so people can easily browse and order them right inside their Careem app.
The product will be collected from the shop and delivered to the customer who can either pay in cash or via the credit or debit card after receiving it.
So, the basic goal is to enable customers to avail offline services in a more reliable and seamless manner.
So your focus is on small businesses at the start?
Mudassir Sheikha: Not really. The focus is on all businesses, irrespective of their type or size. The goal is to meet the customers’ needs, ease their lives, and save them as many needless trips to the market as we can.
But naturally, as a lot of retail in Pakistan is dominated by small- and medium-sized enterprises as opposed to the Middle East, Careem Shops will have them in majority too. But this doesn’t mean that we won’t be catering to the larger retailers.
If they have what the customer is looking for, they too will be made a part of Careem Shops for sure.
When is Careem Super App’s third-party platform going to be live? Plus, what’s your vision for it, and how easy will it be to integrate services – are you going to be launching APIs? Is it going to be a closely regulated system? What shape will it take over the coming years?
Mudassir Sheikha: That’s a great question. The high-level timeline is toward the end of the year. By then, we should have the platform available to organized 3rd party mini-apps on the Careem Super App.
The platform will take this much time because there’s a lot that remains to be done on the technical side. APIs need to be developed, reward loyalty points for users to be integrated, 3rd party apps to be readied to use Careem Pay as a payment option, and much more.
Our major focus is to onboard only the third-party apps that live up to the customer expectations and are built to the highest of standards for enhanced reliability and customer trust. When a service is coming from Careem’s trusted platform, it has to be trustworthy or the user will take no time to uninstall the Careem app.
So, we will have to provide some governance around the quality of services, for which we will have some hooks into their systems to ensure that we’re able to pull the customers to the app. By this year’s end, we expect to put all those pieces into place and try to make the app as useful for the customers as we can.
Soon, our customers should be able to come on to the Careem Super App, get the single sign-on, win loyalty points, make digital payments, send and receive stuff, and do a lot more from within a single app besides, of course, calling a cab.
For these services, your platform’s cut is going to be different than the industry standard, or is it going to be like a flat thing?
Mudassir Sheikha: The plan is in the early stages and we haven’t decided on the monetization modes of the platform yet. Yes, as we get closer to the year-end, these are exactly the kinds of questions that we will have to answer. But right now, it will be premature to talk about monetization.
We’re in the initial phase of the project where we begin to initiate things. The next step is to enable third parties to become a part of the platform. And in that order, the talk of monetization comes last.
For now, we’re spending our energies on identifying and understanding the pain points that customers have, and finding the right solutions providers to have those needs met.
You spent a lot of cash when Careem first launched in Pakistan to acquire growth. Do you think you would need to do the same for Careem Super App as well? Or is the market mature enough to not need that kind of investment now?
Mudassir Sheikha: The Pakistani market dynamics have changed remarkably since when we launched in 2014-15. That time, not many people had smartphones, and those who did used them just as basic phones: to make calls and send text messages. Those who did use data primarily spent it on Facebook or WhatsApp. Very little more was done with data bundles.
So, we had to make our offers so compelling that people would buy smartphones and subscribe to data bundles. And then, we also had to invest on the supply side of the equation – there were fewer cars so we had to give guarantees to push people into buying cars and earn money. That amplified the investment that was required to be made.
Today, the situation is much different. Smartphone and data penetration has risen up manifolds. Digital adoption has also seen a sharp surge and more people are using their phones to call the cabs, shop online, do grocery shopping, send and receive money, and do a lot more than ever before.
Since we’re not starting from scratch, that kind of investment is not needed anymore. The Careem brand is established today. We have a solid customer base, comprehensive infrastructure, and robust teams already in place to handle the transition. So, in my opinion, the Super App will be a more natural evolution.
With P2P payments in Pakistan, are you looking to compete with Easypaisa and JazzCash?
Mudassir Sheikha: I’m not deeply intimate with all the things that other players are offering in Pakistan, but we do feel that peer-to-peer payments remain a challenge in the country.
In the West, it’s been very easy for people to send money to each other and link their bank accounts for a long while now. But in our region, including Pakistan, people for the most part still haven’t adopted these services.
We feel this is something we need to establish as a foundational block. Until we allow people to send money to each other, how will we allow them to exchange services with each other? If you’re buying a service, you must have an easy means to make the payments and complete the transaction.
So, P2P payments are something we want to enable on the Super App so people can make transactions easier and faster.
Lastly, in practical terms, how has the Uber acquisition changed the things how you do things at Careem?
Mudassir Sheikha: For the most part, not much has changed in the way we run our core customer-end operations. But our deal with Uber has proved very empowering in more ways than one.
We shared our Super App vision with Uber which they believe in and are as much excited about as we are. In fact, they’re also funding it. They have given us a lot of space to bring this vision to life in the region. Uber sees the opportunity as well and believes that we have what it takes to turn this vision into a reality.
Plus, Uber has a lot of resources that are helping us a great deal. Some of the problems that we are tackling now to become the Super App in the region, Uber has already tackled them in some markets years before.
So, we are benefitting from loads of knowledge-sharing that’s starting to happen between Careem’s technical teams and Uber’s.