INTERVIEW: How Careem survived COVID-19 and aims to become a Super App

INTERVIEW: How Careem survived COVID-19 and aims to become a Super App
(Illustration by Luis Grañena)
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Updated 20 December 2020

INTERVIEW: How Careem survived COVID-19 and aims to become a Super App

INTERVIEW: How Careem survived COVID-19 and aims to become a Super App
  • We’re seeing recovery come back, it’s getting stronger and stronger, says Careem’s Victor Kiriakos-Saad

When Victor Kiriakos-Saad joined Dubai-based startup Careem last month as the company’s new UAE general manager, like many residents in the emirate he was working from home.

Starting a new role is stressful at the best of times, but doing it in the middle of a global pandemic, when you cannot physically meet all your staff or lean on those next to you when things go wrong, is especially challenging.

During the first few days, Kiriakos-Saad had a technical issue. He could not call up the IT department and get them to drop by to his desk, so he had to fix it himself.

When he realized he needed a part, what did he do? Being the new UAE general manager for Careem, he got it biked over to his home by one of the company’s delivery teams, and the problem was solved.

The incident is evidence of how the digital and online world has helped UAE residents and workers cope with the problems faced by the coronavirus pandemic, and how it has forced many companies to look again at how they do business.

“I worked with a lot of corporates and in digital transformation. I noticed that people that weren’t tech-enabled suffered the most,” Kiriakos-Saad told Arab News in a Zoom interview.

“For Careem, being digital and tech first, I think when COVID hit they were well prepared to overcome this challenge compared to other players that were very offline,” he said.

“COVID accelerated the transformation … A person who never did any online grocery is now doing their groceries online.”

That is not to say that Careem was not economically impacted by the lockdown, with workers staying at home and no longer needing regular rides to and from work.

“Definitely during the lockdown the company ride-hailing-type services slowed down,” Kiriakos-Saad said. “At the peak of the crisis, I think there was a drop in ride-hailing by about 80 percent. And now we’re seeing recovery come back, it’s getting stronger and stronger.”

With drivers — or captains, as Careem calls them — heavily impacted by the steep drop in business, Kiriakos-Saad said the company took action to help them. “We call them captains because we value them as an integral part of our success,” he added.

The company started a campaign to help raise money for the captains, and raised around 1.7 million UAE dirhams ($462,900). “That was all toward supporting the captains,” he said.


BIO VICTOR KIRIAKOS-SAAD

Born: Beirut, Lebanon, 1981

Education

  • BA in economics from the American University of Beirut in 2002.
  • MBA from INSEAD in 2011.

Career

  • Started in the financial service industry as an institutional investor and fund manager.
  • Moved to Intigral, running corporate accelerators.
  • Scale-up specialist at Dubai’s Precinct Partners.
  • UAE general manager at Careem.

Careem also supported UAE frontline health care workers by offering them free rides to work during the pandemic.

“So less about generating revenue and more about supporting the city … which is something that attracted me to join the company,” Kiriakos-Saad said.

Being a highly tech-enabled startup, Careem pivoted into other revenue streams such as grocery and food delivery, as well as its regular courier services, as workers looked to get documents or essential items delivered between their homes, just as he had to do when he needed a computer part to solve his IT issue. “On some of the newest verticals we’ve seen triple-digit growth,” he said.

Careem is a brand name that is almost ubiquitous in the UAE, with almost every resident having the app or using it at some point.

Hailed as one of the region’s real unicorn startups, how does Kiriakos-Saad think it can scale up even more?

Having previously worked as an institutional investor, a fund manager, at the Saudi Telecom Co. and as a scale-up specialist at Dubai’s Precinct Partners, he saw this as a challenge, and overcoming it was one of the factors that got him interested in joining the company.

“Today we have a substantial user base, but now we’re going into the Super App mode, which allows you to do multiple verticals. This concept or approach allows you also to create an ecosystem where you bring other players to your platform,” he said.

“What we want to do is make everyday life simple … What we’re trying to do is eliminate all the friction that a user can have, a customer can have, getting by (in their) day-to-day life.”

In order for this Super App concept to work, Careem is not going to create every single element or function within its platform.

While there are other apps — such as Washmen for laundry, InstaShop for groceries, Deliveroo for food and Noon for shopping — Kiriakos-Saad sees Careem as being more like a digital mall, and other apps or functions can be used within the platform.

“We want to create that platform that enables people like Washmen and other companies to come on board and be part of our ecosystem. The objective isn’t to build everything,” he said, hinting that some new partnerships, concepts, services and functionalities will be announced soon.

In March 2019, it was announced that Careem, which operates in over 100 cities in 13 countries in the Middle East since it was founded in July 2012, was being bought by international rival Uber as part of a $3 billion deal.

The partnership was formally rubberstamped in January 2020, but according to Kiriakos-Saad, this has not changed the day-to-day operations.

“Uber is a great parent to have. They have a lot of knowledge. From an execution perspective, it doesn’t seem to me that Uber is involved at all. I haven’t seen that,” he said. “But definitely, from a board perspective and that type of engagement, it’s there.”


KSA’s grains storage capacity rises by 37% with 2 new silos


KSA’s grains storage capacity rises by 37%  with 2 new silos

Updated 7 sec ago

KSA’s grains storage capacity rises by 37% with 2 new silos


KSA’s grains storage capacity rises by 37%  with 2 new silos


RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has added two new silos to its existing infrastructure increasing its strategic grain storage capacity by 37 percent, according to an Al-Eqtisadiyah report.

The Saudi Grains Organizations completed the Yanbu Silos Project with a storage capacity of 120,000 tons and it is working on adding a new one with the same capacity in Duba port, the reported said citing SAGO Gov. Ahmed Al-Faris.

Al-Faris said that Saudi strategic storage capacity of grains increased by 900,000 tons to 3.4 millions between 2015 and 2021.  

The SAGO chief said that the Kingdom has reached self-sufficiency in many products such as fresh milk, eggs, dates and white corn etc.

SAGO is one of the leading national institutions tasked with ensuring availability of key food commodities in Saudi Arabia.


Skeptics fail to deter companies from entering crypto fray: Market wrap

Skeptics fail to deter companies from entering crypto fray: Market wrap
Updated 33 min 11 sec ago

Skeptics fail to deter companies from entering crypto fray: Market wrap

Skeptics fail to deter companies from entering crypto fray: Market wrap
  • Paypal Crypto is now available to its UK customers

RIYADH: Paypal has completed the first international expansion of its cryptocurrency offering outside the US. 

Paypal Crypto is now available to its UK customers allowing them to buy, hold and sell four types of cryptocurrencies.

The official account of Paypal UK tweeted: “We are delighted to share that all eligible customers in the UK can now buy, hold and sell cryptocurrencies such as: Bitcoin, ethereum, bitcoin cash and litecoin from their Paypal account.”

Meanwhile, Laos has allowed a series of cryptocurrency mining and trading projects in the country in contravention of the policies of its central bank which issued warnings against cryptocurrencies just a month ago. The move to allow bitcoin mining is part of the government’s efforts to compensate for the losses caused due to a decline in tourism due to the coronavirus disease pandemic. 

Six companies have been authorized to start cryptocurrency trading and mining operations in the country, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Laos could also try to attract some of the miners who were expelled from China.

Skepticism

Sergei Shvetsov, deputy chairman of the board of directors of the Bank of Russia, stated that the bank remains skeptical about the acquisition of cryptocurrencies and will not support increased access to crypto markets for Russian investors, most of whom are not certified, according to media reports.

Russia’s central bank is now working with commercial banks to delay payments made on digital asset exchanges.

The move aims to limit cryptocurrency purchases that Russian investors make based on emotion and are not qualified to do so. The move is likely to affect peer-to-peer and over-the-counter trading platforms.

Speaking at the International Banking Forum, the senior official explained: “When it comes to buying cryptocurrency for investment purposes, we are skeptical about this idea. We believe it’s different from traditional assets, it’s highly risky and has signs of a pyramid scheme.”

Trading

Bitcoin, the leading digital currency, traded lower on Sunday and slipped by 1.57 percent to $47,690.80 at 5:52 p.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most-traded cryptocurrency, was down by 3.46 percent at $3,357.70, according to data from CoinDesk.

 

 


UAE economy minister to visit Britain seeking trade deal

UAE economy minister to visit Britain seeking trade deal
Updated 19 September 2021

UAE economy minister to visit Britain seeking trade deal

UAE economy minister to visit Britain seeking trade deal
  • Trade between the two countries was worth almost $8.1 billion in 2020

DUBAI: The UAE’s economy minister will lead a high-level delegation to Britain this week, the ministry said on Sunday, as the Gulf state seeks to deepen trade ties.

Abdulla bin Touq Al-Marri and the delegation will meet British ministers, officials and representatives from the private sector to discuss recently announced UAE economic policies.

One of those policies includes the UAE seeking to seal what it calls a comprehensive economic agreement covering trade and foreign investment with Britain and seven other countries.

The delegation would also discuss ways to develop economic ties and strengthen cooperation in trade, investment, healthcare and energy, among other sectors, the ministry said.

The UAE last week announced it had expanded an investment partnership with the British government, committing  £10 billion ($13.7 billion) to invest in the UK over five years.

The UAE delegation will also include local government, investment company and private sector representatives, the ministry said.

Britain is the UAE’s third largest non-oil trade partner in Europe, with trade between the two countries worth almost $8.1 billion in 2020, it said.


Iraq launches project to reduce flaring at oilfields

Iraq launches project to reduce flaring at oilfields
Updated 19 September 2021

Iraq launches project to reduce flaring at oilfields

Iraq launches project to reduce flaring at oilfields
  • Iraq is the second-biggest user of flaring worldwide after Russia.

BAGHDAD: Iraq has launched a new project that aims to recover gas normally set alight during oil extraction at two oilfields in the country’s south.
Flaring, or burning off excess gas during oil extraction, is a highly polluting practice but far less costly than processing it for sale.
According to the World Bank, Iraq is the second-biggest user of flaring worldwide after Russia.
The new project, signed in 2017 with oil services company Baker Hughes, will eventually allow 200 million cubic feet (around 5.6 million cubic meters) of gas a day that is usually torched on the Nasiriyah and Gharraf oilfields to be captured, according to a statement from the Oil Ministry sent to the media on Sunday.
It seeks to “exploit the gas that escapes from all oilfields across all Iraq, consolidate national gas production” and help preserve the environment, Oil Minister Ihsan Ismail was quoted as saying in the statement.
A ministry official told AFP that the implementation of the project and exploitation of the gas would have to wait 30 months for the completion of infrastructure works.
The World Bank said the amount of gas torched in Iraq annually reached 17.37 million cubic meters last year.
Earlier this month, French giant TotalEnergies signed a contract to invest in oil, gas and solar production in Iraq.
The French major plans initially to invest $10 billion in infrastructure, the proceeds of which will then allow a second round of investments of $17 billion, the officials said.
One of the projects will see the construction of a complex to exploit production from the sector’s gas fields.
Rather than flaring or burning off the excess, the plan is to recover it for use in electricity generation.
The premier’s office has said this will “reduce gas imports.”


Saudi holdings of US treasury bills rose for 2nd month in a row

Saudi holdings of US treasury bills rose for 2nd month in a row
Updated 19 September 2021

Saudi holdings of US treasury bills rose for 2nd month in a row

Saudi holdings of US treasury bills rose for 2nd month in a row
  • The Kingdom is the 16th largest holder of US debt

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s holding of US Treasury securities increased for the second consecutive month in July, reaching $128.1 billion, according to new data from the US government.

The holdings increased by 0.2 percent from June, and 2.8 percent from July last year. However, the Saudi holdings in July is down by 5.2 percent from the beginning of the year when it was $135.1 billion, the data showed.

This increase in June and July is in line with global trends, as countries around the world increased their holdings by 5.7 percent in the two months leading up to July.

However, analysis showed that Saudi holdings are still down from their peak of $184.4 billion in February 2020. As the global pandemic took hold in March last year, the Saudi government decreased its holding, as the Kingdom’s reserves were hit by the collapse in oil prices.

In July last year, Saudi Arabia began to boost its holdings once again, peaking in November and then continuing to decline by low single percentages till May 2021.

“The rise in US Treasury holding was expected “given the higher yields on US T-bills compared to bank deposit,” Dr. Mohamed Ramady, a London-based independent economist, told Arab News.

He said in the case of Saudi Arabia, higher oil prices have also provided it with more flexibility in its investment portfolio maturity profile. 

The Kingdom is the 16th largest holder of US debt. Japan remains No.1 with $1310.2 billion in US bonds, followed by China ($1068.3 billion), the UK ($539.5 billion), Ireland ($319.7 billion) and Switzerland ($298.3 billion).

The UAE holds $58 billion, an increase of nearly 100 percent year-on-year. Kuwait holds $46.4 billion, down by 3.1 percent year-on-year.