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BR Research

Interview with Feroz Jaleel, Country Head, Careem Pakistan

‘Fair pricing and reliability are the key focus areas for us’ Feroz Jaleel is the Country Head of Careem Pakistan....
Published December 2, 2022

‘Fair pricing and reliability are the key focus areas for us’

Feroz Jaleel is the Country Head of Careem Pakistan. His global experience ranges from strategic planning, management and consultancy in various sectors which includes telecom, e-commerce, tech and mobility, spanning 20+ countries across USA, UK, Europe, MENA and South Asia.

Feroz is a graduate from Florida with an active CPA certification. He came back to Pakistan in 2017 and joined Careem as Head of Finance leading the set-up of the Country Finance teams. Over the course of more than 4 years, he has grown across various levels in the organization, also taking on the role as Vice President of Strategic Finance.

Following are the edited excerpts of a recent conversation BR Research had with the Country Head, Careem Pakistan:

BR Research: How are ride-hailing services currently doing in Pakistan? After a successful start, it seems that the industry has been hit by some roadblocks. What are they?

Feroz Jaleel: Ride-hailing services grew rapidly in popularity in Pakistan after being introduced in 2015. People across the country welcomed a more efficient, affordable and safer way to travel and six years on it's hard to imagine a life before convenient ride-hailing services were available.

The Covid-19 pandemic impacted almost every aspect of life globally as people around the world were forced to quarantine at home as part of government-mandated lockdowns. Careem had to temporarily suspend its services in some cities in Pakistan until the government and regulatory authorities saw fit to resume.

Our Captains suffered the most - we worked hard to keep the marketplace open for them by creating new earning opportunities and working with governments to support local relief efforts. As we observed the growing demand for home delivery driven by lockdowns, we made a rapid pivot to deliveries and streamlined operations across the organization.

In recent months the world has started to experience a global recession with an increase in inflation partly driven by an increase in global oil prices. The impact on Pakistan is magnified by currency devaluation, people living below poverty line, high dependence on cash and lack of basic infrastructure. As a result, all businesses have taken efforts to adjust their growth trajectories accordingly.

The future of the ride-hailing industry looks promising as demand for mobility continues to grow. Tech is advancing at a rapid pace to eventually embrace the next generation of connectivity in the coming years, and the only way left for business to go in the future is upwards.

It’s been super exciting to witness the dramatic rise of Pakistani start-ups over the last couple years. In 2021, Pakistan raised close to $350 million in VC funding. This is compared to an average of about $10 million a year in VC funding between 2016 and 2018. And last year’s amount is still just 0.1 percent of Pakistan’s G.D.P.

BRR: Did you need readjustments in your model to drive profitability during and after COVID? Did that require you to reduce driver bonuses or promotional rates? And did you face a decline in demand as well as supply?

FJ: We’re an agile technology company and are able to rapidly change direction. We realized that while ride-hailing was a great start and has given us the ability to expand and grow, that cannot be the only thing we do. And the vision and the aspiration always was to simplify lives of people, which is not just needed in transportation, but in so many places including grocery, food and everyday activities.

In addition, we are looking for strategic partnerships to further enhance the offerings on the platform through integration of 3rd party providers on the Careem Super app. This enables them to benefit from our customer engagement and also from the enabling services we have built. A lot of them would require some logistic capability or payments so they can leverage our infrastructure.

Since the beginning of the year, with a refreshed vision, we have been focusing on the some initiatives to simplify the lives of our captains, customers and colleagues (3Cs).

For Captains, we reintroduced bonus and guarantees in a segmented manner across Pakistan to directly impact Captain earnings, reduced commission fee across KLR, revised incentives at all car-type levels including daily incentives and focus on ELR (early life retention), revisited policy and eased up onboarding journey (OC/Digital channels), doubled down on supply acquisition across KLI testing new channels including fleet/vendor model, digital and referrals, engaged with the Captains more through on ground connects and Captain events across KLI and went super aggressive with supply communication.

For our customers, we increased brand visibility and awareness for value added features via (OOH, digital, social media, video content, press & influencers), reworked pricing models across KLI to make Careem the most affordable ride for customers as well as going aggressive on promo codes/discounts, launched new car types like Mini Saver, airport, premium 5/10, tourism, intercity as well as scaling up Careem for Business (corporate category) across KLI. We also partnered with the government, tier-1 organizers to make events a separate work stream (comedy nights, concerts, social events) and to provide big discounts on rides.

BRR: So how has been the journey for Careem so far post-COVID?

FJ: For the rides business, we witnessed a higher recovery after COVID, and we continue to see growth. With the global increase in inflation and the ongoing political instability, this is a constant battle to balance, but we are confident to come out stronger. However, in the next five years, we see ourselves closer to our Super App vision. Some of the results we have seen after the Super App launch have been encouraging.

We are exploring engaging with other businesses and startups to integrate their services on the Careem Super App through its open architecture. This way they can benefit from our customer engagement, as well as the enabling services we have built, whereas our customers benefit from having more services at the same platform.

The Super App is a strong business case. Over 20 percent of our customers in Dubai now use multiple SA services. These ‘multi-service users’ do 2.8X more transactions on the platform and have a 30 percent better retention rate than a single service user. We’re excited to expand the Super App across the region. The opportunity for a Super App is $1.1 trillion, led by open opportunities in payments and groceries.

Lastly, as we expand into new ventures and explore new opportunities, experience will always be our top priority and we will always make sure that our service sticks to its core purpose of simplifying and improving lives.

As we firmly believe at Careem, this is only the beginning and the opportunity ahead is huge. We have only just begun to deliver on our purpose of simplifying and improving lives; there are a lot more lives to simplify and ways to simplify across the region, especially in Pakistan.

BRR: After the Uber takeover, where does Careem stand in Pakistan today regarding its presence, operations, and ownership? What synergies have been experienced by the takeover? How do you see Uber discontinuing operations recently in some cities?

FJ: As a part of an independently run subsidiary of Uber, Careem serves customers across Karachi, Islamabad, Multan, Faisalabad and Peshawar, in addition to five other cities where we operate. Careem is the pioneer of ride-hailing in Pakistan. Since our inception in 2016, we have invested over $100 million in Pakistan, created over 800,000 income opportunities for Captains in Pakistan and registered over 9 million customers in Pakistan on our Super App.

Being a market leader in the industry, we are bullish about our commitment to Pakistan and will continue to serve customers across 10 operational cities with a goal to expand further. We are focused to our purpose of simplifying and improving lives in the country. We strongly believe our Super App vision and a successful ride-hailing business is fundamental to it. We are investing in growing our operations and providing our customers with safer, more reliable and affordable mobility solutions. We are focused on our purpose of simplifying and improving lives in the country.

BRR: What are some value additions that Careem offers over other players operating in the market?

FJ: Careem was built with a purpose, to simplify and improve the lives of people in the region and this includes both our customers and our Captains. Careem has 50 million customers in over 80 cities across 10 countries, from Morocco to Pakistan. We have a robust foundation: we’re a known/trusted brand, with deep tech expertise, strong regulatory relationships, a local presence, and increasingly specialized teams which are structured to operate as autonomous start-ups. We’re really excited for what’s next and feel well placed to execute on our vision.

There are a host of features that we are offering that makes us different, I would broadly categorize it in:

Reliability: We pride ourselves on being Pakistan’s most reliable ride hailing service with the purpose of simplifying and improving the lives of customers. For this purpose, we are always working to further improve our services in terms of supply, demand, operations, technology as well as hiring awesome talent that is aligned with our purpose.

Care Support: Our technology enables us to stay super connected to the customers and Captains at all times. We are also the only ride-hailing service that offers a dedicated in-ride helpline to better assist their needs.

Flexible payouts: Similarly, we offer digital payment (debit / credit card) options which makes us stand out.

Wellbeing for our Captains and Community: We are always working to improve the lives of our Captains through partnerships that can provide them with discounts/subsidized rates for their everyday needs such as health, education, fuel, mobile phones, internet, etc.

Safety for Customers and Captains: The work for safety never stops at Careem. We have a dedicated safety & security team, an emergency safety button, in-ride live tracking and insurance, background checks/verification of Captains and vehicles.

BRR: In the digital revolution, how do you think average people can play their part?

FJ: Since starting operations in Pakistan, we have been able to bring about a revolutionary change in the way millions of people think about mobility. And we didn't do this with some miracle formula. It was the act of addressing a very basic need that people thought was too big to change, even with the best technology in the world.

It's our customers and their willingness to adopt new technologies that helped us get here. Billion and trillion dollar companies don't build themselves, it's the people that use those platforms that do. Facebook is the largest content creator in the world but creates nothing themselves, Ali Baba is the largest retailer in the world but doesn't sell anything themselves.

We too found success the same way, by banking on people to adopt new technologies that address their needs.

In Pakistan, people tend to under-estimate our ability to change. Our internet penetration numbers were growing exponentially before the pandemic and most tech startups, including all our competitors, were growing extremely well.

Demographically, Pakistan is well equipped to reach horizons since it has all the makings of a fertile market for new enterprises and digital services. Pakistan has the fifth largest population in the world, approaching 230 million. The population is both overwhelmingly young, with a median age of 22, and bi-lingual, with the fourth largest number of English speakers in the world. We also have one of the fastest-growing middle classes, more than 100 million mobile broadband subscribers. The number of tech professionals is also increasing rapidly and we can see incredibly talented people who have never been afraid of working hard and taking calculated risks.

BRR: Any specific plans for Careem Pakistan in the next couple of years?

FJ: I believe that the road ahead for Pakistan’s economy is a promising one. No individual, organization or government should believe that a silver bullet will save us all. But Pakistan is an extremely resilient nation and the most powerful tool in our hands is our ability to adapt to the changing economy.

Companies need to stay ahead of the trends in their industry, identify opportunities in a post COVID world and adapt early. In Pakistan for instance, the adoption of digital services will accelerate rapidly and as a result we can expect a range of non-tech sector industries to digitize quickly as well - from restaurants and shops, to the entire service sector and even government services.

Governments on the other hand, have to be equally quick to regulate the tech industry and help it bloom. Clear and fair government policy is critical to the rise or fall of the tech sector in any country. The gig economy which was largely unregulated in the country needs to be recognized and focused on, the same way as the current government is focusing on exports, for instance.

Customers want a place to get their daily essentials and we’re providing it. The Super App is our big bet for the year and the pandemic accelerated the shift towards digital services and e-commerce. We are getting back to our entrepreneurial roots and aim to further put ruthless focus on the customer. This also goes hand-to-hand in identifying the trends that are here to stay and iterating along the way. We will remain flexible, if something works, we will be open to adopt it.

BRR: Tell us a bit about the safety element when it comes to Careem? What are the steps taken to ensure customer safety?

FJ: Safety, for both customers and Captains’ is our highest priority and the work of safety never stops. Before getting on the platform, all Captains are screened and undergo a verification process through NADRA and are on boarded using content from Aahung and UNDP. Furthermore, they are verified through multiple partner law enforcement agencies for background checks and criminal records.

We also have a fully dedicated team for safety and security in Pakistan to ensure the safety of its captains and customers at all times. Currently, we are the only ride hailing company in Pakistan that offers contact to the call center 24/7 for its customers and Captains. A few of our features include: Captain screenings, vehicle assessment, in-ride insurance for both Captains and customers, in-ride care centre support (call, text), rating mechanism (both Captains and customers) to maintain quality of service, call masking feature for customers, ride tracking and sharing with friends and family and geo-fencing of dangerous neighborhoods.

We also have a ‘Safety Button’ in-app during the ride that allows customers to get in touch with Careem as well as the authorities (in case of emergencies) as well as access to other safety related information. We believe we have a responsibility to help keep people safe, and it’s one we take seriously.

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