Grab CEO: Venture Capital Efforts To Eye ‘Next Generation’ Of Tech In SE Asia

Ride-hailing firm Grab, based in Singapore which entered a deal to acquire Uber’s southeast Asia business in the first quarter is reaching even farther into the region. The company said earlier this week that it would launch Grab Ventures, where it will invest in sectors as far-flung as transport and food services, Reuters reported. The firm will look to partner with eight to 10 startups through the next two years and may make direct investments.

As noted in this space in past months, Grab is in growth mode, having snagged $1 billion in a fundraising round last year. Earlier this year, the company launched a consumer financing joint venture with Credit Saison, a Japanese consumer financing firm, focused on the unbanked population.

In an interview with CNBC, Grab’s CEO and Co-founder Anthony Tan said that Grab Ventures represents the firm’s “super innovation arm … investing into the next generation of tech leaders.” The firm has reach in 217 cities across eight countries, he said, with a large land fleet of 3 million drivers and close to 3 million agents on the ground.

“Our balance sheet is behind it,” Tan said of Grab Ventures, stating that of the potential investments, “some could be wholly owned, some we take a minority position, but we help them grow up to serve our customers.”

Asked about the disparate and far-flung businesses under the company’s umbrella, with extant presence in ride-hailing, food and payments, Tan said, “We focus on what is right for the customer. And what is right for the customer is, ‘Hey, think about your life.’ You need to go in the morning to work, we are there for you. At lunch, you don’t want to go through the traffic? Hey, I’m going to book my meal through GrabFood. In the evening, I’m in no rush to get back, I’m going to jump in GrabShuttle. During the day, you want to buy your coffee, you can use GrabPay. So we want to be that everyday app that serves you.”

During the interview the CEO was queried about the competitive landscape, where the firm has gone up against bigger players.

“Grab is very clear. We are battle tested. We have fought much bigger competitors versus Easy Taxi [and] Rocket Internet when they were bigger than us. We fought Uber, tooth and nail. They were much bigger, and are still bigger than us globally. We have shown every time we can rise above the challenge.”

Tan continued, “Let’s talk about the wider region. Southeast Asia is tremendously complex. Operating one country is one thing. People can say they want to be regional, they want to go out. But you have to work with many governments, different ministries within each government  you have to work with multiple partners in each country, which are very different, different languages, different dialects. So the complexity goes exponential. We have proven that we can execute successfully in every one of these markets.”