App-based ride-hailing services have taken the country by storm. By making the act of hailing a cab less cumbersome through the use of smartphones, these companies have made life easier for countless people.
One of the people leading the charge in this field is Junaid Iqbal, CEO of Careem Pakistan. Dawn caught up with Mr Iqbal to talk to him about his career path and the future of ride-hailing services in Pakistan.
Q: Your personal journey has seen you take on many roles; from journalism to the corporate sector. What motivated you down this career path?
A: I’m a firm believer of connecting the dots in the end. My career has been very dynamic in the sense that I started as an energy futures trader, then launched the first live stock market show, worked a financial services start-up and an investment banking brokerage gig, and then came to Careem.
If I look back, none of these moves were planned; these are opportunities that came up, moves that just emerged. I felt that each occasion was challenging, they were unique learning opportunities that would allow me to do some good.
When I had opportunities to work in the media, I used to feel that this would allow me to educate the masses about their saving habits and hold public officers accountable for how they manage the economy.
In the financial services, I was very passionate about increasing the savings rate of the country. To be able to put Pakistan on the global centre stage as a prime destination for investment was and is still a passion of mine. Now, at Careem, I am able to create millions of jobs and really help our country in a way that adds value, so the motivation is always to do work that is very challenging and completely takes me out of my comfort zone.
Q: Careem isn’t the only ride-sharing service on the market. Do you view the competition from other actors as a rivalry, or does it create a healthy competitive environment?
A: Competition is excellent for the market, especially when it’s tough. All competitors think about new and innovative ways of engaging the market and this broadens the pie for all those involved.
The best service is the one that can localise itself, understand local nuances and provide better quality services; whosoever does that well wins the market. Without competition, we wouldn’t be growing as rapidly.
At the end of the day, we want the best for our consumers, having competition means giving them a choice in the matter. As far as Careem goes, I am very grateful for the positive reception we have received and are working to continue to keep users happy and engaged.
Q: Cab drivers and transporters have not taken kindly to the advent of ride-hailing services. What challenges, legal or otherwise, have you had to face from this particular segment?
A: We are not competing with cabs or rickshaws, but it’s a question of awareness and will sink in over time. We’ve started taking cabs on board in Islamabad and have taken rickshaws on board in Karachi and Lahore. Soon, our aim will be to improve the utilisation of all existing public transport vehicles.
Think about it this way: a typical cab driver wastes about 60pc-70pc of his time going from ride to ride or going to a taxi stand. When they join a ride-hailing platform, they don’t have to do that. The nearest available ride is matched to them, so they are able to do more trips in the same time period.
The fare per kilometre may be lower with ride-hailing services than they are used to charging, but if a typical cabbie does five to six rides a day, those using a ride-hailing service can do 10-11 rides in the same time.
As more and more of them become aware of this, more and more will join the platform.
There have been discussions with these stakeholders and some legal exchanges as well. The view that we try to put across is that we are not the enemy or the competition, but we can help them do their business in a better way, through the use of better technology.
Q: Given that similar companies around the world are facing multiple challenges with regard to service delivery and security issues, what kind of safeguards do you have in place to ensure that those mistakes aren’t made in Pakistan?
A: First of all, we do a very thorough background check: their ID card and address is checked, their home location is verified, a neighbourhood reputation check is done, a police certificate is obtained and their record is checked against any criminal databases of the government.
Other than that, within our app there is a ‘track my ride’ feature for those who are taking a ride at a late hour and generally feel insecure. If they are out at a late hour – let’s say 2-3am – they can share the tracker with a loved one.
If someone does not have a great ride and if there is a service issue, the ability to rate is actually the most democratic way of keeping a service in good stead.
The moment a customer feels they’ve not been served well, they issue a lower rating. Every week, captains with low ratings are called in for re-trainings and they’re encouraged to improve. Those who don’t improve are re-trained again, and at some point if they do not improve, they are respectfully asked to exit the platform.
Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2017