Our Aim is to Make People’s Lives Simpler. Junaid Iqbal, CEO Careem
It has been over a year since taxi-service apps started penetrating the Pakistan’s transportation sector and the growth of this sector is much faster than anticipated. Couple of global taxi service companies also entered Pakistani market. So far, Careem can be considered the most successful taxi service app in Pakistan. It is currently operating in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad with plans to launch its service in other cities soon.
Careem is an international company in the tech world with strong Pakistani roots
Junaid Iqbal, CEO of Careem who played a monumental role in success of Careem in Pakistan along with his competent team. With a background in economics and financial leadership, Junaid has vast experience in different sectors, from being on the launch-team for CNBC Pakistan in 2005 to successfully managing huge revenues as CEO of Elixir Securities. Junaid joined Careem as Managing Director when the company was launched in Pakistan back in October 2015.
In a detailed interview Junaid Iqbal (JI) shared with Phoneworld Team (PW) the changing trends in Pakistan’s digital market and gave an insight to what Careem really is and how it works. Here is what he had to say:
PW: Careem is mainly ventured in MENA region, why Careem chose Pakistan to be its first non-MENA market?
JI: It’s true that Careem started off four years back in UAE but roots of Careem have always been in Pakistan. The technology of Careem was developed in Pakistan right from the start. So you can say that Careem is a basically a Pakistani app. Secondly, one of the key co-founder, Mudassir Sheikha was born and raised in Karachi and that’s as Pakistani as you can get.
Furthermore, almost 85 per cent of Careem’s captains in GCC countries are also Pakistanis. Therefore, if there is any international company in the tech world with such strong Pakistani roots, it’s Careem. It was only a matter of time for Careem to come to Pakistan and it’s more like coming back home rather than exploring new destination.
PW: How did you become part of the Careem team?
JI: I was introduced to Careem through a friend who is in HR business. He told me that Careem owners are looking for people who can help them in the launch of Careem in Pakistan and they are interested in meeting me. So first I was introduced to Muddasir and then subsequently to Magnus and Abdullah, the other co-founders of Careem, including some board members.
The changing pace of global IT economy is quite fascinating and I wanted to be a part of that change and learn more
There were three major things that grabbed my attention and pursued me to join the Careem team. One, all these people I met were extremely smart and at the same time they were all very humble. Two, I found the changing pace of global IT economy quite fascinating. I wanted to be a part of that change and learn more. Finally, another thing that inspired me was that ride hailing platforms like Careem created many job opportunities internationally. So I felt that if this became successful, it will create thousands of jobs in Pakistan as well.
PW: How difficult it was to launch this unique service in Pakistan?
JI: Biggest challenge at least for Pakistani market is finding the right human resource. In most of the other countries finding people from different platforms of IT and this new shared economy is relatively easy, but that’s not the case with Pakistan. Even I am new in this industry. A lot of efforts were especially put in training of our captains. Making them aware about the latest technology and its usage has been and still is quite a difficult task.
Secondly, the concept of Careem was also new for the customers as well. So making a strong market position for Careem has been quite a challenging task along with finding and training the right HR.
PW: What’s your business model? How do you make revenue?
JI: We are basically a technology company that provides service platform. We facilitate customer who is looking for a ride and connect him to the service provider. The customers then pays us a fee for our platform use and compensates captains directly. That’s how we generate revenues.
PW: Careem has announced to enter rickshaw market as well, when can we expect that?
JI: Yes Careem is planning to enter rickshaw market soon. Rickshaw drivers lead a very tough life and it’s very difficult for them to manage good business. They pick a sawari from rickshaw stop, drop it at some place and then come back to rickshaw stop to pick next sawari. We are working on a rickshaw model to facilitate rickshaw drivers that will bring them ease and make their lives better.
PW: Careem calls its driver “Captains” what is the philosophy behind that? What is the impact of Careem on taxi drivers?
JI: We want to feel them respected and valued so we call our drivers, captains, besides its a much nicer word. Secondly, our Captains are actually the Captains of their own destiny.
Most of them either own their car or have bought it on rent and drive themselves. So Careem has given them a chance to be a small entrepreneur. They can do their jobs and be a part of Careem team at the same time.
We are working on a rickshaw model to facilitate rickshaw drivers, you will soon find them in our app
PW: What is the selection criteria for Captains? Is there any process they have to go through or they can just provide their verification and be a part of the Careem team?
JI: There are certain requirements that they have to fulfill before becoming captains. First they have to provide their own identification papers, valid licenses, car registration, and insurance papers. Once the documentation part is finalized we do a small inspection of their car to check its condition. After that we give them detailed orientation about what Careem really is and how its software works. We specially focus on informing them about the expected behavior from our Captains, customer service and most importantly on sexual harassment.
The concept of Careem was quite new for the Pakistani consumers so making a strong market position for Careem has been quite a challenging task along with finding and training the right Human Resource
Once this process is complete, we take a test, if they pass that test we add them to our database. After that, we send their data for background check to RCS which is one of largest security companies of Pakistan. If the captain gets clearance from RCS we take him on board.
PW: Just recently a harassment case against one of the Captain also surfaced on social media, what was that all about and how much truth that holds?
JI: That was actually an unusual case for us. Normally we never give customer’s number to our captains but if customers directly call our captains then their number automatically goes to captains. So in this case, the captain called our customer from his private number and tried to chat her up. The customer who was also a blogger, called our call center to get views on the matter instead of filing a complaint. This was obviously a unique situation for CSR, so they couldn’t provide any view on it and miscommunication took place at that point. If a complaint was filed against that captain, he would have been instantly off boarded. But the lady went ahead and published the story in a blog and it became over sensationalized.
When the blog was published we instantly tried to contact them to get the details of that lady to apologize off course. Although this incident was quite bad for Careem and affected our credibility but couple of good things also came out of it.
Careem is a car service but at the same time it is giving an opportunity to people who want to invest their savings in a business and become entrepreneurs
After the story was published hundreds of our customers came to social media and supported us, that left us in complete awe. So that was really a morale booster for us. Secondly, we were already working on sexual harassment but after this incident we sped up our efforts and launched Track My Ride Option.
PW: What exactly is this Track my Ride option and how it works?
JI: Track my Ride is a new security feature in our app that we have introduced to make our customers feel safer. When a customer books a Careem ride, a confirmation message is sent to his phone number along with a tracking link.
Track my Ride is a new security feature in our app that we have introduced to make our customers feel safer
Customer can forward that link to any family or friend who can track their ride in real time. I would like to add here that we organize sessions on daily bases to help our captains understand harassment delicacies. We try to articulate the basic expected behavior and how they should deal with customers and especially ladies. It’s not easy for women to be out there. So we at Careem want to make a difference for them. 45% of our users are women and when they tell us that Careem has made a significant change in their lives, it makes us really proud.
At the same time it also makes us realize that our responsibility has also increased. We are continuously working towards improvement of our service. We are also in contact with law enforcement agencies to comprehend what else can be done.
I just want to remind everyone that it’s not just customers who might feel unsafe from our captains. Our captains are also at a risk at customers’ hands especially in a city like Karachi where you have no idea who your customer is and what he might do. Such type of incidents have even taken place in Lahore. Our aim is to create a balance on both sides through education and awareness.
PW: Is there some legal action that you take incase an incident happens that result in injury of your captain?
JI: We are in touch with law enforcement agency, we also have our own in-house security team whose basic responsibility is to instantly report any such incident. But luckily, no serious incident has taken place so far.
PW: Is Careem planning to launch its services in other cities as well or will stick to the major cities only?
JI: Absolutely, we want to be everywhere in Pakistan. People often ask us about our business strategy and I always tell them it’s HR. As long as we keep finding good people, we will launch our service to more cities.
PW: What impact do you hope Careem will have on Pakistan’s transport network?
JI: Careem is a car hailing service but at the same time it is giving an opportunity to people who want to invest their savings in a business and become entrepreneurs.There is lot of joblessness in Pakistan so our aim is to create at least 1 lac jobs in next two years.
We believe that success of the company is dependent on how many jobs we create and how much technological independence we provide to our captains
1 lac jobs means that there will be one lac cars and if each car does even 10 rides a day, it makes 1 million rides moving around each day. This will make it biggest public transport infrastructure in Pakistan. So while the purpose of the company is to provide rides, we believe that success of this company is dependent on how many jobs we create and how much technological emancipation we provide to our captains.
PW: Pakistan IT and telecom sector is going through a revolutionary change, a lot of developments have taken place over the last couple of years but yet there is so much to achieve. What areas do you believe require most attention in order to make Pakistan a truly digital country?
JI: I think payment systems are very important for the evolution of digital services. For a truly digital country, there are certain limitations to the cash model that can’t be overcome.
Mobile payment platforms are important but direct to banks platforms will enhance digital services even further. Right now there are only 1.2 million credit cards in Pakistan out of which only 8 million are active.
While debit cards are 3 or 4 times more than credit cards however majority of debit and credit cards are closed for online transactions. You have to call the bank first before making any transaction, Banks don’t take any responsibility in case of misuse if you keep it open by default.
Globally, that’s not the case, credits cards and debit cards are protected for online transactions just the way they are protected for point of sale machine. Once the existence of credit cards is made strong and money transfer in banks is properly regulated, users will not have to do much after making the payment directly through bank account. So the growth of online payment systems like easypaisa, jazz cash, monet, Falcon Pay etc will eventually lead to the growth of online commerce.
PW: Any last words for our readers?
JI: Careem is a pioneering company in the region’s nascent ‘sharing economy’ its mission is to make people’s lives simpler by revolutionizing the transportation and logistics industry in the region. We are working tirelessly to bring best services for customers and we hope that Careem will become the most reliable public transport mode soon.
Watch the Video Interview on our YouTube Channel