Malaysian technology company Grab entered Cambodia’s ride-hailing market last week, launching in a market already crowded with similar services including US-headquartered giant Uber and several locally owned and operated companies. The Post’s Robin Spiess sat down with Grab co-founder Hooi Ling Tan to discuss the company’s vision for the future of hailing rides in Cambodia.
Grab has become the leading ride-hailing service in Southeast Asia. Can you explain Grab’s mission?
At Grab, we are now in eight countries including Cambodia, with services offered in 156 cities. To date, we have been able to provide earnings to more than 2.1 million drivers.
We want to ensure we are a safe, accessible and secure platform, so last year we proactively went out to get an ISO [International Organization for Standardization] certificate to show we care about transparency. Our vision has always been to drive Southeast Asia forward.
When did you begin seriously considering expanding Grab to Cambodia?
Six months ago I met with Sun Chanthol, Cambodian minister of public works and transport, for the first time to talk about how Cambodia could move toward adoption of new technologies. Now we are extremely happy to have entered into a long collaborative partnership.
For now, we are launching GrabCar, GrabPay and GrabRewards in Cambodia. GrabCar allows you to call a car to you anywhere in Phnom Penh, and we are continuously signing on drivers in the city. GrabPay allows you to use your credit card to pay for every ride, and GrabRewards allows you to collect points so every single transaction goes toward future benefits.
Our new memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Public Works and Transport is very important to us, as it allows us to work on three important long-term goals together. The first is to improve road safety, the second is to pave the way for financial inclusion and the third is to improve traffic management, in tandem with the ministry, using the technology and data we have on our platform.
How will you be expanding in the near future?
We’ve always taken a partnership-first approach, and we don’t believe in entering a community if there is someone who can do things better than we can. In terms of the services we offer, we’re looking into providing tuk-tuk and motorbike calling services here as well, because those types of services help make Cambodia the country that it is.
If you think about our involvement in Cambodia to date, we only started our pilot test about two months ago. We used to have to take much longer before we could officially launch, but because of all the institutional knowledge we’ve built, we’re now able to increase the speed with which we can enter new cities.
There are multiple local ride-hailing services, including PassApp and ExNet, which allow users to call rickshaws, taxis and SUVs. Are you considering partnering with any of these local applications?
We partner with different vehicles in different cities, and have offered even three-wheeler services before.
To us, partnerships are the best path forward, especially if it makes sense for all partners involved. If someone can provide a service cheaper, smarter or more efficiently than we can, then we are always open to partnerships.
Grab is signing a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Development Programme. Can you explain the nature of the MoU?
I can’t go into too much detail, because the particulars of the MoU are still being finalised. Essentially, though, it is an agreement to reinforce our commitment to sustainable mobility. A key theme is definitely reducing greenhouse gases and discussing how we can be smart about that.
What payment options will you offer?
We’re in partnership with the largest e-payment and wallet platform in the country, WingMoney, and because of this we can now enable every single driver who comes to our platform to have a bank account. This is our push to help them earn more money and develop more self-esteem.
China has shown all of us around the world exactly what is possible with technology in financial services. The concept of making cashless payments in Cambodia, or even of saving money every week in a place that isn’t under a pillowcase or mattress, is brand new to a bunch of people.
How do you ensure the safety of both drivers and passengers who use Grab’s services?
To ensure road safety, we screen every driver before they are allowed to drive for our platform. We also check each car to be sure it meets safety standards. Using technology, we track driver behaviour, so if our drivers are being unsafe we can retrain them or ask them to leave.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.