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The unfolding of an inspiring tale — The Careem story

One often finds negative stories about Pakistan, only because the local and global success stories are hardly shared. It is also believed that mega successes are part of the developed world. I have a strong faith that no success can be achieved without out of the box thinking, elaborate working and above all hard work.

‘Silicon Valley’ is a nickname for the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area, in the northern part of California in the US. The area is home to many startup organizations such as Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, Google, eBay etc. All these ventures were founded by young individuals who wanted to make big fast. Many of these succeeded in their ventures and become multimillionaire at a very young age. One such example is Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, having net worth of over US$70 billion as of August 2017.

The success stories inspire young entrepreneurs to start their own ventures, not only in the US alone, but across the globe. Careem has become a household name and hundreds of customers, who have luxury cars, often use the service because of the ease to access the system and affordable fair. The story of Careem, a high-end car service based in Dubai is fascinating. It operates in 53 countries in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. The company is of 2017 valued at around $1 billion. The startup was co-founded by former McKinsey and Co employees, Mudassir Sheikha and Magnus Olson.

In 1999, when the Silicon Valley startups were at peaks, a young Pakistan-born Mudassir Sheikha graduated from California at the age of 24, having high aspirations, he wanted to start a venture, his own dream of filling his bank account with millions of dollars. Initially, he took part in a startup called ‘Brience’ but the project folded up after three years. The bad experience didn’t hold Sheikha back, but instead it was a valuable lesson for him. He describes that in his own words “To build a sustainable business, you need to deliver a product or service that is really going to add value to people’s lives, which is going to improve people’s lives. If it doesn’t do that in some shape or form it doesn’t make sense”.

He moved to Dubai in 2008 and joined a consultancy firm, McKinsey and Co. There he teamed up with his colleague Magnus Olson and started Careem a high-end car rental service that offered comfortable and reliable transport solution through online booking. It started as a simple website that served corporation. But as the demand increased, Careem decided to deal individuals by launching a mobile app that enables the clients to make on demand bookings instead of pre-booking.

In November 2015, Careem announced a Series C round investment of US$60 million led by the Abraaj Group. In October 2016, the company reached an agreement with regulators in Dubai whereby customers were able to book all taxicabs and limousines operating in Dubai via the Careem mobile app. In December 2016, the company raised US$350 million in a Series D round, based on a US$ one billion valuation for the company. Saudi Telecom has acquired a 10 percent stake in Careem that paves the way to Pakistani telcos to also join hands with Careem.


The reason for the success of Careem was the targeting of customers geographically. They serve in the Middle East, North African and South Asian region where there are various problems in terms of transportation. The car ownership is really low in countries like Egypt and Oman, as compared to Europe and America. In many of these countries, women do not drive and are dependent on their male family members. In a country like Saudi Arabia women aren’t issued driving licenses. Lastly, the public transport in these regions is below average or not there at all.

“The main driver for us was to build an institution in the region that would improve people’s lives. That’s really what got us excited,” said Sheikha. Among the many lessons Mudassir Sheikha learned in California was “how to dream”. What he learnt and advices to all the young entrepreneurs is that all these startups face some pros and cons. Sometimes there are follies in it and sometimes they don’t even sense at all. All you have to do is to dream big and believe what you are doing is going to be big someday. And the success of Careem proves that it’s possible.

This reminds me one of the statements of my teachers, “one person’s pain is an opportunity for another person”. A simple app has put car users and owners/drivers in contact. Experts also talk about convergence of computer technology and telecommunication, Careem is a perfect test case. Some analysts even go to the extent of saying that one does not need huge money to become part of the Careem fleet. The added advantage is that the driver can drive the car as per the schedule of his own choice.

Karachi has a population of nearly 20 million, the traffic jams are common and getting a parking place is a nightmare. One gets himself completely free from all these headaches simply by downloading the app on his/her smart cell phone. Anyone and everyone who has a smart phone and ready to pay the price of a comfortable ride is a potential client of Careem. While other brands have also appeared in Karachi, Careem may continue to reap the benefit of being the pioneer.

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