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8 Tips to Run A Successful Startup from Grab’s First Employees

Did you know that Grab started life in a tiny storeroom? Our pioneering employees share secrets of how we went from unknown to unicorn startup!

By Cheryl Goh, Vice President of Marketing, Grab  

If you want the lowdown on a company, who better to ask than people who’ve been there since Day One? That’s what Grab did this January, when we got our pioneering employees to share how we got to where we are today.*  

The result? Tales of grit, guts and pure perseverance. Read on for career #inspo!

*Brief history lesson: Grab started life as MyTeksi in 2012. From its initial home base in Malaysia, the brand expanded to Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. 

1. Being Small Pushes You To Give Your All

 

“Grab’s first office in Malaysia was… in a guard house. We later ‘upgraded’ to a storeroom in the Renault car showroom in Petaling Jaya. I had a plastic foldable table and a stack of boxes as a chair! To save on business trips, we took cheap midnight flights and even shared beds with colleagues. Some of us had our share of enduring snores and being mistakenly hugged at night. But being small, we had grit… and hunger. We used to take take 1am flights to Manila and fan out to approach taxi drivers the moment we touched down. I remember how [CEO] Anthony Tan asked me to develop a plan to launch GrabTaxi in Indonesia one night at 10.30pm. I submitted a proposal eight hours later, and flew to Jakarta the next day to start hiring and finding an office space. We launched the service within six weeks.” Hong Eu Gene, deputy country manager, Grab Indonesia  

 

2. Grab Opportunities 

“I joined Grab after working for nine years at a management consulting firm. At my previous firm, I was comfortable, doing well, and had a good shot at being made a partner. I had my first interview with Grab on a Saturday, got a job offer on Wednesday… and resigned the following Monday! I was really scared. For the first few months I asked myself what I had gotten myself into. But the opportunity to build up a company from scratch doesn’t come often. My advice: Recognise when opportunities come your way. When the stars are aligned, don’t be afraid to take the plunge. After all, the more you fail, the faster you succeed.” – Lim Kell Jay, country head, Grab Singapore 

 

3. If You Don’t Understand It, You Can’t Build It

“Before building our app, we made regular visits to a taxi booking centre in Kuala Lumpur to understand their processes. In fact, one of my teammates worked there for 6 months. We learnt how commuters would phone in and wait to be matched to a driver… sometimes, for as long as 30 minutes. That experience really helped us live and breathe the product.” Aaron Gill, head of business solutions, Grab

 

4. Play With Those Who Challenge You

“At the start, established businesses told us: “I give you five months. You will go bankrupt. There is no way you can fight us. Over the years, we faced stiff competition from rival ride-hailing apps, some of whom were bigger. It was like a David and Goliath situation. But remember you will always gain from facing a Goliath – you’ll gain maturity, learn something new about yourself and push yourself to get ahead. The key is to compete on your strengths. Some of our rivals had more funds than we did. So we looked beyond money and focused on building a relationship with our Grab drivers. Happy drivers will result in happy passengers.” Adelene Foo, regional head of 2-wheels, Grab  

 

5. Don’t Just Problem-Solve With Your Head – But With Your Heart

“One challenge in the Philippines was that not all drivers owned smartphones. We got around this by calling up drivers and manually matching them to passengers so they could see we were giving them jobs. At the same time, we delivered smartphones to them so they could start using our app. We also gave our drivers bags of rice and canned food as incentives – small gestures that they really appreciated. Seeing them happy touched my heart.” Rose Perea, customer support supervisor, Grab Philippines

 

6. Face Time Matters – And Not The Kind On Your Phone

“We faced rival ride-hailing apps during our early days in Singapore. At the time, [CEO] Anthony Tan used to tell me, ‘Bro, there’s no second place in the war!’ So to build a bond with taxi drivers, my team visited Changi airport and Lavender foodcourt at 3am to introduce them to Grab. I spent weekends attending their weddings, kids’ birthday parties, visiting them in the hospital… and grabbed coffee with some of them every Wednesday. That’s how we gained their trust and support. Once we dominated the supply of taxis, our rivals didn’t stand a chance.” Desmond Ng, head of partner quality, Grab Singapore
 

7. Sometimes, You Have To Go All In

“It was a gamble to launch a private hire car service in Thailand. The project could have failed. When I asked my team of three people if they understood what they were getting into, their response was that the only risk they could not take was delaying the launch and being beaten by the competition. That same night we went to Ikea and used our own money to buy furniture for our empty office.” Vichakorn Varavarn Na Ayudhaya, head of new verticals, Grab Thailand

 

8. Great Colleagues Never Say ‘That’s Not My Job’

“One Christmas eve, the Vietnamese marketing team had to wrap hundreds of gifts for an event. By 5pm, everyone was exhausted. That was when our operations team came by to offer assistance. We knew most of them wanted to go home for Christmas, but they gave “excuses” like how traffic was bad, so they might as well stay to help! We completed everything by 8pm and had time for a mini celebration in the office. It taught me that sometimes you can’t do everything yourself. So, share your load with a team you love.” Dao Tuan Dung, manager, digital marketing, Grab Vietnam

 

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