Middle Eastern taxi app firm Careem hopes investment from China's Didi Chuxing will help it rival Uber across the region. As Nawied Jabarkhyl reports, the two sides signed a deal to work together earlier this year, as competition heats up in the potentially huge market, which stretches from North Africa to Pakistan.
It's one of the biggest start ups in the Middle East but the founders of Careem think their business - which is valued at over $1billion - is only getting started. The Dubai-based ride-hailing app got the backing of Chinese counterpart Didi Chuxing in August, as the pair look to ramp up pressure on U.S. rival Uber. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MUDASSIR SHEIKHA, CO-FOUNDER & CEO, CAREEM "I think what Didi did was remarkable in China. Markets [here] are similarly hotly contested and yes, when we sit down, we discuss things that the competition [Uber] is doing, and how to counter them." Careem won't reveal the amount invested by Didi, but says it's looking to learn from the firm's experience in essentially pushing Uber out of the world's most populated country - along with its investment in new technologies like Artificial Intelligence. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MUDASSIR SHEIKHA, CO-FOUNDER & CEO, CAREEM "Morocco to Pakistan, where we operate, there are at least 700 million people that live in the region, which is 10% of the world's population. Our estimate is that between us and the competition [Uber], we're still covering less than 1% of the addressable population, addressable market." Having rolled-out operations here in 2012, Careem has a one-year first-mover advantage on Uber. But, the competition remains fierce. The San Francisco based firm received $3.5 billion in funding from the Saudi Arabian government last year, and says it's looking to expand further. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ANTHONY EL-KHOURY, MIDDLE EAST GENERAL MANAGER, UBER "We've seen great growth coming out of the region. Saudi Arabia is a great example. One of our goals for 2020 was to onboard 100,000 Saudi drivers. We're almost 12 months in and we're going to hit our target way, way earlier." (SOUNDBITE) (English) NAWIED JABARKHYL, REUTERS CORRESPONDENT "According to Dalia Research, only 1 in 4 people in the Middle East and North Africa's cities are using their smartphones to order cabs. It's that untapped potential that makes this region important. And with similar rivalries to Careem and Uber's being played out from Southeast Asia to North America, what happens here will be watched closely by industry players around the world.