Based on a vision to improve the safety and convenience of taxi travel in Malaysia, Grab’s history is a lesson in how enterprise and social value can work hand in hand. Grab has conquered the Southeast Asian ride-hailing app market in little over a decade and diversified into related markets all with a mission to drive Southeast Asia forward through economic empowerment.

Whether you’re a business owner, marketer, content creator, or simply someone with an interest in business stories, Grab’s history highlights the power of understanding your market, innovation, and staying true to your vision. At Business2Community, we’ve digested a wide range of sources to deliver a comprehensive summary of Grab’s meteoric rise.

History of Grab – Key Dates

  • Founded in 2012, Grab was originally known as MyTeksi and was designed to make taxi rides safer in Malaysia.
  • MyTeksi began expanding into more countries such as the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand in 2013 and rebranded as GrabTaxi.
  • In 2014, Vertex Ventures became one of Grab’s first institutional investors with an $11.2 million investment.
  • In 2018, Grab reached a deal to merge Uber’s Southeast Asian operations into its business.
  • Grab joined the NASDAQ following a record $40 billion merger with the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Altimeter Growth Corporation.

Who Owns Grab?

Singapore-based Grab has been publicly listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange since December 2021. Around 55% of shares in the app developer are owned by institutional investors such as SoftBank Investment Advisers (UK) Ltd. (10.7%), Morgan Stanley (5.33%), and MUFG Bank Ltd (3.64%). Less than 0.01% of Grab shares are held by company insiders.

Founded by Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling in 2012, Grab was originally known as MyTeksi. The idea behind the app was to make taxi rides safer in Malaysia. Tan came up with the concept while studying at Harvard Business School. Inspired by the success of Uber stateside, Tan saw an opportunity to launch a similar service for passengers in Southeast Asia. MyTeksi’s first funding came in the form of a $25,000 grant from the university.

original my teksi

Rebranded as GrabTaxi in 2013 – and later just Grab – the company secured significant funding in 2014 to support the expansion of its operations. In 2018, Grab acquired Uber’s Southeast Asian operations, enabling it to dominate digital ride-hailing services in the region.

Grab now operates in several countries across Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Grab has also gone on to launch a range of convenient services to become an all-in-one super-app for ride-hailing, meal and grocery delivery services, parcel deliveries, and financial services across the region.

Who is the Grab CEO?

Anthony Tan is the CEO and co-founder of Grab. Launching the company after graduating from Harvard Business School, Tan has led Grab from a simple ride-hailing platform to become the leading super-app in Southeast Asia.

Initially, Tan and his co-founder Tan Hooi Ling wanted to build a social enterprise to improve the safety of taxi travel for women and children. They believed that safer travel would improve the potential of people to travel for work and education and help drive Southeast Asia forward. Over time, grab expanded to offer other services to customers and driver partners such as food delivery services and financial services.

Grab app on a mobile phone

Throughout the company’s development, Tan has applied a hyperlocal business strategy and focused on developing strategic partnerships with other organizations in the region. In that time, Tan has earned recognition from many sources, including:

  • Fortune’s 40 under 40 (2016, 2018)
  • The Bloomberg 50 (2017)
  • Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People (2018)
  • Fortune’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders (2021)
  • Nikkei Asia Prize (2020).

Tan’s great-grandfather founded Tan Chong Motor, one of the largest automobile distributors in Malaysia, making the Tans one of Malaysia’s richest families. Tan briefly worked in the family business before turning his focus to developing Grab.

Growth and Development of Grab

Since its 2012 launch, Grab has introduced several convenient services to become an all-in-one super-app for ride-hailing, food and grocery delivery services, parcel deliveries, and financial services across Southeast Asia.

Read on for a summary of the key milestones in Grab’s rise to the top.

2012-2016: Grab Establishes Itself as a Leading Ride-Hailing Platform

Grab was founded as MyTeksi in 2012 by Malaysian entrepreneurs Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling. They had a vision to break the Asian business mold of giving back to society once they had become successful. Instead, they set out to create a for-profit social enterprise that did good from the very beginning. Anthony Tan has said:

There are many ways you can build social impact and create financial impact — they’re not mutually exclusive. If you don’t build a society that’s stable, and you don’t uplift the bottom, it becomes all of our problem

The problem they hoped to solve was that of improving the safety of taxi travel in Malaysia. Inspired by Tan Hooi Ling’s own experiences of feeling unsafe as she traveled home from work in Kuala Lumpur, they wanted to make taxi travel safer and more appealing to women and children. In doing so they hoped to open up new possibilities for passengers to travel more easily to work and school, improving their life chances and driving Southeast Asia forward.

Their idea led to a $25,000 grant from Harvard Business School when they won second prize at the university’s New Ventures Competition in 2011.

In the early days, the team worked hard to get things moving, including processing huge batches of data by hand before they developed and launched automated processes. The app’s initial features, such as being able to find the nearest driver via GPS and share details of your trip with others to improve convenience and safety, were instrumental in convincing investors to provide funding for the company to develop its technology and expand.

grab share my ride

MyTeksi began moving into other countries such as the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand in 2013 and rebranded as GrabTaxi. GrabTaxi’s platform aimed to overcome several challenges in the taxi market, such as traffic congestion, weather conditions, shift changes, and a lack of transparency over fares. These challenges made it difficult for passengers to book reliable rides at fair prices and drivers struggled to earn enough money as they wasted time and fuel driving around looking for passengers.

In 2014, GrabTaxi expanded further into Vietnam and Indonesia. It also launched its first GrabBike service in Ho Chi Minh City to transport passengers quickly through the busy streets by motorcycle. By 2015, GrabBike had spread across Vietnam and Indonesia and Grab launched GrabExpress, a door-to-door courier service for small packages.

Also in 2014, Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia and India became one of Grab’s first institutional investors with an $11.2 million investment giving it a 22% stake in the company. Grab then announced more than $250 million in investment throughout 2014 from the likes of Masayoshi San’s SoftBank, GGV Capital, and Tiger Global.

GrabBike advert

By 2016, the company had grown big enough to relocate its headquarters from Malaysia to Singapore and set up two core teams: research and development and operations.

2016-2024: Fighting Off Uber and Moving into New Sectors

With big ambitions, Grab’s team worked hard to compete with other ride-hailing platforms in the region such as Uber and Gojek. With aggressive expansion, deep-pocketed investors, and a tailored local approach, Grab eventually became the dominant platform in Southeast Asia. By 2017, Grab claimed that bookings on the app had grown by 360% each year to reach 2.3 million daily rides.

In 2018, Grab reached a deal to merge Uber’s Southeast Asian operations, which included its ride-sharing business and food delivery platform, UberEats, into its business.

grab uber vietnam

In 2017, the company announced the acquisition of the Indonesian online payment company Kudo. The technology was integrated with Grab’s payment system, GrabPay. Recognizing that many consumers and drivers in Southeast Asia prefer to pay in cash – and only 27% of Southeast Asia’s population had a bank account in 2016 – the platform enables consumers to shop and make payments online with prepaid funds with no need to register a credit or debit card.

Ming Maa, Grab President said of the acquisition: “Combining Kudo’s innovative O2O ecommerce solution and extensive agent network with GrabPay and Grab’s massive and active customer base will advance our mission of providing millions of people across Indonesia with increased access to convenient cashless payments and new income opportunities.”

Fueled by its acquisition of Uber Eats, in 2018 Grab launched the GrabFood food delivery service across its markets.

Also in 2018, Grab launched the Grab Financial Group, the company’s new financial arm which would later be rebranded as GrabFin. Grab Financial offers a range of financial services, such as payments, insurance, and loans. It aims to empower individuals, drivers, merchants, and small businesses across Southeast Asia through “simple, transparent, and flexible financial products”.

grab food

In 2019, GrabFin partnered with telecoms company Singtel to apply for a full digital bank license in Singapore. The nation’s central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), approved the application in 2020 in a move that would enable GrabFin to expand its financial services offering.

By 2022, Grab was reported to have a massive 75% market share of the online ride-booking business in Southeast Asia, followed by Indonesian-based Gojek at 13%.

However, the rise to dominance hasn’t been without its challenges. The Grab app and others were viewed with skepticism by many local taxi drivers who held protests against the legalization of online ride-hailing apps in Jakarta, Bangkok, and other cities across the region.

Platforms such as the Grab app also caught the attention of local governments in countries across the region. Grab representatives have appeared before government committees in several countries to answer questions about its impact on local people but ultimately Grab and its competitors gained approval from local legislators.

Grab branded motorcycles

There have also been reports of Grab drivers harassing their customers, including requests for personal information or unsolicited messages after a journey, as well as more serious allegations of sexual assault. In response, Grab upped its safety measures in 2017, building on its stringent background checks for all drivers with the addition of an in-car emergency button and camera.

In 2021, Grab debuted on the NASDAQ following a $40 billion merger with the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Altimeter Growth Corporation. It was the largest SPAC merger on record at the time.

Gig work, such as that done by Grab drivers, has come under increased scrutiny around the world, with workers demanding certain employment rights and benefits. Meanwhile, Grab continues to focus on building a sustainable gig economy ecosystem in Southeast Asia, working in partnership with governments and other platform providers. To achieve this it has developed six guiding principles:

  1. Preserve flexibility
  2. Sustainable earnings
  3. Insurance protection
  4. Fair working conditions
  5. Savings
  6. Professional development and career transition

In 2024, Grab launched its Women Programme, a series of initiatives designed to tackle the stereotypes that hold many women back from being actively involved in Southeast Asia’s growing digital economy. Under the program, Grab has introduced a feature to match female drivers with female passengers wherever possible.

With a commitment to leading AI advancements in the region, Grab also announced a partnership with OpenAI in 2024 to enhance its services for users, drivers, and employees.

Grab vs Uber

Following several years of intense competition, in 2018, Grab reached a deal to buy out Uber’s Southeast Asian ride-sharing business and food delivery service Uber Eats, with Uber effectively exiting the region. But how did Grab overthrow the global company?

Uber entered the SE Asian market slightly after Grab was launched and many thought Uber’s arrival would spell the end of Grab. However, while Uber remains the largest ride-sharing company in the world, operating in 70 countries, the Southeast Asia region presented many different challenges to overcome.

Effectively, Uber maintained a focus on rolling out the standard global approach that had worked so well for it in the West. Grab’s hyperlocal business model, on the other hand, was designed to address the specific challenges of the market – which is very diverse, both culturally and geographically. For example, Uber insisted on credit card payments in a market where data and local expertise told Grab that cash was preferable.

Through this customized and local approach, Grab beat Uber as the top ride-hailing app and forced Uber’s exit from Southeast Asia.

The Grab logo has developed over the years as the company rebranded to reflect its growing presence and expanded range of services.

Grab logos over time

The most recent Grab logo features striped green lettering, a little like a highway, to represent its travel and delivery services. Overall the logo gives the impression of a road map with these green stripes and smooth curves.

“Look at these roads, they symbolize Grab – these roads took us from GrabTaxi, GrabCar, GrabBike, GrabExpress, and GrabHitch,” Anthony Tan said. “The possibilities are endless – wherever these roads take us, we know there is one common destination, and that one common destination is the promise that we will all serve our customers by solving local problems.”

The Future of Grab

Grab’s short journey over the past decade demonstrates the power of applying a hyperlocal approach to compete with global brands. By applying local expertise and gaining valuable insight from data, Grab has been able to fend off larger companies and develop its own stronghold in Southeast Asia.

Grab’s history also highlights the possibility for a value-driven mission to co-exist with commercial success. With market share and user numbers increasing year-on-year, Grab is well-positioned to realize its philanthropic dreams while generating value for shareholders. In the first quarter of 2024, the company’s revenue increased by 24% to $653 million, exceeding analyst expectations. Grab’s food delivery and transport businesses grew 19% and 27% respectively.

Looking ahead, the super-app appears to have further room for growth as it enhances services for customers, partners, and employees across its different sectors and continues to add value to the Southeast Asian ecosystem.


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