Driving Careem: CEO Mudassir Sheikha on dreaming big

The co-founder and CEO of local ride-sharing behemoth Careem, on starting small and dreaming big

How did Careem get started?

Both my co-founder Magnus Olsson and myself were management consultants, and found ourselves constantly traveling around the region. We became frustrated by the lack of reliability in public transport. That's when we decided to go out there and solve this problem ourselves, and build a reliable transportation service both for businesses – which was our initial problem to begin with – and also consumers.

Where do you see the company going over the next five years?

We believe that in this region – let's call it the broader Middle East – there are over 700 million people, and no one has really built a competent public transportation system -  at least, not one compared to the likes of Europe or the United States. Our goal is to make Careem the de facto public transportation service all over the region In future, if someone wants to go from point A to point B, we want them to travel via Careem.

Is there a bigger picture?

If you look at the potential platform of Careem, we have two big goals. One is to help build the public transportation system in cities, and the second is to help create a lot of jobs. And in a region where youth and unemployment is twice the global average, we believe that creating jobs is fundamental to the social welfare and prosperity of the region. So we can actually create millions of jobs using the Careem platform, while building public transportation infrastructure in an effective way.

What are your biggest challenges to making that happen?

Well, sometimes communicating that goal can be challenging, especially with regulators and governments. We've had discussions with them on the opportunities and barriers that we faced to scale, and so our biggest problem is getting the right environment to operate in. Once we do that, then we can start to fundamentally improve the way that city operates. But it takes come convincing, and some regulators have been more of a challenge than others.

Where does creativity come from within the organization?

We believe that people are the source of growth and the source of competitive advantage – that's what really drives Careem.

What's the biggest decision you've ever had to make for the company?

Some of the most important decisions we've ever had to make has been around getting the right people on board. Over the last five years, we have acquired certain people – one of those people was in Saudi Arabia, very early on in the company's history. It was a company called Anwani, and our third co-founder, Dr Abdulla Elyas, joined us as part of that acquisition. I think that decision was pivotal to what Careem has become today.

How would you describe the culture of your company to a new employee?

We don't call them employees, by the way. We call them colleagues. I would tell a new colleague that culture is very important at Careem. You can be the smartest person in the world, but if you don't fit our culture – which is non-hierarchical – then it doesn't matter. If you don't fit the culture and values of Careem, regardless of how good you are, you're not going to make it.

So sort of person would make a good fit at Careem?

We believe good ideas come from everywhere, which means sometimes a colleague has an obligation to disagree. We believe everyone needs to take ownership of the business, and if they see something wrong they need to take initiative. They also need to manage resources wisely.

What did you want to be as a kid?

When I was a child in Pakistan, where I grew up, becoming a pilot was a big thing for me. For the longest time in school, I always said that I wanted to be a pilot.

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