Co-founded by a Pakistani, Mudassir Sheikha, and Magnus Olsson, Founder and MD, Careem began operations in the UAE in 2012. Talha bin Hamid speaks to Junaid Iqbal, CEO, Careem Pakistan, to find more about what Careem’s game plan is as far as making further inroads into the Pakistani market is concerned.
TALHA BIN HAMID: When did Careem decide to enter the Pakistani market?
JUNAID IQBAL: Careem started toying with the idea of launching in Pakistan in early 2015, and various pilots were run that year. We began a test launch in October 2015 when I joined Careem, and we launched in March 2016.
TBH: Which factors prompted Careem’s entry into Pakistan?
JI: Several reasons; the first is the fact that Pakistan is severely underserviced when it comes to public transport and establishing Careem in Pakistan was a great way to create jobs. Secondly, our technology is ‘Made In Pakistan’, so it is only fair that our people should benefit from it. However, it is important to remember that Careem is a platform, not a service provider; ride hailers and providers connect with each other using our technology, but that does not make us a transport company.
TBH: In late January, the Punjab Government’s Provincial Transport Authority declared that ride-hailing services such as Careem were operating outside regulatory boundaries in Lahore. How easy it was to work with the regulatory agencies to resolve the issues?
JI: In almost every country, regulatory bodies have caused the growth of businesses such as ours to lag initially, and the debate around the world has focused on the distinction between the platform and the service provider. Close to 100 countries are now in the process of formulating new regulations in this regard and close to 20 have already done so; Pakistan was no different in that sense because the regulatory bodies in Pakistan considered us to be a car rental company, which we are not; our argument was simple: if we offer a doctors-on-demand service, would that make us a hospital? Of course not. The good news is that we are now engaged with all the provinces in a consultative process aimed at developing new laws specific to an online platform like ours, and we are very excited about working with our Government. In the long run, these laws will help other online platforms, such as AirBnB if and when they come to Pakistan. However, it does mean that when new laws come into play, platforms such as ours will have to meet the requirements set by the regulator.
TBH: How does Careem differentiate itself from Uber and other competing services?
JI: Firstly, we provide multiple ways of booking a car: one the phone, through the web and via our app. Secondly, we have three options as far as booking a ride is concerned: now, later and repeat. Most of our competitors only provide the ‘now’ option. Thirdly, we have several types of cars, which cater to various income segments: Go, Go+ and Business; whereas our competitors only have one. Fourthly, we have a mobile wallet that our customers can top up with cash. Most importantly, the Pathfinder Group headed by Ikram Sehgal, runs very comprehensive background checks on our captains. No other company does anything even remotely close.
TBH: What are the processes in terms of recruiting Careem’s captains and conducting the necessary background?
JI: It is a five-step process: sign up, attend our training session, pass our driving test, get your car’s fitness certificate from CarSure and then submit your paperwork for a background check. Our background checks are very comprehensive; we check our drivers’ NIC with NADRA and their driving license from the relevant authority. After that, a verification officer visits and verifies the prospective driver’s home, records its exact geographic location, and conducts a reputation check in the neighbourhood. He also gets a police certificate from the neighbourhood. If even one of these items is not verified, the person cannot be a captain on our platform.
"Being a Careem captain involves a five-step process: sign up, attend our training session, pass our driving test, get your car’s fitness certificate from CarSure and then submit your paperwork for a background check."
TBH: What factors are considered when Careem collaborates with services and events such as FindMyDoctor and Karachi Eat Festival?
JI: We feel that technology is a progressive force and it is our responsibility to use our platform to facilitate other initiatives aimed at enriching our community. That is why we take pride in working with such partners because we feel that they are playing their part in making Pakistan a better place.
TBH: Given the local flavour of Careem’s of promotions, such as the Shadi Care and the Rickshaw Service, are these ideas generated locally or at your headquarters in the UAE?
JI: Careem is a hyperlocal company, and ideas are generated and executed on a city-to city-level. Each city has to find ways of integrating itself in the community and our marketing teams come up with their own set of ideas.
TBH: What are Careem Pakistan’s short-term objectives in Pakistan?
JI: By 2020, our aim is to create one million job opportunities, attract $10 billion in terms of investment in the public transport infrastructure, and have a presence in an all urban and sub-urban cities.
TBH: What are the main challenges Careem faces?
JI: Finding good talent, including captains, and ensuring the processes involved in conducting background checks are watertight.
Note: This interview was conducted on February 12.