Baber Shaikh - VP of Engineering - Mobility at Careem - TECHx

Interview: Baber Shaikh, VP of Engineering and Mobility at Careem

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TECHx: Congratulations on your appointment as the Vice President of Engineering and Mobility at Careem. In this role, what vision do you hold for the company under your leadership?

Baber: Thank you very much! It’s a very exciting time in our region, we are steadily seeing multiple technology hubs develop from Morocco to Pakistan i.e. Cairo, Tel Aviv, Neom, Dubai, and Karachi.  This in return is fueling capital, talent, and innovation in our region.  In my role as a Vice President of Engineering, Careem will contribute to all three at scale, leveraging our capital to accelerate talent development while delivering sophisticated cutting-edge technologies which address the needs of 700 million inhabitants of this region. 

First, in addition to Ride-Hailing, Careem’s e-commerce business remains one of my top priorities. Over the past 10 months, the demand in our food and grocery delivery business has grown 4 folds while cashless payments have doubled.  We need to continue investing in a scalable and highly personalized platform that takes advantage of data and AI and ultimately be able to adapt and react very quickly to our customer needs. 

Second, is our investment in the talent in our region. This is a very exciting mission for me personally, to develop the best of class talent locally through a strong in-house developer pairing, mentoring, and internship programs.

TECHx: How is Careem leveraging technology, especially Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning? What are the biggest technology trends that you foresee in the ride-hailing sector over the next couple of years?

Baber: Careem is leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) as it looks to evolve from its original business model and move more than just people. The pandemic fundamentally changed user behavior, data models and analytics built on historical data were largely invalidated. This placed greater focus on real-time customer feedback loops, which allow us to respond and react to their needs.  Today, Careem leverages AI and ML throughout the customer, captain, and partner journey this includes not only how we successfully match a customer to a captain or recommend a restaurant but also how quickly and conveniently can we get the groceries they ordered delivered.

There was an initial dip in demand for ride-hailing services, but as people became more comfortable getting around, the demand has picked up.  Over the last 10 months, we have seen a 10x  growth in customer demand.  When it comes to our region, only two percent of the population have true access to mobility, so long-term the demand for ride-hailing will continue to increase as both traffic congestion in our cities and consumer spending rises.  In addition to ride-hailing,  this will also positively impact both micro-mobility i.e. scooters, bikes, etc as well as pooling and ride-sharing.

TECHx: It is evident that the digital and online world has helped people cope with the problems faced by the coronavirus pandemic. As a highly tech-enabled company, what was your survival strategy?

Baber: Careem’s strategy has always been to simplify the lives of people. During the pandemic, we saw a massive shift to the digital ecosystem for every aspect of life. What Careem essentially did was ensure that we adapted to the change consumer habits and proactively envision a platform that caters to their needs.

Cloud Infrastructure: One of the things that stood out for companies in the region, like Careem, is the fact that a lot of them were cloud-native, meaning they didn’t have hardware on-site. They didn’t have physical on-premise hardware. They were born on the cloud i.e. Amazon Web Services (AWS), and that has allowed them to shift the technology along with their business model over 2020.

Pivot to Food and Grocery: We also saw some major pivots in consumer behavior last year, we saw the use of cashless payments on our platform double and our delivery business increase by 4x. We saw this side of business emerge and mature over 2020.

Multi-service platform: For a traditional ride-hailing company like Carem, they have grown into a super app, successfully migrated 96 percent of the customers onto this new application, scaled out food and groceries, as well as digital payments (Careem pay). So what we all saw was this great shift that happened, but what people don’t realize is that Careem was able to make these adjustments, very quickly, because of their underpinning technology, which relied heavily on the cloud. So being able to scale up, offer more services, and transition very quickly was permitted because of this. As we look forward to the next three to five years, being cloud-native is a core component of any startup’s business strategy.

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