The Year That Was: Mudassir Sheikha, Co-Founder And CEO, Careem
"Careem's purpose is to make everyday life simple. Through the COVID-19 crisis, everyday life changed, and we changed with it."
As one of the Middle East’s unicorn startups, Careem made headlines in 2019 for its US$3.1 billion acquisition by Uber- but even that achievement didn’t let it remain unscathed from the COVID-19 crisis that happened in 2020.
Careem co-founder and CEO Mudassir Sheikha reveals to me that the COVID-19 pandemic brought his company’s business down by 80%; however, he and his team remain buoyant about the fact that they were able to react to this downturn quickly and with agility. “Before the pandemic we covered one area: the mobility of people, with cars, taxis and bikes,” Sheikha says. “But in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, our mobility of things business received much greater importance. We cover food deliveries, host catalogs of shops on our platform, and give people the possibility to send and receive items without having to leave the house, or putting loved ones at risk. People across the region have been forced into lockdowns, and we have been able to provide for their essential needs.”
And it’s not just Careem’s customers that this pivoting of the business has helped- it has been a lifeline for the ride-hailing company’s drivers (or, as Sheikha and his team call them, the Captains), whose salaries were secured as the enterprise doubled down on its delivery efforts. The pandemic also accelerated the development of Careem’s Super App, which, Sheikha notes, was, again, in response to what people wanted most at the time. “Careem’s purpose is to make everyday life simple,” Sheikha says. “Through the COVID-19 crisis, everyday life changed, and we changed with it. 2020 resulted in a much quicker digital adoption that surely had a positive effect on our Super App’s usage, but it also accelerated the need for digital payments. We reinforced Careem Pay as the glue that binds all services on the platform together, covering peer to peer payments, mobile recharges, as well as bill payments. Offline to online migration is now more important than ever, and this is why we are not planning on stopping there, but working on hosting a large array of service partners and third-party tenants on our Super App, catering to the essential needs of our target customers.”
At this point, one may assume that Careem has been riding the wave of the COVID-19 crisis quite successfully- but that would be an incorrect depiction of the difficult decisions that Sheikha and his team have had to make through the course of 2020. However, Sheikha is choosing to look at the silver linings, and that ethos seems to be what’s driving both him and his team forward in the new year. “There have been tough times,” Sheikha admits. “Like, for example, when we had to make the decision to let some colleagues go in order to remain strong throughout the crisis. At the same time, I feel proud of all the entrepreneurial efforts of our former colleagues. The bigger they are dreaming, and the more purpose-aligned they are, the better. Their journeys at Careem fueled their growth, and provided them the skills and resources to pursue their own entrepreneurial paths and personal careers, with the same passion to drive progress in our region. We are proud of their success, and see it as a realization of Careem’s purpose.”
Time for introspection: Mudassir Sheikha reflects on 2020
“The first reflection for me was how far away we are from the realization of our purpose. We have to keep pushing for a couple of decades to make a visible impact at scale on the lives of people in our region. And secondly, every crisis is an opportunity. Different times require different ways of thinking and an open mindset. One thing Careem is planning to do is sharpen our focus by investing more intensely into our tech talent across the region.”
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.