15 Nov 18

Grab, or how David became Goliath

When referring to Grab, most publications will label the company as Singaporean. Although headquartered in central Singapore, we need to go to Malaysia to understand how Grab has come to life.

Harvard Business School

Anthony Tan is the youngest of 3 in the Tan family, who own the Nissan distribution in Malaysia. Anthony was triggered by a friend’s complaint about the bad quality of taxi services in Kuala Lumpur. Taxis were unreliable, took incorrect roads and overcharged the passengers.

He developed the idea of a taxi application that offers security and transparency to the passenger and turned it into his graduating project at Harvard Business School, where he was studying at the time. Although not well received by his professors at the time, the app that was to become “My Teksi” was selected as a finalist of the “MV (minimum viable) Product Funding Award” and received US$ 25,000 starting capital from the University.

The app took off when a small taxi company in Malaysia decided to go in business with Anthony and his friend Tan Hooi Ling, a co-student from Harvard. From then onwards, the company started developing exponentially. Philippines, Thailand and Singapore followed quickly and the company now called GrabTaxi moved headquarters to Singapore. In 2014, Indonesia and Vietnam were added to its country coverage and the company started developing additional products such as GrabBike (Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta) and GrabCar+ (high-end cars) in the Philippines.

In 2014, 1.2 million people had downloaded the app, by 2017, Grab (name was changed from GrabTaxi to Grab in the meanwhile) reached 1 billion rides, 2 million drivers and 97% market share in third party taxi-hailing. This position was confirmed in March 2018, when Grab acquired Uber’s SEA operations.


Grab has run 8 funding rounds so far. Some interesting investors pop up

  • 2014 A series funding: US$ 10 million, Vertex Venture (the Singaporeans from Temasek)
  • 2014 B series funding: US$ 15 million, GGV (Chinese venture capital), Qunar, Vertex Venture
  • 2014 C series funding: US$ 65 million, Tiger Global, GGV
  • 2014 D series funding: US$ 250 million, Softbank
  • 2015 E series funding: US$ 350 million, Didi, China Investment Corporation
  • 2016 F series funding: US$ 750 million, Softbank, Didi, Honda
  • 2017 G series funding: US$ 2.5 billion, Softbank, Didi, Toyota, Hyundai
  • 2018 H series funding: +US$ 2.5 billion, Toyota, Booking Holdings, Hyundai, Microsoft (undisclosed amount)

The company is now valued over US$ 6 billion and has started up “Grab Ventures”, it’s own venture capital in the mobility arena.


Grab tries to become a lifestyle application rather than a taxi app, which corresponds to the needs of the digital generation and the integration of “transit” into the user’s daily needs, at the same height as eating, drinking, making and managing money. Here’s an overview of the services:

  • GrabTaxi: multiplatform taxi services
  • GrabCar: ride hailing, private drivers
  • GrabHitch: ridepooling, focused on daily commutes
  • GrabShare: singleride pooling
  • GrabCoach: hailing of 9to-40 seaters
  • GrabShuttle: ridepooling in a 9-to-40 seater
  • GrabFamily: ride hailing with special seats for kids up to 7 years old/1.35 metres
  • JustGrab: ride hailing with unspecified fleet of taxis or private cars
  • GrabRentals: daily rentals without drivers
  • GrabCycle: platform for bikesharing providers
  • GrabFood: online food ordering

The Grab community

“To Grab” has become a verb in Asia, which confirms the enormous footprint this company has left with especially the South-East Asian ride-hailer. The company is known for giving back as well; they provide for facilities for their drivers, are developing (in collaboration with Toyota) affordable insurance and car financing option and, via Grab Ventures, allow start-ups to develop.

In parallel, Grab has started promoting corporate subscription services that, unfortunately, are not being adopted with great success by the Asian client.

Authored by: Yves Helven