From one driver to another
I should have been grateful
Who in their right mind would stand on a soap box and say “I got fired”? The company I worked for had issued a carefully crafted press statement that seemingly granted me a graceful exit. It was dignified, and had all the hallmarks of a large institution that always takes the high road. Praise of my qualifications, the sighting of incompatibility that could only possibly be chalked up to a difference of personalities, and finally a parting gift; the proposition that my exit from a company whose valuation jumped 5 fold during my 7 month tenure was my choice. It was a class act; gratitude, no blame, and a great amount of respect for my professional choices. I should have been grateful I suppose. But sadly it was not the truth.
You may have read my story, “Why I left Google to join Careem” which I published about six months ago on my blog to announce my move from Google to Careem after a successful decade in the tech giant. It was a message of hope that I wrote to myself. It was a moment of utmost honesty and transparency that I wanted to share with others. It was about a dream that I longed to chase.
It was unconventional. While many were leaving Egypt and chasing opportunities in the West, trying to make a better living elsewhere, I did the opposite. I left a fantastic job at Google, the comforts of a Western lifestyle and reverse migrated. I came back home to Egypt and the Middle East to join a startup called Careem that was trying to wage war and compete with the ride-hailing behemoth Uber in the MENA region.
Egypt Was Everything
They had their work cut out for them, the ride hailing business is dynamic and (as I later came to find out) ruthless, a no holds barred race to market dominance, and for a company like Careem it all came down to Egypt. With over 90m people it is would become a place that would validate its positioning as “a dominant brand in Emerging Markets”, it would provide the prospect of great growth, something critical to power elaborate presentations that fuel the funding of of any loss making ride hailing business. It was daunting, it was risky but I had three things that pushed me towards the unknown; I am an Egyptian on home turf, I love a challenge, and it was to be lucrative if I was to succeeded. At the core I also wanted to prove to myself that positive change could be created in a country where many deemed hope to be finite. I wanted to be part of something that would challenge the status quo, something that would create disruption and produce a ripple effect that would positively affect all stratas of society.
I suppose now I feel quite naive. Contrary to the statement that was sent by Careem I did not resign I was unceremoniously ejected from the business that had so convincingly courted me so many months earlier. The manner, the method, and the motivations are now the subject of a lawsuit being brought to bear against Careem.
Asset or Liability?
Survivable clauses from the contract prevent me from elaborating in the way I would like. It is ironic that the specificity needed to present the real facts are denied to me upon pain of more loss. But here are a few non proprietary facts; Careem was valued at 200M USD right before my tenure and was valued at 1BN USD in its latest round of financing. I do not attribute this to only myself, no one person could, but ask an investor how important Egypt is to the story of the Careem. One could also ask any industry veteran how important on-boarding drivers is to the ride sharing business. They could also ask investors how important it would be to have a credible person at the helm in an important market like Egypt, someone with a track record when the story was sold on paper. And one could further ask about how many captains were on-boarded in the last 6 months and how much was delivered. With this you will get a picture of a very real need, and a picture of that real need being met and manifesting itself in investors paying five fold what they would have paid a few months earlier.
Another thing one may be inclined to ask is what was all this worth? Getting the Regional Director of Google X in MEA onboard could not have been inexpensive right?
I will go no further here- but I will say that there are times where an asset (one having served its major purpose) can be quickly made into a liability. Where companies, if shrewd enough, can mitigate significant cost; assuming they are unburdened by the cost to their credibility.
This is the real world, people get fired all the time. It’s not always fair and that is the cold hard truth for me. Ultimately this case will be settled in a court, so in a very real sense, this letter is not about me. I stood on that soap box for something else. During my tenure I was responsible for hiring tens of thousands of drivers. A business that is now, at the core, a people business. A business that claims to provide a better life for those that choose to engage with it. A driver gives up his livelihood to come work in Careem under the promise of sustainable gain. However, in an industry racing head strong into automation, in a business that is all about efficiency, in a system that requires growth to convince investors to keep paying more; that prospect for those drivers is only as real as is the company’s integrity who hires them; and that is the cold hard truth for Careem.
From one driver to another
Careem thought of me as an asset when it was time to fundraise, and as a liability when it was done. And while I am not every driver, I drove Careem’s business in Egypt when it mattered most. I know that will not mean much to many; but to a driver, it matters.