Insights on Grab

By Jamie Lim and Darrius Tan

Experience+ is a series of online learning journeys and industry visits that give students the chance to virtually visit workplaces, speak directly with working professionals, and learn about organisations they aspire to join. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising opportunities to engage with industry.

On 5 January 2022, Advisory hosted Experience+: Grab, where participants benefited from panel discussions, small-group networking with Grab professionals, as well as an exclusive introduction to analytics at Grab and the gig economy. During the visit, we were privileged to have experienced professionals from Grab, including:

  • Chong You Zhen – Lead Economist
  • Jung Kim – Lead Behavioural Scientist
  • Jamie Ko – Director, Regional Public Affairs
  • Lara Yim – Senior Product Analytics Manager
  • Leslie Liang – Manager, Corporate Strategy
  • Neil Yang – Manager, Regional Campus Programs
  • Panos Mavrokonstantis – Lead Data Scientist

Our selected participants included students from various education levels and institutions with a common curiosity in Grab and the tech industry, and how to best position themselves for roles in the company and in the industry.

Below are some key points shared during the session:

Widely famous for its food delivery, transport, and digital payment services, Grab is one of the most prominent technological start-up firms in Southeast Asia (SEA) today, operating in eight countries across SEA, with presence in over 400 cities and towns. Grab has noteworthy investors, ranging from private corporations to sovereign wealth funds such as Microsoft, Toyota, and the China Investment Corporation.

Grab was founded on the belief that a technology company could both run profitably and create sustainable impact. They seek to ensure profitability is tied to the welfare of the communities they operate in, and the protection of the environment for future generations to come. Supporting this core mission are Grab’s ‘4H’ principles – The Heart to serve the community, the Hunger to show results, the Honour in building and sustaining trust, and the Humility to never stop learning.

At present, Grab provides services across many industries, from mobility to deliveries, payments, and even advertising services. With roles ranging from product analytics to behavioural science, Grab offers a multitude of career opportunities and is focused on developing new solutions for the technology scene.

Some traits include:

  1. Excellent communicators who are adept at networking
  2. People with a start-up mentality and who are comfortable with some degree of chaos
  3. Complex problem solvers that own the work that they do and view Grab’s mission as their own
  4. People who are able to work in a fast-paced and agile environment that requires collaboration across many teams
  5. People who are proactive and show initiative

There are a wide variety of acronyms, such as average order value (AOV), gross merchandise value (GMV), amongst others. Grabbers have to adapt readily to the corporate environment and learn more about such terms used frequently within the workplace. In addition, one-on-one conversations between Grabbers are commonplace in Grab, more so than in other corporate settings. This results in an informal and collegial company culture.

At Grab, data-driven decisions drive everything. This makes data analytics a very crucial branch of the firm. There are 4 key ways in which the Analytics team uses data to provide and improve upon Grab’s services.

Firstly, Grab uses analytics to build data-driven products. They use data to generate insights, allowing them to make dashboards, track consumer movement, and identify opportunities and anomalies, all in the effort to serve their consumers better. The team runs a lot of ‘experiments’ in order to test their services and to make effective decisions.

Secondly, Grab uses analytics for platforming. As a catalyst for data innovation, Grab hopes to empower communities with the platform and tools to improve efficiency, and to unlock new analytics capabilities in order to foster better collaboration between teams.

Thirdly, Grab uses analytics to design data architecture. By developing centrally architectured data models, Grab is able to design, develop, test, deploy and support a scalable and flexible data warehouse system. Underneath all this lies their standard of operational excellence in their data collection.

Lastly, Grab uses analytics to drive their business and corporate strategy. Strategy cannot be driven without data, and without using a mix of strategic thinking with computational methods. For example, Grab uses data to derive country-specific analytics, determine the effectiveness of their marketing expenditures, as well as to better understand their consumers’ preferences.

People with business and product acumen. One must have sufficient domain knowledge, as well as the agility to navigate through messy and incomplete data.

People who align with Grab’s culture and mission. At Grab, put the consumer first, act with integrity, and be open to learning from new experiences!

On the non-technical side, Grab looks for people with good critical and creative thinking, communication, and stakeholder management skills.

On the technical side, Grab looks for people who are able to use SQL (Structured Query Language) and statistics extensively for low level data manipulation. Those who are good at leveraging Python or R, have a deep understanding of machine learning techniques, hypothesis testing and experimentation, and who are comfortable handling large volumes of data, will have a clear advantage.

Grab places a strong emphasis on their employees’ professional development. For instance, GrabLearn is a portal which contains training packages and programmes for Grabbers. Many of such programmes are online, free and very accessible. Grabbers are also able to tap on the diversity of experiences within the company, thereby enriching themselves. One such example could be the monthly “All Hands” meetings, where senior leaders in Grab share more about their experiences and lessons learnt in work. In addition, there are “Grabathons”. Grabbers can form teams across different departments, analyse a specific problem, and formulate a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). In short, Grabbers are able to learn a lot simply by working in Grab, due to its focus on creativity and innovation.

Grab uses Machine Learning and AI everywhere. For instance, Grab uses models to forecast future demand and supply for its delivery business, to figure out how many driver-partners would be needed to meet demand. Behind nearly everything on the Grab app is a machine learning model that is used in the background to generate options that consumers would see. In short, Grab has a strong focus on tapping on data to deliver optimal outcomes for its consumers and driver-partners.

There is a need to understand why certain regulations are proposed. In most circumstances, regulators aim to protect someone’s interest. As such, Grabbers in the Public Affairs team aim to study and understand the government’s point of view. At the same time, Grab also works to explain the fast-changing business environment to policymakers.

Grab also engages with other stakeholders, including consumers, driver-, delivery- and merchant-partners and the broader industry, in coming up with creative solutions that considers the interests of all stakeholders.

In Grab’s view, there are several guiding principles associated with a sustainable gig economy.

Firstly, the gig economy should offer gig workers a high degree of flexibility. Flexibility refers to gig workers’ ability to choose when to work and how much to work, based on their own needs and circumstances. Over 70% of Grab’s partners cite flexibility as the reason why they chose to take up work via the Grab platform; this suggests that flexibility is an especially important consideration for them. In fact, 46% of Grab’s driver- and delivery-partners did not earn an income prior to accessing work from the Grab platform.[1] Moreover, 1,100 persons with disabilities (PWDs) use Grab as a platform to earn[2], in part due to the accessible working arrangements that it offers. By offering autonomy to gig workers, more individuals can take the first step to becoming financially sustainable.

Secondly, the gig economy should facilitate gig workers’ quest towards building financial security. Grab’s role is in nurturing a marketplace where partners can earn a sustainable level of income, and to provide insurance thatprotects partners from accidents in the course of their work. Partners are also encouraged to set aside some savings for longer-term needs, thus improving their lives.

Thirdly, a sustainable gig economy must include good professional development opportunities. Gig workers should be able to upskill, re-skill, and access different work options if they desire. 1.7 million driver-partners completed training programmes facilitated by Grab in 2020, and two-thirds of Grab partners hope to leverage skills gained to transition to other career fields. This suggests that the gig economy can offer a valuable springboard for workers to take on new and meaningful jobs in the future.

Lastly, a sustainable gig economy must offer fair working conditions. In the gig economy, work should be safe, inclusive and transparent. For example, Grab has introduced safety features to help partners work more safely. This includes the establishment of a safety centre, cashless payments, and telematics (the monitoring of vehicles using GPS technology).

In short, a sustainable gig economy model could be a hybrid work model between the traditional categories of formal and informal work. Grab’s driver- and delivery-partners undertake a form of platform-enabled gig work. This provides high flexibility, while lifting standards in other areas such as financial security, work conditions, and professional & career development compared to purely informal work.

[1] Based on a randomised online survey of ~5,000 respondents, conducted by Nielsen from 4 April to 9 April 2021 in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines.

[2] Grab ESG Report, 2020 [Link]

There is huge diversity in the needs of gig workers, and addressing the needs of gig workers is a complex topic. There are no easy regulatory solutions, and all solutions entail trade-offs. Policies developed should not favour only certain workers. A “best-fit”, flexible regulatory solution that benefits the vast majority of workers should be considered.

Local context matters. While there may be certain groups in other countries pushing for various causes or regulatory solutions, every country has different governmental priorities. Regulatory solutions must be crafted in a manner that takes into account local needs.

Regulations should be set collectively in consultation with a wide array of stakeholders. For Grab, such stakeholders would include consumers, private sector companies like insurance firms and driver- and delivery-partners themselves. Every stakeholder should work together to find the right balance, considering their varying interests.

There are still areas for improvement, but the gig economy has come a long way. Many firms in the gig economy have taken proactive steps to protect and empower their workers and partners, and they are benefitting.

It is important that the gig economy is not force fitted into traditional employment structures. It is crucial that all stakeholders understand the goals of those who participate in the gig economy. They should then come up with innovative solutions that benefit workers without undermining the gig economy’s benefits.

Firstly, the tech sector is evolving rapidly and there are many upcoming opportunities, including in fields which do not require a high degree of technical expertise. For instance, as the technology sector grows, regulations on technology firms are set to increase as well. As such, departments like Public Affairs can grow as well, as firms consult and co-create solutions with various stakeholders.

Secondly, to those who are interested in tech roles, stay curious and be updated on what is going on in the tech world. You will have a better understanding of what you may be getting into, and will know if the technology sector is a good fit.

Thirdly, have a strong hunger and interest to keep learning, because you never know what is coming up. The love for learning is what will keep you going, especially in the fast-paced tech industry. This mindset of continuous learning and innovation can be applied to non-technical roles within the technological sector as well. For instance, you can read up extensively about corporate strategy in technology to enrich your own understanding.

Finally, there is a great diversity of roles within the technology sector, including non-technical roles. As such, there is no need to feel discouraged about not having a technical specialisation.

Our panelists greatly value the diverse and dynamic work culture at Grab. Grabbers are able to focus on various areas of work, such as public affairs, mobility, and delivery. There is also a wide variety of teams in Grab with diverse experiences, such as data scientists and economists. As such, the panelists have been able to learn from other Grabbers who bring new ideas to the table. In addition, the panelists’ careers in Grab have been highly versatile, as they constantly undertake tasks tapping on different skill sets.