We are not in an underdog position

We are not in an underdog position
Grab Singapore head Lim Kell Jay says one goal is to get you a ride within three minutes.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Cabbies plying the roads have been given a fresh start this year.

Trans-Cab drivers who are one-man operators have had their daily rents slashed since the start of the year.

Also introduced from last Sunday were changes to the taxi availability framework.

The 250km minimum daily mileage has been scrapped, and taxi operators no longer have to ensure that cabs ply the roads during the shoulder peak period of between 6am and 7am and between 11pm and midnight.

Both changes are seen as levelling the playing field between taxi and ride-hailing services.

Head of Grab Singapore Lim Kell Jay, 32, thinks it spells good news for the industry.

"This updated framework is a testament to the successes we have seen with our GrabTaxi business," he told The New Paper.

DOMINANT

These changes come three years and three months after Grab first broke into Singapore's market. Today, Grab is one of the dominant ride-hailing platforms.

Valued at US$1.6 billion (S$2.3 billion) by Fortune magazine, it competes with Uber, a US$69-billion behemoth.

But don't call Grab an underdog. Mr Lim said: "It is all relative. Our competition may have raised money globally, but how much are they going to allocate to this part of the world?

"I think we've raised quite a bit for this part of the world. We're not by any means in an underdog position."

Every dollar will be put to good use, he emphasised.

Mr Lim said: "With the capabilities that we have built, especially around data, we are able to make much smarter decisions."

The company operates in six countries, including Singapore. Here, it offers four ride options: cab-hailing service GrabTaxi, private car-hailing service GrabCar, social carpooling service GrabHitch, and most recently, commercial carpooling service GrabShare.

In April 2015, it launched a US$100 million research and development centre - a 4,500 sq ft centre at Cecil Street that can accommodate more than 200 engineers and data analysts. It has nearly 150 job openings, including for data scientists and engineers.

This year, Grab will focus on the area of payment - think GrabPay, credits and cashless payment methods (such as AliPay).

When asked if there will be more options rolled out on the platform going forward, Mr Lim was coy.

He said: "If you look at how we have evolved, almost every year we have (added) a new service...

"And we'll continue to do that because we have an ambitious goal, to make point-to-point transport extremely reliable.

"Not only that, we want to get you a ride within three minutes."

So how far away is Grab from that three-minute target?

Said Mr Lim: "If you talk about getting a car to you in three minutes, almost every car on the road needs to be part of the Grab platform...

"We won't stop until we get every single vehicle in Singapore on the Grab platform."

He hopped into waiting taxis to persuade drivers

Disrupt, or be disrupted - that is the catch phrase printed on the back of Grab employees' name cards.

It is also the ride-hailing platform's mantra in this competitive industry.

More than three years on, and rebranded from its GrabTaxi days in 2013, Grab continues to grow in an industry that saw early competitors, such as MoobiTaxi and EasyTaxi, pack up and leave.

And this is despite Singapore being an unintentional part of its plans in South-east Asia.

Singapore had a fairly organised cab operator system while Grab worked best in a fragmented space, said head of Grab Singapore, Mr Lim Kell Jay.

But with the encouragement of its investors, Grab went ahead anyway.

Every day, for the first six months, Mr Lim - then GrabTaxi's general manager - woke up feeling uncertain.

Before getting people to become Grab users, he had to first convince taxi drivers to come on board.

Sometimes, he even hopped into taxis that were lining up at Changi Airport to talk to the drivers.

THICK SKIN

"One common excuse the drivers gave was them having seen similar apps before that failed... But first of all, you need to have thick skin, right?" he said.

Then he realised that while ComfortDelGro drivers were fully utilised during crunch time, the other drivers were relatively free in comparison.

He added: "To increase our success, other than working really hard to sign up drivers and to market to passengers, we also started out with a small team to manually allocate passengers to drivers... We kept doing that until we had enough supply (of cars)."

By April 2014, some six months later, more than 20,000 taxi drivers were on the Grab platform.

Today, it has over 50,000 drivers on board and four ride options that maximise the car supply on the road.

Hinting at more ride options to come, Mr Lim said the options is one way to outserve customers and set Grab apart from its rival Uber.

It is also what Mr Lim thinks will keep Grab sustainable.

To stay on top of the game, Grab allocates half its resources to new technologies.

The other half goes into addressing current issues, such as price, allocation and quality of service.

Mr Lim said: "We have a 'one foot (in the door) today, one foot in tomorrow' approach."

fjieying@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 7, 2017.
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