Tan (left) and Ching on Talking Heads.
Young, hungry and nimble, local start-up MyTeksi took a disruptive innovation, mixed it with a healthy dose of localisation and carved out a brilliant niche across six countries.
In an interview for Talking Heads, a series on Malaysians who have successfully ventured overseas produced by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), MyTeksi co-founder and CEO Anthony Tan shares the importance of thinking global but acting local.
The company teams up with a local shareholder in each overseas market it operates in and as it is attuned to the local culture and nuances, it is seen as a local company. MyTeksi is known as GrabTaxi outside of Malaysia.
“Here, our tagline is ‘Ride safe, ride sure’, which is a very Malaysian way of speaking. In Indonesia, it’s ‘Aman’, safety, because people see only one brand as safe – we’ve aggregated the rest. In Singapore, it’s ‘I like it fast’ because they require speed,” he shares.
“That hyper-localisation is very important when you’re going regional,” he stresses.
Understanding and respecting the cultural nuances of each market is critical, says Tan. He highlights the importance of mutual respect, to treat others as peers, to create a bond. He adds that there must be no ‘favouristism’ based on where the employee or driver hails from, or to which fleet the latter is attached. Tan even calls himself the ‘chief slave’, stressing the role of serving.
According to Tan (pic), MyTeksi is always finding ways to help the masses as it believes in achieving a ‘social bottom line’ while striving for an economic bottom line. “How can we solve real problems in such a way that people will pay for it?”
Tan’s team was thinking along such lines when it realised that in Vietnam, many people could not afford taxis, but the country had motorbikes in abundance. That was where GrabBike, a peer-to-peer motorbike transport app/service, was born.
“Now we have students and others making spare money with their motorbikes,” he says, adding that there are over 70,000 motorbike riders across Southeast Asia on the GrabBike platform. “Passengers who cannot afford GrabTaxi could go on GrabBike… we gave them a lower-price alternative.”
He also emphasises the importance of respecting local laws. “We don’t believe the need to go head-on against the lawmakers. We have grown in scale 20% week-on-week, sometimes 30%, depending on the city. We grew 10-11 times last year. We did it by being the only approved transport app in all the countries we operate in. To push innovation, you don’t have to be a disruptive disruption. We work hand-in-hand with the governments, even as we push the boundaries and constructively disrupt.”
Ching Wei Lee, Group CEO and co-founder of iMoney, agrees that “even if it can be potentially frustrating at the beginning, it is the right thing to do”, more so with the financial industry where iMoney is in which is heavily regulated.
He could also totally relate to the importance of localisation, having seen the difference in the approach taken by one of its local managers versus a foreigner who looked good on paper but did not know the market.
“In Indonesia, we hired a young and determined local who had some experience working with small companies and growing them into medium-sized big companies; and he’s still the country manager for us in Indonesia. In some other markets, we hired foreign MBA grads who looked very good on paper but did not have the long experience on the ground… Lesson learnt!” he says.
Tan stresses the need to be on the ground, to constantly talk to the consumers and paying points/customers – in MyTeksi’s case, the drivers – to really understand how the company could solve their problems faster. Tan and his team travels to 3-5 countries each week for that purpose.
“I encourage all start-ups to constantly talk to their paying customers, to really understand their point,” he advises.
Tan also stresses the importance of having a playbook that works early. “You want to get the best practices out there,” he says.
Ching concurs with the need of having a consistent way of doing things across the markets. “Now, we have in each country a set strategy and everyone knows what they are doing but in the past, we had issues where the local country manager might think something is great for business but it’s misaligned.”