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Is Careem ready for crypto and metaverse? Mudassir Sheikha tells us

In an exclusive chat, Careem CEO Mudassir Sheikha discusses innovation and simplifying the lives of people in the region.

Is Careem ready for  crypto and metaverse? Mudassir Sheikha tells us
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Careem was on the hunt for a vice president of crypto a few months back. Could we be then closer to the future of paying in cryptocurrency for a cab ride? “Our current view on accepting crypto for Careem services is that the cost for small transactions we do on our super app is still not feasible to work with crypto,” says Mudassir Sheikha, co-founder and CEO of Careem. 

But the possibility is not far-fetched.

“But we care about Careem’s purpose to simplify the lives of people in this region, and if we can work with something that helps us achieve that purpose, and accelerates our journey, then we want to embrace crypto, and we want to be all over it,” adds Sheikha.

When you run a super app with unicorn status, you must keep pace with industry trends; otherwise, you lose your subscribers. The entrepreneur, who started Careem in 2012 with Magnus Olsson, says the enterprise is now focused on climate change, electrification, and the metaverse.

CLEAN, GREEN MOBILITY 

The Middle East is leading the climate change narrative with two COP summits taking place in the region – Egypt and the UAE, and Sheikha is mindful of climate concerns. He says the region-wide push to reduce GHGs will steer Careem’s strategy in the coming months. 

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Electric mobility is an area where Careem is a pioneer, offering riders e-bikes and scooters at metro terminals. But the company hasn’t stopped there. Now, passengers can order hybrid cars on the super app. He says this is the start of the journey toward a greener future. 

Mentioning that initiatives in the pipeline will give people more sustainable options to get from point A to B, he adds the next big step will be “electrifying delivery fleet.”

Emphasizing climate change is everyone’s problem, he says, “Climate change is not foreign to the region. Many parts of our region are impacted by climate change. If you look at Pakistan and Jordan, they’re in dire condition, and things need to be turned around quickly.”

“We will do what it takes to make it happen,” he adds.

EXPANDING THE SUPER APP FOOTPRINT 

Meanwhile, mobility and ride-hail have come a long way in the last ten years; services are available in many parts of the region. But one big frontier that we need to cross is affordability, says Sheikha. “For most people in the region, these ride-hailing platforms are expensive. We can overcome this by increasing the utilization of cars and captains.”

“If you can give captains more work throughout the day, then automatically, on every trip, they need to make less money,” he adds. “We are finding creative and innovative ways to give captains delivery orders and other tasks they could do throughout the day.”

Once utilizations go up, the cost of providing a trip decreases. Another aspect that affects affordability is economies of scale. “Public transport is available or built in many parts of the region. We aim to understand how we integrate ride-hail better into those public transport options that are starting to become available.” 

MOBILITY OF PEOPLE, MONEY, GROCERIES, AND MORE 

While the future of mobility will change more in the coming decade, Sheikha assures that the goal to simplify people’s lives is a broad canvas that does not always have calculated moves. 

“There is an objective to simplify lives, but there isn’t a specific way,” he says. 

The super app currently caters to customers’ needs, which entails the mobility of people, money, groceries, and deliveries on one platform. However, he admits, it’s too early for him to talk about what’s next. “Compared to the size of the opportunity, we are very early in adoption and penetration as opposed to what other parts of the world have seen.”

“The priority for us is just to scale these services and make them as accessible and affordable to more people and parts of the region,” he says. “There are many things that people are struggling with over and above the utilities offered on the super app.” 

Next on the horizon for Careem is adding more services and categories to its umbrella. 

Geographical expansion is on the charts; however, it is a city-by-city game. “Our ambition is to expand the super app from our base in Dubai to all the other cities in the region and make it simple for people living in those cities.”

THE INNOVATION SNOWBALL

To build a purpose-driven organization, Sheikha says, Careem has steered a “strong culture of ownership and empowerment” that has enabled it to find and solve problems. 

Explaining how innovation culture motivates employees to solve everyday problems, he says, “Just over Ramadan, some colleagues figured out that many people donate to different charities and organizations during the Holy month. And over a couple of weeks, a few colleagues got together and launched the donation app on the Careem super app.” 

People are driven, and there’s an ownership mindset. “And the platform has the ability for people to innovate and build on top of it,” he adds. 

To build an innovation culture, Sheikha says, organizations need to be open to failure. “If you penalize people every time something doesn’t go well, they won’t experiment and take risks.” 

“We want to ensure that people are empowered to do amazing things, but even when things don’t go as well as planned, there is a safety net for them to lean on and be motivated to take more and more risks,” Sheikha adds. 

RIDE A CAB ON THE METAVERSE

When quizzed about the metaverse and whether Careem would hop into the bandwagon, Sheikha says, “Let’s see where the metaverse ends up evolving first.” 

Careem is a remote-first organization with employees in nearly 30 countries. And Sheikha says metaverse could be a technology that brings them together in a virtual world. “It could re-establishing some of the connectivity that may have gotten lost as a result of remote-first.” 

While this may not mean you can book a cab on the metaverse, Careem’s team is currently seeking to leverage the possibilities. “There’ll be ways we can experiment with the metaverse to help get closer to our purpose,” he says.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East who writes on tech, design, and culture. More

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