Launched in Dubai in 2012, Careem’s journey to success has seen the home-grown app and car booking service become the largest mover of people in the region. With a presence in 13 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan, and a deal with a US start-up to develop driverless pods, the company has now set its sights on becoming a world-class institution at the forefront of innovation.

“Careem was founded to provide a solution to a real and pressing problem facing the region – the lack of mobility in our cities,” says CEO Mudassir Sheikha. “Even before my cofounder, Magnus [Olsson], and I founded Careem, our previous jobs as consultants for McKinsey meant we travelled a lot. It was during these journeys that we realised the region lacked a quick, efficient and reliable transportation method to easily take people from one place to another.

 Mudassir Sheikha, CEO of Careem

Mudassir Sheikha, CEO of Careem

Mudassir Sheikha, CEO of Careem

“Careem was born out of our desire to offer a solution to this problem that was both practical and affordable, which would not only help improve urban transport in our cities, but simplify people’s lives and bring lasting change to the region.”

Local focus

Being a home-grown brand – from the region, for the region – proved to be a huge advantage, and Careem’s local focus along with continual investment in research and development (R&D) allowed the firm to provide customers in each market with services tailored to their needs. “Throughout the five odd years we have been in business, Careem has continually evolved its service offering to keep pace with changing market trends and customer expectations,” says Sheikha.

The results speak for themselves: in less than five years, Careem has expanded its presence to more than 80 cities, growing at more than 30 per cent month-on-month during this period.

The MEED Awards: How to enter

Whether you are a contractor, consultant, supplier, service provider or client, whether you are a leader, a driver or an inspirer, if you or your business is forging ahead and making a difference, we want to hear about it – and tell your story. Click here to find out more about the MEED Awards.

The judges of the MEED Awards will look at how each firm has contributed to the GCC’s success through its business achievements, environmental sustainability programmes, workforce culture, innovative practices and client service. In parallel, we will be recognising individual achievements among the leadership of these companies and stakeholders.

Register here to create your account and choose which award category or categories you would like to enter (discounts apply to multiple submissions).

The deadline for entries is 5 August 2017, with an awards ceremony to follow on 29 November.

Rapid growth

The brand was joined by a third cofounder, Abdulla Elyas, when Careem acquired Jeddah-based address coding service Enwani in 2014. In 2015, Careem acquired Morocco-based car booking service TAXIII, and most recently, in 2016, Pakistan start-up Savaree.

A driving force contributing to its success has been strong investment from companies such as Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Company (Careem’s largest institutional investor). Other investors that have accelerated Careem’s market expansion include Japan’s Rakuten, Riyadh-headquartered STC Ventures, Dubai-based Beco Capital, Egypt’s El-Sewedy Investments and Impulse (a subsidiary of the Kuwait Investment Authority), among others.

Careem captains

Sheikha says Careem’s most important assets are its ‘captains’ (drivers). “We treat them as members of the family. We understand that caring for captains and ensuring their needs and concerns are met can have a direct and positive bearing on customer satisfaction and business success, and we are proud to have a number of super-captains who work exclusively with Careem and whose strong customer-facing skills, work ethic and dedication have contributed in building a large and loyal pool of Careem customers.”

The firm offers its captains driving educational training and career advancement opportunities, and claims to facilitate the lives of people in each market it operates. In Saudi Arabia, Careem has emerged as the preferred service among women by providing them with a reliable means of transport and in Egypt, Careem has helped drivers who were left unemployed following the drop in tourism to find employment.

Regional firsts

The company’s strategy for growth is rooted in an innovation-driven business model, which emphasises leveraging technology and strengthening research and development (R&D) capabilities as the primary means to transforming the region’s transportation landscape and creating sustainable value for the communities served.

“Since our inception, Careem has introduced a number of first-of-its-kind services in the region – such as the option to pay in cash, a specially tailored car service for people with special needs, a dedicated car for parents that comes pre-installed with a child seat (Careem Kids), and many more,” says Sheikha.

“Our aim is to be a world-class institution that sits at the forefront of innovation and research, and in pursuit of this vision, we have been investing heavily in the development of self-driving cars. Careem’s commitment to using technology and innovation to redefine mobility in our region found its first expression in our collaboration with US-based NEXT Future Transportation to develop driverless electric pods. The pods are expected to hit the road in Dubai next year, before being rolled out in more cities across the region.”

For a company such as Careem, which, as Sheikha puts it, crafts local solutions to local problems, the term ‘wow factor’ perhaps requires a slightly different context than usual. “I would say the biggest ‘wow factor’ is really the impact our service has had in moving our region towards better living,” says Sheikha. “In addition to the seeds of inspiration our success has sown in budding entrepreneurs across the region.”

Interested in being featured in this series on business excellence? Please contact Marianne Makdisi on mariannemakdisi@live.co.uk