Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

Unicorns (or Unicamels) in the Middle East

Ralph Haddad ’20, founder of Taste by Numeral Solutions, Inc.

The following post is from Ralph Haddad ’20, founder of Taste by Numeral Solutions, Inc. Numeral Solutions aims to change the way people’s tastes are integrated with their daily experiences. Our first platform called Taste is an innovative modern approach to restaurant discovery.

This blog was originally posted on Medium. Access here >>

I was thrilled to know that the founders of Careem, Uber’s Middle Eastern Rival, were coming to Babson College to give a talk.

On November 8th, Abdulla Elyas, one of the three co-founders of Careem, and Muath Khilfawi, the General Manager of Riyadh, talked to a group of Babson students about their journey with Careem. They shared the ups and downs, and how the company is preparing for even more exponential growth.

So here are a few lessons I learned from the people who are making Middle East history.

Respect Builds Culture.

They call their drivers captains. If that’s not respect and appreciation, then what is?

In a CNBC interview, Magnus Olson, co-founder of Careem explained:

“We … believe we have a great product … at the end of the day you’re sitting in a car with a captain that drives you, 80, 90 percent of the experience depends on the captain … if we want to have a great experience we need to care for them and make them partners in our success.”

This culture has been embedded in the company since the start, and it’s a critical factor of Careem’s success. Every person in the company understands it and lives by it, and it’s nothing short of impressive.

Humility is Key.

The minute Abdulla and Muath started talking about their journey, one thing seemed apparent to me: they were both insanely humble. They had just landed in Boston Logan Airport, came directly to Babson, and delivered their presentation ever so passionately. They listened intently, and took their time answering every question that was thrown at them. They even stayed way more than they were supposed to, making sure every question in the room was answered. For me, that doesn’t only stem from their passion for their job, it stems from their passion to inspire and change lives. This is one of the key drivers of the company. It’s their “macro” purpose, and humility is at its core.

Customers. Customers. Customers.

Careem did a crucial job of understanding the local customer need in the Middle East region. This is actually one of the main reasons they were able to compete with Uber and gain market share. Let me give you an example:

They realized that the Middle East was a cash-based market, and they knew that some of their captains and customers would feel uncomfortable sharing their credit card information. So what did they do about it? They added a cash button. Uber took around 2 years to implement its cash option in the region.

Another example, and this is one of my favorites, is a story about an early-rider who orders Careem every day for a 6–7AM trip. The trip was about an hour long, so the rider would sleep throughout the trip. The Captain noticed this, and as a result, Careem started providing the rider with pillows so that he can sleep comfortably. This is a simple, cheap, but meaningful example of how a global company can think local.

Don’t Be Afraid to Compete Against Giants.

Careem is competing against giants and against all odds, yet there is no signs of backing down. In fact, all signs show that they’re going all in.

There’s a couple of reasons for this, but at its core, they truly believe that they are adding significant value to their customers. Their whole business is customer-centric and not competitor-centric, which truly highlights the “macro purpose” I mentioned earlier.

However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t like to tease their competition from time to time. Check out this fun ad they put out to tease Uber.


Think Agile.

Careem did not start with over 200,000 captains. In fact, they started with just a few clients and no technical integration whatsoever. They had a phone operator that took calls from clients and scheduled their rides. The App did not exist at first.

You see, the first step with thinking Agile is identifying the problem. In Careem’s case, the initial problem was very specific:

— The first two cofounders were both McKinsey consultants, and their excessive business travels in the MENA region taught them that getting around another city as a businessman was difficult.

In short, the problem was:

Business people have trouble getting around in business trips: from the airport, to the airport, etc.

This is how it started. No tech, no thousands of users, nothing. Just an idea executed with the resources available.

The second step is brainstorming solutions, and then filtering them by feasibility and viability. This is extremely important.

They did not solve this by creating the technically demanding Careem app from the start. They introduced a minimum viable solution, and then iterated on it and improved the model when it became both feasible and viable.

Be Bold and Have Lots of Fun.

I will end this with another Careem ad that sums up the company’s “Be Bold” and “Have Fun” culture. They not only think outside the box, they also enjoy their time as they do that.



Thank you for reading!