Anthony Tan, CEO and co-founder of Grab, the Southeast Asia online-to-offline mobile platform, may be borrowing a page from his mentor Masayoshi Son’s playbook by launching a venture-capital arm to invest in promising start-ups.
Calling it a “pay it forward” moment for Singapore-based Grab, Tan said on Tuesday at the Innovfest Unbound conference in Singapore that the idea of Grab Ventures is to see how to use the Grab platform as a “launch pad” for start-ups in the region and to “mentor and share the huge mistakes that we have made so that you don’t have”.
Son, the founder of Japan’s SoftBank, is one of the world’s leading tech investors and is an investor in Grab, Didi Chuxing, Uber Technologies and Ola, making him a kingpin in the world of mobility-based services. Cheng Wei, the chief executive of China’s Didi, also sits on the Grab board, as does Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi after Grab bought out Uber’s businesses in Southeast Asia in exchange for a stake.
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By nurturing an eco-system of start-ups, Tan is aiming to eventually create 100 million “migrant entrepreneurs” in the Southeast Asia region, or gig-economy workers that have been able to benefit from working on a Grab service. He cited examples of Grab delivery employees who have been able to get a bank account and access to financial services after working for the company.
In its six years, Grab has created close to 6.6 million such income-generating opportunities across Southeast Asia, according to Tan. “We started out wanting to solve the safety issue with public transport, especially for women. Our mission has gone much bigger.”
Grab has more than 3 million drivers in 217 cities across eight different countries in Southeast Asia, and owns payments and logistics licenses that provide a ready pool of data and network to tap on, he said. Grab Ventures will focus on start-ups that are series B and beyond in fundraising, in the areas of mobility, fintech, logistics, food delivery and food tech, according to Tan.
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The company recently introduced GrabFood, the latest in a growing list of offerings from Grab, as it looks to build a web of services including payments, food delivery and transport to emerge the dominant mobility player in Southeast Asia.
Grab currently operates its own GrabPay payments service, which allows customers to pay for rides and even purchases at retail partners, in return for reward points as it seeks to increase user stickiness in ride-hailing and mobile payments.
Building a well-rounded ecosystem of services allows companies like Grab to obtain troves of valuable user data that can be used for targeted advertising or understanding users’ needs, to offer better services. Offering a variety of services that are part of everyday life also makes the platform more sticky, ensuring that users remain active while also serving as a higher barrier of entry for potential competitors.
As for who will be chosen to receive funding from Grab Ventures, Tan, a devout Christian, cited the attributes of humility and “servant leadership”. But in familiar Silicon Valley or tech world culture, successful applicants need to be willing to get the job done, whether it takes “nights and weekends”.