Grab vs. Uber : The Grand Takeover of Southeast Asian Ride-Share

By now, Grab is a household name in the South East Asian (SEA) regions. But their humble beginnings in 2012 were as the brainchild of co-founders Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling, both alums of the uber-prestigious Harvard School of Business.

What had started out as a conversation between a couple of Malaysian friends about a declining taxi service quality is now one of the region’s billion-dollar businesses, with the power to surpass even Uber, a prominent face of ride-hailing. But what went down behind the scenes? And how did a startup, eventually exhaust the efforts of an industry giant in SEA?

The main strength of Grab over Uber, especially in the ride-hailing and ride-sharing niche, was its ability to provide hyper-localized travel options. Take their Indonesian and Vietnamese market approach, for example. Where Uber was still using cars and having their drivers stuck in impossible traffic, Grab rode the problem out on motorcycles. Their GrabBike initiative was well-received in both countries – one, because of the ease of getting through busy, packed roads, and two, due to the readilyavailable resource of riders with bikes.


The company then began offering more ride options with a similar concept, like GrabBus and GrabCoach. Their GrabBus services were a hit with populations in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, where roads are constantly congested and public transportation is not necessarily available at need.

The idea of being able to book a bus ride with just a single tap seated with a positive notion among members of those countries. As for GrabCoach, where customers could book whole buses and minivans, it became a quick and relatively inexpensive method of booking a typically costly vehicle charter.

Another factor that steered Grab in the right direction was their choice of having localized operational, tech, and engineering teams in countries they had a presence in. Unlike Uber, which utilized a singular spectrum team, Grab has its people working to build an app and system that understood and addressed the need of locals.

One key example is Grab’s early use of cash payments. As SEA is a cash-heavy society, this gave the company an edge in the region compared to its cashless competitor.

Its lightning-speed expansion plan also bolstered its growth within the SEA locale. Privy of Uber’s plans to expand into the crown jewel of SEA, Singapore, Grab took guerilla measures in expansion, just a year after its inception. In 2013, the company made itself heard in Singapore, Thailand, and Phillippines, further setting foot in Vietnam and Indonesia the year after. Now, Grab is the leader in ride-hailing services in 8 of the 11 SEA countries.

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But the catalyst of its success is definitely its efforts in diversifying its brand and services. Many may not know that Grab started as MyTeksi, a simple taxi booking service. But in 2016, the brand began offering cashless options to its ride-hailers and that brought about the face-change that we are familiar with today.

Its first footsteps into fintech then grew into offering parcel and food delivery, digital payments, and credit cashless options, all leading to Uber relinquishing its hold on the SEA market for a sizeable share in the company.

Their marketing efforts were also highly suited to their target market. During their MyTeksi days, the company reached out to local taxi drivers by creating kiosks at petrol stations, which is a convening point for most Malaysian taxi drivers. These manned contact points had staff educating their new users on how to use the app, providing on-site technical support even handing out devices to their sign-ups on a loan. As Grab, it began to partner with big brands likeUrban Decay and Fox Channel Asiaas a way to market its GrabPay feature.

Source :Grab Malaysia @

Grab has shown its tenacity and dedication in providing its customers a compendium of services, with a touch of local flair. And by March 2023, many are expecting the mammoth to go public, as per its agreement with Uber.

With the company stating its interest in expanding into fintech, its PayLater feature, where customers can pay for services on credit, is a foreboding of a possible super-app in the coming days. But they also have big-backed Gojek in their rearview mirror, which is already well on its way to supply endless service options (right down to hair appointments!).

Will we see these digital service providers combat it out for their hold on the SEA market? Or will there be another underdog uprising? Guess we’ll have to wait to see.

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