After the massive success of its ride-hailing business, building a super app was the natural next step for Careem

After the massive success of its ride-hailing business, building a super app was the natural next step for Careem 

A couple of months ago, we explored the rise of super apps in the MENA region. Today, we speak with one of the leaders in this space. Image: Careem

Careem, the Middle East’s poster boy for entrepreneurship success, and likely the subject of many case studies in regional business classes, has come a long way from its early days of manually arranging corporate transportation. Scaling its business to a fully digital ride-hailing platform, Careem found itself on the smartphones of a large portion of the UAE’s population - and eventually MENA’s. 

With its ubiquity secured, and with a massive amount of user data at its disposal, the natural next step for the now-Uber-owned unicorn was to pivot into a ‘Super App.’ Today, Careem offers a growing plethora of services including ride-hailing, food and grocery delivery, payments, car rental, and more.

Bassel Al Nahlaoui - Managing Director, Mobility at Careem, shares with the Abu Dhabi SME Hub insights about how the company expanded its offerings in recent years and levelled up its Super App.

Bassel Al Nahlaoui - Managing Director, Mobility at Careem

Bassel Al Nahlaoui - Managing Director, Mobility at Careem

While Careem made its name in the market as a mobility and ride-hailing company, your focus has since shifted to creating a super app offering a multitude of services to your users. Why was this the trajectory Careem decided on following the success of your ride-hailing business?

Careem was founded with a mission to simplify and improve people's lives and build an awesome organisation that inspires. We considered the various challenges that were holding people back in the region from reaching their true potential and recognised that ground transportation presented a significant obstacle for millions. We never imagined the impact that we would be able to deliver through ride-hailing but today we offer our services in over 100 cities across 12 markets, have served 48 million registered customers and provided earning opportunities for over 2 million Captains, including paying out more than $4 billion in earnings. 

We soon realised that we could use the mobility infrastructure that we have developed for ride-hailing to serve our customers and Captains in more ways. We started building out the Super App with our Order Anything (OA) service, Food and Grocery delivery, and our Express service for corporate clients to leverage our mobility infrastructure. Dubai has become Careem’s first Super App city, with over 12 services, including fintech services like peer-to-peer payment and partner services such as PCR testing and car rentals. 

Careem has been making a major push into the payments sector - you recently launched digital wallets under your Careem Pay service. How do you plan to leverage your existing data pool, consumer base, and resources to grab a share of this highly competitive market?

Careem Pay’s vision is to become the leading fintech digital financial services platform and to service Captains, customers, and merchants. We believe we’re launching fintech products at the right time for several reasons:

  • Brand affinity - Our customers know and trust us as we have ten years of experience processing payments. We have strong regulatory relationships, 4 million cards on file, and have facilitated $4.6 billion in transaction value over five years. 
  • Regional infrastructure - We have a robust infrastructure that has already been built for the Super App across multiple areas, including security and identity.
  • State of the art tech - Very few fintech companies benefit from the scale and tech expertise that Careem brings to the sector. We’re used to solving customer problems through tech.
  • One in three people have a Careem account in the UAE - We’re using our existing customer base to scale Careem Pay, [as] the chance of our customers transferring money to each other through Careem Pay when they already pay for our services [is quite high]. 
  • Partnerships - We are also building strong partnerships to combine our strengths with traditional financial services providers, such as our partnership with First Abu Dhabi Bank and Magnati.

Now that it has firmly been two years since Careem began operating under Uber's ownership, how have the two brands co-existed in the MENA market, and what has changed for Careem?

The acquisition of Careem by Uber in 2020 was a sign that Uber believed in the Super App vision and wanted to invest in its success. Since joining forces with Uber, we’ve accelerated our vision of becoming the region’s leading Super App. 

Earlier this year, you announced a partnership with Dubai-based startup Swapp to add car rental services to your app. Careem remains a technology company primarily - is that why you decided on a partnership with an existing ecosystem player as opposed to launching your own fleet of cars? Also, why was Swapp your partner of choice?

Our Super App offers customers everyday services in one platform to help them to free up their time and focus on things that are important to them, whether work or family. A crucial part of our strategy is to open our ecosystem to third-party companies that share our values and offer services our customers need. This allows us to focus on our core services and support the startup ecosystem by allowing them to join as a ‘tile’ to tap into our customer database, network, and infrastructure. Customers won’t need to go through the steps of creating a new user profile, or adding their location or payment method - they can simply continue using their existing Careem profiles with the ability to use credits or saved payment methods in their Careem wallets. We have so far introduced home cleaning, PCR testing, and now car rental services through our partnership with Swapp. 

Renting a car in the UAE has typically involved heavy administration, high fees, and rigid lock-in periods. Swapp alleviates these pain points by offering customers a seamless digital experience, flexibility, increased choice, and access to a car at your doorstep within a few taps. 

We are excited to welcome more partners to our platform soon; keep an eye out for new partner tiles on our app. 

The COVID-19 pandemic proved a tumultuous period for the entire economy, but especially so for the transportation sector. How was Careem able to pivot and refocus its services to maintain a healthy financial performance? Your grocery delivery service, for example, was highly popular.

As people were forced to stay home during the pandemic, we were able to utilise our mobility infrastructure to provide essential needs, including food, grocery, and ‘order anything’ deliveries. We were pleased to find more ways to be of service to our customers and to continue to provide earning opportunities for our Captains, and came out well placed to capture the momentum from the global recovery.

We have scaled these new services rapidly since. Today, Careem Food serves millions of customers with access to over 17,600 restaurants in 10 cities across Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and Qatar. Earlier this year, we invested in elmenus, a food discovery and delivery platform which connects customers with over 12,000 restaurants across Cairo, Alexandria, Mansoura, the Sahel and Tanta. 

Our grocery delivery service is now active in the UAE and Jordan and is one of Careem’s fastest-growing verticals. Since launching our grocery delivery service in 2019, we’ve grown by 1,100% and have found that we can make the service even more convenient by owning the supply chain from start to finish and launching our network of dark stores through Careem Quik. 

What's next for Careem in 2022?

A lot of exciting things are in the works for Careem this year. While the Super App already offers over 12 services in Dubai, it’s still in its infancy, and the potential for both product and regional expansion is enormous. The region is very early in its digital adoption journey, and there’s a huge opportunity to leverage technology to simplify and improve more lives, and advance development across the region.

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