Being one of the top tech platforms in Pakistan, we conducted an interview with Feroz Jaleel who is the Country Head of the popular ride-hailing service Careem. The interview comprised questions regarding the journey of Feroz in Careem and what challenges the company is facing during the contemporary economic recession. So, here are the highlights of the interview:
1) You joined Careem as Head of Finance, and over the course of time, you served at various levels of the organization. How has your journey within Careem helped you in your current position?
Answer: My journey with Careem goes way back to when I first joined Careem 5 years ago as the head of Finance in Pakistan and later moved to Dubai to oversee the company’s Strategic Finance as the Vice President.
I have always been a ‘numbers’ person. One of my many job responsibilities requires me to lead operational efficiency and optimize the company’s P&L. When I saw an opportunity to lead the ride-hailing business in Pakistan, I just knew in my heart that I had to take it. I see Pakistan as an extremely fertile market for the ride-hailing business as there is clearly a huge demand for it.
I took this challenge because I understood the country’s potential and I was well-versed in the company’s vision and how to execute it in Pakistan, especially under the current economic conditions.
2) The hardest, most profitable thing to do in the business world is to get ordinary people to change their behaviour, and Careem has successfully managed to do that. What are the main highlights of the journey so far?
Answer: When we started back in 2016, it was a huge challenge for us to make people believe that transportation can be affordable, reliable, and safe at the same time. In a country like Pakistan, there are limited resources available for daily commutes. The idea of ride-hailing did not exist in the country, where the traditional taxi business was the only option. We had to spend a lot of time and resources both on-ground and in offices to bring a change in consumer habits, all while working tirelessly to ensure that the technology behind this was always functional and reliable.
We take pride in our cheeky and bold marketing campaigns that have always been the focus of everyone’s attention. The one thing we did was constantly stay relevant through our marketing tactics so over the years we have managed to form a very strong brand recall. Similarly, we have always remained very hyper-local so people feel a connection to us. Fast forward to 2022, the two phrases ‘taking a cab’ and ‘booking a Careem ride’ are both synonymous and interchangeable with each other, thanks to those marketing campaigns.
Some bold and quirky ideas that have struck gold for us were; valentine’s day campaigns, Rishta aunty campaign, Careem Shaadi (runaway bride) campaign and the recent Twitter banter with Zomato for the cricket World Cup.
3) From its inception, Careem has invested more than $100 million in Pakistan. How has it simplified and improved captains’ and customers’ experiences in Pakistan?
Answer: Our mission to simplify and improve the lives of people starts with our Customers and Captains. Over the years, we have registered more than 800,000 Captains on our platform giving them earning opportunities and an additional source of income. Moreover, the Captains are their own bosses, meaning they can work at their own time and convenience. We have Captains working full-time with us as well as students and office professionals doing this as their side hustle to earn an extra income.
A prominent thing to note is that Pakistan has been one of the most impactful markets across the countries we operate in. Since its inception, Pakistani consumers have taken more than 299 million rides (highest in all operational markets) and the Captains have earned more than $500 million through our platform. This is an embodiment of the fact that Pakistan is a priority market for Careem and we will continue to invest and grow it further.
When we talk about our Customers, we like to think that we ‘mobilize and empower’ people. What that does is that it takes away the daily menial tasks like bargaining for the taxi and the hassle of public transportation. The idea is to enable people to focus on things that are important to them and let us worry about finding the right Captain to take them on their journey.
When we talk about women’s empowerment and mobility, in particular, that’s what we are the proudest of. Only a few years ago, women had to rely on their family members for their personal commute. It would have been considered unsafe for a woman to travel alone with a stranger, especially at night. Fast forward to 2022, 4.3 million women have trusted us for their mobility across Pakistan and have taken more than 32 million rides.
When we talk about investment in the country, we talk about incentivising Captains to come to the platform and work with us. This includes our efforts to lower our commissions so Captains’ earnings could improve significantly, partnering with the local vendors and companies to offer Captains subsidized rates on fuel and offer other vehicle maintenance services. We have also partnered with multiple e-commerce leaders to offer our Captains grocery and other necessary household items at subsidized rates. In addition to these initiatives, we also keep regular checks on our Captains and conduct sessions where we address their issues and work toward solving their pain points. These efforts help us in staying closely in touch with them and improve their experience.
4) Careem is pushing to become more than a ride-hailing app and wants to reach “super app” status by introducing various other services. How have inflation and current socio-political events affected your goals?
Answer: Our ambition is to become the region’s largest Super App by adding a variety of services in a single unified platform. As a tech company in the region, we have three key pillars of our service: ‘Mobility of People’ (the core ride-hailing service), ‘Mobility of Things’ (the delivery service) and ‘Mobility of Money’ (CareemPay – a seamless digital wallet).
Unfortunately, due to the current economic climate, we had to shift our focus from expanding to strengthening our current service which is the ride-hailing vertical. Our aim is to make this vertical sustainable and ensure we provide a solid product that people can rely on. Once we achieve this, we will be able to grow and expand into other verticals and services through our own offering as well as partnerships.
5) What services is Careem currently offering, and which ones are in the pipeline?
Careem is the largest ride-hailing company in the country. We have designed a product that caters to all individuals belonging to all socio-economic strata. Our ride-hailing service includes a variety of options to choose from. Starting with BIKE, to a basic Go-Mini category which is a pocket-friendly ride option (without AC), to GO (with AC), and a GO-Premium category with premium cars. To better address the needs of the market and to tackle the inflation being faced in Pakistan, we have recently launched a Go-Saver (AC car type with less rates) and Go-Mini Saver (the most affordable car type without AC) where Customers can find convenient, hassle free rides at the most affordables rates in the market.
In addition to that, we have a city-to-city travel car type, a later booking feature that comes in handy for people who want to book a ride in advance. Recently, we have launched the Premium 5/Premium 10 categories where Customers can easily book a premium ride for 5 or 10 hours. This has proved to be a great addition in our service since it offers solutions to a lot of use cases like weddings, inter-city traveling, beach plans as well as corporate uses.
In addition to these services, we also have a vertical called Careem For Business (C4B) that is designed especially for corporate customers. We currently have major clients like BASF, Daraz, Engro, Nestle, KE, AirSial and many more that enjoy a plethora of exclusive services on our platform including; a dedicated fleet of top-rated Captains and a team of call centre agents, carpooling feature, mass commute service and bill-to-company feature.
Other than the traditional ride-hailing service, we have an ‘Order Anything/Delivery’ service, where customers can get anything delivered anywhere as well as ask the Captain to purchase any item up to PKR 2000. Additionally, we also have a feature that allows customers to send/request credit from other Careem accounts as well as a mobile top-up feature that is enabled through the Careem Pay wallet.
6) First, it was the pandemic, and later, the economic crunch resulted in increased fuel prices, creating further difficulties for the public and businesses alike. How has Careem managed to sustain these difficult times?
Answer: The Covid-19 pandemic and the overall macroeconomic conditions have impacted almost every aspect of life globally. During the pandemic, Careem had to temporarily suspend its services in some cities in Pakistan until the government and regulatory authorities saw fit to resume.
Our Captains suffered the most – we worked hard to keep the marketplace open for them by creating new earning opportunities and working with governments to support local relief efforts. As we observed the growing demand for home delivery driven by lockdowns, we made a rapid pivot to deliveries and streamlined operations across the organization.
In recent months the world has started to experience a global recession with an increase in inflation partly driven by an increase in global oil prices. The impact on Pakistan is magnified by currency devaluation, people living below the poverty line, high dependence on cash and lack of basic infrastructure. As a result, all businesses have taken efforts to adjust their growth trajectories accordingly.
For the rides business, we witnessed a higher recovery after COVID, and we continue to see growth. With the global increase in inflation and the ongoing political instability, this is a constant battle to balance, but we are confident to come out stronger.
We are exploring engaging with other businesses and startups to integrate their services on the Careem Super App through its open architecture. This way they can benefit from our customer engagement, as well as the enabling services we have built, whereas our customers benefit from having more services at the same platform.
Lastly, as we expand into new ventures and explore new opportunities, experience will always be our top priority and we will always make sure that our service sticks to its core purpose of simplifying and improving lives.
As we firmly believe at Careem, this is only the beginning and the opportunity ahead is huge. We have only just begun to deliver on our purpose of simplifying and improving lives; there are a lot more lives to simplify and ways to simplify across the region, especially in Pakistan.
7) Careem is famous for taking care of its captains; the Sitara-e-Careem Award is an especially interesting initiative; tell us something about that.
Answer: Captains are the heart of what we do at Careem. We have multiple ways of communicating with our Captains and understanding their needs and addressing their issues. Sitara-E-Careem is one of the major events that take place every year for our Captains where we invite the top-rated Captains and their families to recognise the efforts they put in at their jobs every day.
At the event, we connect with our Captains and their families and address their issues. We also call every single one of them on stage and present them with a token of appreciation for their contributions.
8) Pakistan is one of the biggest markets for Careem; what special plans do you have for the local market?
Answer: The future of the ride-hailing industry looks promising as demand for mobility continues to grow. Tech is advancing at a rapid pace to eventually embrace the next generation of connectivity in the coming years, and the only way left for business to go in the future is upwards.
Careem, in general, has big plans for the region. Pakistan, in particular, holds a very special place for Careem as it is where the first code of the application was written. The majority of the tech talent is based out of Pakistan. Recently, as Careem hit 1 billion rides across the region, Pakistan had the biggest contribution amongst other markets with more than 299 million rides, so you can imagine the level of impact we have created.
Our aim is to become the region’s largest Super App, expanding the list of services available on the platform. We have set up a solid foundation of ride-hailing in the country, and now we plan to expand into different ventures including food, delivery, and enabling other companies to offer services on our platform. Finally, we plan to accelerate these services with a robust payment mechanism that makes every transaction safer, simpler and convenient.
When we talk about the potential, we have examples like Dubai, where more than 20% of the users use the app for more than one service. These users do 2.8x times transactions on the platform and have a 30% better retention rate than other users.
The Super App is our big bet for the year and the pandemic accelerated the shift towards digital services and e-commerce. We are getting back to our entrepreneurial roots and aim to further put ruthless focus on the customer. This also goes hand-to-hand in identifying the trends that are here to stay and iterating along the way. We will remain flexible, if something works, we will be open to adopting it.
Check out? Careem celebrates 1 billion rides