Most of us use the Grab app for ride-hailing, ride-sharing, food delivery, e-payment and for logistics services in our day-to-day activities. Be it personal or for work, the Grab app has proven that it’s not only convenient, but it is also very affordable to book a private hire to transport people and goods from one point to another. This would all have not been possible if this amazing entrepreneur, Hooi Ling Tan did not pursue her idea.
In today’s article, we look at how Hooi Ling Tan co-founded Grab and the challenges she faced.
Who is she?
Hooi Ling Tan, a former McKinsey consultant and Harvard graduate, is the Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Malaysia-based app GrabTaxi. (Source: Forbes)
She grew up in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia, in a middle-class family. Back in Malaysia, she joined management consultancy McKinsey & Company and did projects in the region. She excelled in her job and they sponsored her to Harvard Business School (HBS) to further her studies. It was then her life changed. (Source: The Straits Times)
How Grab started
In 2012, she and her friend, Anthony Tan, were enjoying some tea together and started ranting about how hard it was to get a taxi. That was what gave them the idea to solve the problem by starting their own transport company and also make taking taxis in KL safer by signing up taxi drivers whom customers could trust. (Source: Grab)
So after she graduated from HBS, Hooi Ling Tan and Anthony Tan started Grab (initially named as MyTeksi) in KL with a small team. She took six months’ leave from her former company, McKinsey to help launch it before she went back to San Francisco to serve her bond. Even though she was away, she was still communicating with the Grab team. Once her time with McKinsey was up, she worked at United States (US) tech company Salesforce and returned to join Grab full-time in April 2015.
She currently oversees people operations and technology while her Co-founder Mr Tan handles the commercial aspects, but she says their portfolios are interchangeable.
“We disagree a lot and it’s important to disagree, but I don’t think we argue because we are aligned at the principles and ethical foundation,” she says in an interview. (Source: The Straits Times)
Ever since Grab started in Southeast Asia, the company carved out its target market in 132 cities across the region and is now considered to be one of the biggest startups in the region and according to CB Insights.
In 2017, Grab has attracted more than US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion) in funding. In the same year, Wall Street Journal reported that it is raising a further US$2 billion from Japan’s SoftBank Group and China’s ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing which valued Grab at more than US$5 billion.
Its headquarters is in Singapore and even though they started out with fewer than 10 people, it now has more than 2,000 employees. (Source: The Straits Times)
Problems she faced
When Grab first started in Singapore, Bukit Merah hawker centre was one of the places that Hooi Ling Tan and her team spent long hours at to persuade taxi drivers to partner with Grab, while taking the time to understand the issues they faced.
The biggest learning experience to her has been how she needed to continuously adapt. “Scaling at a hyper-growth rate requires constant attention. What had worked before does not necessarily work today.”, she mentioned in an interview. (Source: The Straits Times)
For many startups, taking risks might be something not unusual to most of them. However, this can sometimes be a costly process and results in entrepreneurs taking the “safer route” instead. For Hooi Ling Tan, she begs to differ as she said that the “only way to continue succeeding is to continue making mistakes and learning” from them.
An example that she paid for making mistakes when trying to do things differently in Grab’s early days was when she assumed demand would be lukewarm because the company still needed to market itself to potential drivers and passengers.
“Guess what? The first day of our launch, already our old technology platform was under a lot of stress because a lot more people were using it than we expected to, because they saw immediate value,” she said in an interview. (Source: CNBC)
She is very passionate about how Grab aims to create “true value” – how Grab has allowed people who have been retrenched to make a living, given housewives a source of income and taught people to become more tech-savvy.
“We want to make sure that we are developing a platform that is a win win win for everybody,” she says. “It’s not just a win for our drivers, it’s a win for our passengers, it’s a win for the partners, whether government or private, and as well as Grab. Because when you don’t do that, that’s when something will fall and something will break.” (Source: The Straits Times)
In conclusion, Hooi Ling believes that being humble was also “incredibly important” to her personally and it was something she looks for in the leadership bench at the company.
“Without humility, you will stop acknowledging the need to learn, you will stop acknowledging the need to hire the best people, and the need to continuously disrupt yourself,” she said in an interview. (Source: CNBC)
Today, Grab operates in 8 countries across the region including Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. Grab is still focused on two areas – transport and e-payments and continues to offer rides via private-hire cars, taxi partners, shuttle buses, bikes and social carpooling, as well as delivery services and e-payment solutions. (Source: The Straits Times)
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