Why the Saudi Arabia Uber deal is good for the Middle East’s technology ecosystem
The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund made headlines last week when it announced a $3.5 billion investment in U.S. ridesharing company Uber. The investment makes us particularly excited because it validates a belief we’ve had since our founding in 2012 — that technology, especially when combined with backing from local governments, has the power to improve lives and inspire the people of our region.
Other than some bright spots, MENA suffers some unique challenges. In addition to frequent conflict and political unrest, many cities have poor infrastructure, from housing to energy supply to mobility. While some roads and bridges have been built to connect cities and countries, the fact remains that public and private transportation is lagging far behind. The growth in population of the region, which is estimated to increase by more than 40 percent over the next few decades, will further exacerbate these challenges.
An answer to many of these problems exists through collaboration and cooperation between the private and public sector, which is why we are excited to see prominent local governments start to take note of the solutions technology can provide. The recent investment from Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund may have gone to our competitor, but it represents an embracement of technology from the leaders of the region, and an opportunity for the emerging technology ecosystem in the Middle East.
At CAREEM, this ecosystem has been very kind to us. It has housed us, invested in us, and cheered us all the way. With its support, we have built the fastest homegrown technology company in the region. We have deeply understood the needs of people in our region and have innovated to solve those needs. We are the first car-booking service to offer a call center for customers and Captains, first to accept cash payments, first to allow scheduled rides, and first to hide our customer’s mobile numbers from Captains. Heck, we have even built our own maps for the region to make it easy for our customers to specify their pickup locations and for our Captains to find them.
Despite the big investment, which probably had an economic diversification agenda, we are the clear market leader. Over the last four years, we have expanded to 27 cities across 10 countries, from Morocco to Egypt to Pakistan, and we continue to grow 30 percent month-over-month. And while we have always been outspent by competition, we continue to outgrow them and have 30–40 percent more customers and Captains than them. Thank you customers and Captains for your trust.
However, we believe the success of our company comes not from how fast we are growing, but from delighting and inspiring our customers and Captains, and this will continue to be the most important metric of our success. Our mission has always been, and will continue to be to “simplify the lives of people and build an awesome organization that inspires.” In the way we have built CAREEM so far, I hope we are setting a benchmark that is worthy of our beloved region.
Over the next year, our goal is to build on this investment and encourage greater collaboration between local governments and regional technology companies. Together, we can find smart solutions to some of the most pressing issues of our region, including infrastructure and joblessness. We promise to keep innovating, and hopefully keep on inspiring.