New Grab Singapore head promises smooth transition as company aims for 'super app' status

Yee Wee Tang, 42, new country head of Grab Singapore, lays out his plans for the company in the year ahead on April 11, 2019. — Picture courtesy of Grab via TODAY
Yee Wee Tang, 42, new country head of Grab Singapore, lays out his plans for the company in the year ahead on April 11, 2019. — Picture courtesy of Grab via TODAY

SINGAPORE, April 12 — There is a new head at Grab Singapore, but don’t expect any major disruptions. Yee Wee Tang says that when it comes to running the business, he is “not very different” from his predecessor Lim Kell Jay.

Speaking to TODAY yesterday in his first interview with the media since taking on the role of country head earlier this month, Yee, 42, laid out his plans for Grab Singapore in the year ahead. This includes launching a new “affordable” service on larger vehicles priced at around S$5 to S$6 (RM15-18.20) a ride.

Yee assumed the role as top executive of Grab Singapore on April 1, succeeding Lim, who is now heading GrabFood Singapore.

When asked how things will change under his leadership, Yee said that after four years of working alongside each other, he and Lim have a similar approach to executing Grab’s business strategy.

“I don’t think we are any different, in the sense that we really look at the company and overall strategy and how that translates to our local strategy,” he said. “That will change from time to time depending on market forces and drive the way we execute things. But we’ve been together for four years now, we’re not very different."

Yee said that one of the biggest challenges he faces in his new role is in shifting the perception of Grab as merely a ride-hailing app.

“We really want to start letting our customers know that we are no longer just a ride-hailing app, we are moving to an everyday super app,” he said.

Before taking on his role in Singapore, Yee was country head of Grab in Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand. He was also head of the “two-wheels” segment in Indonesia — the homeground of its chief rival Gojek — which covers food and parcel delivery on motorcycles.

Before joining Grab, he was a management consultant with American multinational firm Boston Consulting Group and oil company BP.

The experiences he has chalked up have not only given him a broader perspective on the reality of doing business in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), but also brought him close to the people who use Grab daily, such as its drivers.

He recalled the “touching” encounters he has had, which strengthened his resolve to ensure that Grab remains a reliable platform for drivers, especially those whose livelihoods “depend” on the app.

In the Philippines, for example, Yee said that he and other Grab employees once handed an insurance payout to the widow of a driver who had died from a heart attack.

The widow “came from a city about five hours away” to collect the payout, he said. “I remember she was crying because her husband had passed but also, at the same time, she knew that (the payout) gave her a chance to rebuild her life.”

As head of Grab Singapore, Yee said that he will continue to enhance benefits for drivers. In January, the firm launched a free medical leave insurance scheme for drivers who hit a minimum level of earnings.

Other plans in the works include the launch of a new point-to-point ride service and expansion of the GrabFood delivery service.

Affordable rides in big vehicles

The new service on larger vehicles — which has yet to be named — aims to be a “more affordable” option between public transport and private-hire or taxi services.

“We’re really targeting price-sensitive users, (with a service within) that range (that costs) between 80 cents for public transport and S$10 to S$12 on taxis,” he said.

The new service would be provided with larger vehicles, such as 13- or 24-seater vehicles. Grab has begun testing the service, but did not state a date for its launch.

“Customers can book and (get a) guaranteed seat. It would be more comfortable than the public bus, (and the) price will likely be within the S$5 to S$6 range,” said Yee.

Although similar to GrabShuttle Plus — an existing on-demand service where users can book rides on larger vehicles — the new service is intended to be operationalised islandwide and available on the Grab app.

GrabShuttle Plus plies non-fixed routes in the northern and north-eastern parts of Singapore, while GrabShuttle operates in about 30 fixed routes in various parts of the island. Both run on a separate app.

Movie tickets, hotel rooms

Laying out his plans for Grab Singapore in the coming months, Yee also said that users can expect more services on the app in the next two months.

They will be able to buy movie tickets and book hotel rooms on the Grab app via a partnership with online site booking.com.

Grab has also teamed up with video streaming firm Hooq, to allow users to download videos and films.

On Monday, Grab co-founder Anthony Tan announced that the firm is targeting another US$2 billion (RM8.2 billion) in investments to fund its regional expansion drive. Tan said that in total, the firm expects to raise some US$6.5 billion in total capital this year.

Asked how much of these investments could be poured into Singapore, Mr Yee said that the firm will “continue to invest as and when we need in the areas that make sense.”

Such areas would include expanding GrabFood and Grab’s payments and financial technology (fintech) arm.

Yee said that GrabFood now has more than 5,000 merchants and more than 10,000 delivery partners on its platform. It is also studying the possibility of setting up a central kitchen, where fit-for-delivery meals are made and delivered. Rival food delivery companies such as Deliveroo have embarked on similar ideas.

As for growing its fintech arm, Grab announced earlier in February that it would offer loans and insurance with its new fintech platform, Grab Financial.

While Grab had announced its intention to raise funding to boost expansion, its rival Gojek was also recently valued at an estimated US$10 billion by an American market intelligence company, putting the Indonesian ride-hailing firm in the ranks of start-ups called “decacorns.” This rank is a step up from a "unicorn" or a start-up that is valued at more than US$1 billion.

Asked if Gojek has presented a significant challenge to Grab since launching in Singapore at the start of this year, Yee said that Grab “welcomed competition,” but remained focused on creating “long-term value” for its users.

He said that Grab saw a 30 per cent increase in rides over the last 12 months, while the pool of “active drivers” on the Grab platform also went up, but he did not provide numbers.

Yee said that Grab will “continue to use promotions as and when needed, when there is space for it.”

“We use promotions to drive certain behaviours, especially for new users. We want to grow our product in a sustainable way, and we don’t want to go back to the days of throwing promotions,” he said. — TODAY

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