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Uber rival to end year with $3 billion in its war chest

The president of the Singapore-based ride-hailing company, which bought Uber's Southeast Asia operations earlier this year, sits down with Sherisse Pham to talk about the startup's big year.

Posted: Dec 6, 2018 8:39 AM
Updated: Dec 6, 2018 8:56 AM

Grab, the most popular ride-hailing app in Southeast Asia, will end 2018 with $3 billion in new funds as it seeks to fend off rivals in a region of more than 600 million people.

The Singapore-based startup has raised more than $2.7 billion so far this year and will get to $3 billion "before New Year's bell," President Ming Maa said in an interview Tuesday with CNN Business.

The new funding, which includes a $1 billion investment from Toyota (TM) in June, values Grab at over $11 billion, according to a person familiar with the company.

Grab made international headlines in March when it bought Uber's operations in eight Southeast Asian countries. The startup now dominates those markets, but it no longer wishes to be known as a ride-hailing company.

Instead, Grab wants to be a "daily lifestyle platform," Maa said, as it expands into areas like digital payments and health care services, according to Maa.

Building a super app

It's seeking to follow in the footsteps of Tencent (TCEHY), which built China's wildly popular WeChat app. WeChat has become a place where more than one billion people can do everything from ordering rides and playing games to making online payments and booking doctor's appointments.

Such apps are particularly appealing in Southeast Asia because most users have low-end smartphones that don't have space for lots of different apps.

But Grab is positioning itself as an app for everything at a time when tech companies in the United States and elsewhere are coming under increased scrutiny for mishandling users' data and privacy. Having one company that knows when you order a ride, what you like to eat, how much you pay for a haircut and which doctors you visit may not sit well with all consumers.

Maa said Grab is "very focused" on security and privacy and is open with users and business partners regarding the data it collects and how it is handled.

"I think the challenges are when you are not transparent about how you're using data," he said. "Then you get into some very significant challenges."

First Uber, now GoJek

Grab's growing clout in Southeast Asia — it now has 125 million users — has brought the company intensified criticism from regulators, customers and drivers who accuse it of running its business like a monopoly.

"We certainly do not have a monopoly in these markets," Maa said. "There is vibrant competition in every single market that we operate in."

The biggest challenge comes from Indonesian startup GoJek, which launched a beta version of its ride-hailing app on Grab's home turf of Singapore last week.

GoJek, which is backed by Tencent, is reportedly seeking to raise $2 billion for expansion. It's also positioning itself as an app for everything — and has invested heavily in mobile payments and on-demand deliveries like food and groceries.

Grab is already ahead of GoJek in the Indonesian ride-hailing market, providing well over half the rides in the country, according to Maa. And he welcomed the new competition in Singapore.

"I think it'll be very interesting to see how they perform and how they compete when they are out of their home court," he said.

More than $1 billion in revenue

Grab has its own heavyweight backers, including Japan's SoftBank (SFTBY) and China's top ride-hailing startup, Didi Chuxing. Uber also ended up with a stake of nearly 28% in the company when it sold its regional operations.

Grab first launched ride-hailing services in Malaysia in 2012, followed by the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore in 2013. It's now in 8 countries.

It will make more than $1 billion in revenue this year and wants to double that number in 2019, according to Maa. But like many other top ride-hailing startups, it's yet to turn a profit.

"We're working on it," Maa said.

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