Time to deliver - The Entrepreneurs 7 - Magazine | Monocle
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Careem Bike docking station in Dubai’s Media City

When Mudassir Sheikha and Magnus Olsson decided to launch a new business, all they knew was that they “wanted to build something big and meaningful”. What they ended up with was a ride-sharing and delivery platform that’s worth billions of dollars. Having met while working at consultancy firm McKinsey, the duo looked to Sheikha’s home region as a starting point for where they could make a difference and drive change. “We got the idea from an ex-colleague who suggested that we look at transportation,” says Sheikha, who hails from Pakistan and is the CEO and co-founder of Careem. “It wasn’t until we got close to the drivers that we realised that their life is full of uncertainty and a lot of hardship. That inspired us to create something that would make a difference and would be a good source of income for them.”

Careem was launched in 2012 in Dubai as a corporate car service. Having looked back at their own experiences as consultants who regularly had to travel around the Middle East for business, they knew that they had tapped into something worthwhile. “The quality of ride-sharing and delivery services back then was pretty low,” says Sheikha. “We had a real problem going from one place to another in a foreign city.” The arrival of services such as Uber drove Careem to develop similar technologies to keep up. “We realised that our business would be disrupted by this innovation that was starting to take over the world. So we had to move quickly and proceed from being a car service to launching our app.”

That was just the start of the journey for what is today one of the Middle East’s biggest technology success stories. In 2020, Uber acquired Careem for $3.1bn (€2.9bn), making it the Middle East’s first technology unicorn – or “unicamel”, as Sheikha calls it, with a laugh. “That was a landmark deal for the region. It created a lot of confidence and self-belief, which didn’t really exist before,” he says. “Ten years ago I remember talking to entrepreneurs and founders, and there was always a question mark around whether they could build $50m (€47m) businesses. But now, everyone feels that it’s almost their birthright to build a unicorn. That confidence is here now. And when it is, it leads to manifestation.”

Careem in numbers

Founding year (in Dubai) 

2012


Number of employees
1,750+


Number of captains 
(drivers)
2.5 million+


Number of users
50 million


Cities served  
70

Across 10 countries: UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Morocco and Pakistan

Number of services in Dubai
12 

Includes ride-hailing, food delivery (Careem Food), groceries (Careem Quik), payment (Careem Pay), micro-mobility (Careem Bike), F&B discovery and discounts (Careem DineOut), laundry, home cleaning, car rentals, tickets and more

“Everyone feels that it’s almost their birthright to build a unicorn. That confidence is here now”

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Co-founder and CEO Mudassir Sheikha
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Careem’s employees at the HQ

Fast-forward 10 years and Careem is a fully-fledged platform, providing everything from ride-hailing services and digital payments to food and grocery deliveries. “We saw all of these different services opening up and it started to become a little overwhelming for customers, because they needed multiple log-ins across different apps for various services,” says Sheikha, explaining the decision to broaden Careem’s scope. “We knew that there was a far better way for people to use these services. That’s why we decided to create our ‘everything app’ – we’re calling it an everything app instead of a ‘super app’ because it offers all of the services that you might need for your daily life in one place.”

Careem is all about making life better and easier for people, whether they are customers or “captains” (what Careem calls its drivers). “We feel a responsibility towards them,” says Sheikha. “We want to make sure that they benefit from being part of this platform. We have done different things across the region and beyond. In Pakistan, our team negotiated discounts with schools for the children of captains. And during the pandemic, we created a fund to support them and raised almost $1m [€950,000].” Last year, delivery drivers from several platforms in Dubai went on strike over pay and working conditions. None of Careem’s captains joined the picket line.

Before we leave the company’s HQ in Al Shatha Tower, Sheikha offers Monocle some parting advice from his journey with Careem. “The reason that we survived when pitted against significant competition was that we were here on the ground, learning and solving local problems,” he says. As for what comes next, Sheikha believes that Careem is “still very early in our journey”. “About 500 million people live in the region between Morocco and Pakistan – that’s the area we call home. We are serving only a fraction of them today, so there’s a lot more to be done.”
careem.com

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