BOL EXCLUSIVE: A risk-taker
Careem is a UAE-based Super App with the mission to simplify and improve the lives of the people, and build an awesome organisation that inspires. It is an extremely purpose-driven and motivated company that aims at moving the region forward by leveraging technology through simplification and improvement in lives. Together the people, infrastructure and technology give the company an opportunity to have a positive and lasting impact on the communities.
The sense of ownership, trust and freedom and being true to the purpose of creating an impact are a few of the very core values that the company lives by and urge the customers and captains to do the same. It also aims at creating mass employment opportunities in the regions and operating in and upgrading the living standards and ultimately making everyday lives simpler.
Zeeshan Baig is a Pakistan born entrepreneur with a success story in media, telecom, and tech industry. He has completed his MBA from the Lahore University of Management Sciences and multiple certifications from Harvard and Emlyon Business School.
A former management consultant at Deloitte, Zeeshan has over nine years of experience in strategy, transformation, and operations, having worked in over 20 countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region, Europe and South Asia.
Baig joined Careem in 2017 as an operations manager in Lahore, leading multiple cities and heading new market expansions. His career growth within the organisation has left little doubt in the confidence he inspires within Careem Network, his last role being director country operations in Pakistan. Currently, Zeeshan is serving as the country general manager at Careem Pakistan.
In this interview, Zeeshan Baig shares his success story and the future plans.
What was your first business venture?
A: My first business venture was a healthcare startup called ‘Talksdoc’. This was back when I was working at Deloitte, but due to some personal and professional commitments, I could not give it enough time and had to sell it.
What is your greatest fear in life?
A: Just like most people, I am also very close to my loved ones and losing them is one of my greatest fears in life.
What is your favourite sport? Have you been a player/athlete yourself?
A: Tennis has always been my favourite sport. I used to practice regularly in my early days and used to be quite good at it. I also happen to have played Tennis for Pakistan in Under-16 at the provincial level. I would like to take the liberty of urging the younger generation to play sports and keep movement in their everyday lives since it is essential to stay fit.
How many hours do you work in a day?
A: Well, my work hours usually vary. It can be as extensive as 15 hours/day to a more suited 7 hours/day, depending on the workload and the current projects that I am looking after. In general, I always try to maintain a good and healthy work life balance but I normally end up being a workaholic.
How do you relax after a busy day’s work?
A: Mostly on weekends, I try my best to keep myself involved in some sort of physical activity. I usually play tennis and that can be very therapeutic at times after a long week. Other than that I spend time with my family everyday after work. I also enjoy watching travel documentaries.
Which is your favourite holiday destination and why?
A: I have been to many countries but my personal favourite will always be the Northern Areas of Pakistan. For me, nothing comes even close to the beautiful and majestic mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Which watch brand do you frequently wear?
A: I really like the new Apple watch. In fact, I like Apple products and am always on the lookout for their latest gadget release.
What can make the business environment easy and encouraging for new entrants?
A: There are a few important factors that I think can encourage new entrants from entering the competition and having a sustainable business model:
Ease of doing business: As an aspiring entrepreneur myself, I believe the biggest challenge that one can find while launching a new service or product in the market is the endless external factors, other than the business operations itself. The government plays a vital role here when it comes to providing opportunities to the new players. In the initial stages of the startup, it should be focusing on keeping a right foot in the market and gradually working its way to becoming a sustainable and competitive service rather than fighting the system and knocking thousands of doors so that they can have access to the capital and conducive policies.
Access to talent: Another big challenge is to find the right talent that is aligned with the company’s vision and has the same set of values as everyone else in the company.
Real problem to solve: Lastly, in my opinion, a business can only survive when it has the answer to a real problem or it caters to real needs. Just like Careem, it entered the market with the mission to solve people’s day-to-day mobility issues.
What is the future outlook of the overall business environment in Pakistan?
A: I am extremely positive about the future of the business environment in Pakistan. We have amazing talent, a young population, and a massive market with a huge list of untapped potential in the country. The recent list of startups managing to get seed money from international investors in the last few years is a testament to Pakistani young entrepreneurs’ potential.
What are the company’s products/services?
A: Careem offers services in three main verticals:
Mobility of people: The core ride-hailing services that Careem has been offering to its customers across the region since its inception in 2012. This includes mobility through different vehicles and car types.
Mobility of things: Includes food delivery service and delivery of goods where people can order food, send/receive anything from anywhere, and grocery delivery service.
Mobility of money: Also known as Careem Pay. The feature where customers will be able to transfer money in terms of credits seamlessly from one app to another. Payment of utility bills and other functions are also under-development and will soon be made available for our customers.
Any remarkable recognition or achievements by the company?
A; The most important achievement is undoubtedly job creation in the country. Since its inception, we have been able to create over two million jobs in the region and over 800,000 jobs in Pakistan. Additionally, we have also invested approximately $100 million over the years. Personally, the impact that has made in the region is above everything else.
Additionally, we recently launched the region’s first Super App, bringing us closer to Careem’s purpose of simplifying the lives of the people in our region so that they can spend more time on things that really matter and on realising their full potential. We believe the Super App will unleash potential and accelerate the digital transformation of our region that will help us emerge stronger.
Recently, we won three recognitions in the Pakistan Digi Awards in “Most Innovated App”, “Best Transport Service Online” and “Best Digital Customer Service Team” categories. We competed against top organisations in Pakistan in the aforementioned categories and came out on the top.
What is leadership to you and what are the three key challenges confronting CEOs/business leaders in Pakistan?
A: In my opinion, there are three main aspects when it comes to defining strong leadership characteristics. First, having the vision clear enough for it to become a reality. Second, being the driving force to energise the entire workforce to drive execution in line with the organisational goals and leading by example. Lastly, getting the right talent ensures the most efficient way to utilise the company’s resources.
As far as challenges are concerned, the most important is attracting and retaining talent. Keeping up with the changing customer needs in terms of agility is another challenge. Lastly, building a team with the right balance of EQ and IQ.
Where do you see your organisation in five years? Growth strategy and new initiatives?
A: For the rides business, we already had seen a higher recovery than our forecast for 2020 and we expect the ride-hailing to recover 100 per cent by the end of 2021. For the food delivery vertical, we are also constantly moving ahead in partnering with various merchants to provide our customers with multiple options for food delivery service. We also aim at launching this service in other cities, as well and offer them a seamless and hassle-free experience.
Some of the results we have seen after the Super App launch have been encouraging. By being the first ones to introduce a Super App in Pakistan and seeing our multi-platform customer-base grow 7x and our food and delivery vertical grow 10x, speaks volumes about how customers’ behaviour is moving on digitalisation and how the customers prefer “One stop shop” applications.
Further, for the next year, in some countries we are exploring adding innovative solutions to the Super App such as engaging with other businesses and startups to integrate their services on the Careem Super App through its open architecture. This way, they can benefit from our customer engagement and also benefit from the enabling services we have built, whereas our customers benefit from having more services at the same platform.
Lastly, as we expand into new ventures and explore new opportunities, experience will always be our top priority and we will always make sure that our service sticks to its core purpose of simplifying and improving lives.
Who is your inspirational role-model?
Muhammad Ali Jinnah is my role model, for he was able to dream big, mobilise people to make that dream come true and acted with great dignity, courage and honesty. The fact that he took a stand and inspired other people to follow his path to conquer was one of the biggest conquests of the time.
Any message of optimism to the younger generation?
My sincere advice to the younger generation and specifically young entrepreneurs, I would say have a solid business plan, do your research, build a team that shares your vision, be fearless in the beginning and ready to take on any challenge that may come your way, keep on learning and enhancing yourself, read more, invest time and energy in your business, don’t be afraid to fail, be open to delays and sleepless nights. Most of all, be humble, have faith and don’t give up.
This is of course in addition to constantly challenging yourself, taking calculated risks, putting yourself in the shoes of your customers and always over delivering.
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