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How Grab Became The Super App Of Southeast Asia

By October 4, 2021No Comments

In the last few years, Southeast Asia has seen a rapid increase in ride-sharing apps. One of these companies is Grab (@grabsg). This company saw an opportunity and took it by storm, quickly becoming one of the most successful startups in history.

Grab even beat Uber as the top ride-sharing app in Southeast Asia and has gone beyond being a “Decacorn” — a company worth more than 10-billion dollars. This article will explore how they did it and what you can learn from their success story.

Small Beginnings

As you may know, Grab started as a taxi-booking app called MyTeksi, founded in Malaysia. It was founded in 2012 by Anthony Tan (@AnthonyPY_Tan), a computer science student, and his friend, Tan Hooi Ling (@hooilingtan).

The founders decided to expand into Singapore, Jakarta & Bangkok with MyTeksi, and it later became GrabTaxi. Then, in 2014, they decided to expand to the Philippines and Vietnam with their service known as GrabBike. This became a massive success since most of these countries had no “official” taxi services; citizens relied on taxis or private cars for transportation.

Rebranded As Grab

Later in 2016, the startup was rebranded as Grab. Their ride-sharing service was available in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. They had also expanded into the food delivery market with GrabFood — a similar model to UberEats that allowed people to order meals from restaurants partnered with them.

To complete their services, Grab also had a service where you could request someone to come pick you up and drive your car home. It was known as GrabCar. Grab also had GrabPay, which supported more than 30 different currencies, making it easy for foreigners to pay bills.

The Success Of The App

Grab has gone far since then. Today it is the top ride-sharing app in Southeast Asia, with millions of active users every day and various services such as food delivery and motorcycle taxis available under one roof!

In November 2016, they became Southeast Asia’s first unicorn startup. By 2017, Grab became the top ride-sharing app in Southeast Asia with over 100 million downloads worldwide and a valuation of over $11 billion, making them the most valuable startup out of Singapore.

How They Did It

So, how did they do it? How did Grab beat Uber and became the top ride-sharing app in Southeast Asia and other services such as food delivery and motorcycle taxi rides?

Many variables made Grab a very successful and valuable startup, so let’s break down each differentiator that ultimately made Grab such an incredible success.

Going Hyper Local

Grab was so successful at beating out Uber because of its strong focus on the local market. In addition, they adapted to the different cultures and languages in each country they expanded into, which helped them gain a lot more users than Uber ever did.

When you adopt a hyperlocal strategy, you can’t just transplant the same strategy you implemented in one region or country, to another. Cultural nuances, and region specific knowledge are all integral in maximizing the effectiveness of your growth strategy.

Many companies copy & paste strategies. Grab does things that don’t scale, tailors regional rollouts and wins every single new initiative they take on (because of hyper-localization).

“Super-App” With All Features

Grab is an all-in-one app.

They have Grab, GrabFood, GrabFresh, GrabCar, GrabPay, and many more upcoming projects. They are the “go-to” app where users only have to use them for all the things they need.

Being able to deploy new features, quickly to fill needs in the market, allowed them to be a one-stop-shop which definitely helped them with their product led growth and ultimate total addressable market (TAM).

It’s Accessible & Convenient

Grab is very accessible to its users — you can download the app on your phone and start using it straight away. This makes it easy for customers to access their services anytime they want with just a couple of clicks.

When competing against Uber (who made assumptions in every market they entered, that everyone used smart phones, and everyone paid with credit cards), Grab realized that not all drivers used smartphones and very few customers used credit cards (where they launched).

Focusing on the actual habits of users in certain parts of the world (like accepting cash from day 1), helped Grab build a product tailored to it’s users.

Remember, Uber didn’t accept cash until 2015.

They Have Rewards

Grab has various rewards that they give out to their users, and you can earn points just by using Grab as your ride-sharing service in Southeast Asia. These points include discounts on future rides with them.

Although this wasn’t the end-all strategy for Grab — it didn’t hurt.

And let’s be honest… people love rewards.

A Good Company Image

Grab is known to be an excellent company. Their services are cheap and affordable, making people choose Grab over other ride-sharing apps such as Uber.

They also treat their drivers fairly regarding compensation & money they can earn every month.

A little driver (or employee) appreciation goes a long way.


Trust is paramount when building a relationship with your customers and lack of trust and transparency has always been a point of contention with various ride sharing apps like Uber.

Stuck in traffic? Pay more.

Surge? Pay more.

Driver takes a long route? Pay more.

Not with Grab.

Price transparency, and pre-set pricing makes sure that there are never any surprises for the customer and the pricing is set before the ride even starts which increases trust in the brand, reduces any uncertainty felt by the customer and incentivizes the driver to get the passenger from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

Focusing On The People

When you look at the strategies of successful startup companies, one thing is clear: focus on your people.

This means that they have always focused on their drivers and passengers.

They have their support teams that are available 24/7 the whole year to answer any issues or questions that may arise and provide free training sessions for new drivers.

Grab also actively incorporates employee feedback so that they know that they’re best serving their customers and employees.

Grab’s Head of People, Ong Chin Yin, explained, saying: “Our Grabbers are at the forefront of solving some of the most significant challenges in this incredibly diverse region, from traffic congestion to income equality and financial inclusion”.

Grab identifies problems before they spiral out of control by listening to employees and implement solutions quickly, realizing full well that the people who work in your business are very likely to have meaningful & useful insights.

The Bottom Line

So, what did we learn from the success of Grab? First, a business must focus on its people and not just its profit. Second, you need happy customers and happy employees. Third, the more loyal your users become, the better off your company will be.

It’s also important to focus on the local market and not expect everyone globally to have similar habits. Hyper-focusing on the habits of the users in each country you expand into makes your chances of success higher than trying something new in many different countries at once.

The startup Grab has gone far since its humble beginnings. It is now Southeast Asia’s number one ride-sharing app and has many other services under one roof to make it a super-app that can provide everything for anyone and everyone…

But remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Grab.

Start slow, do things that don’t scale, and eventually you’ll get there.


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