Want to Succeed in Business? Find a Problem to Solve | Anthony Tan and Amane Dannouni | TED

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Summary Notes


Anthony Tan, CEO and co-founder of Grab, discusses the company's origin as a socially conscious enterprise aimed at improving safety and economic opportunities in Southeast Asia. Starting with a focus on women's safety in transportation, Grab evolved from a ride-hailing service to a multifaceted platform offering payment solutions and banking services tailored to gig workers and small merchants. The company's expansion across eight diverse countries was driven by the need to solve widespread issues and scale quickly. Tan emphasizes the importance of working with regulators and designing services for the masses rather than the elite. Moving towards environmental responsibility, Grab is investing in low-emission vehicles and aims for net carbon neutrality by 2040. Tan advocates for entrepreneurs to pursue double or triple bottom line businesses to address societal challenges and reduce inequality, viewing such endeavors as both a personal calling and a competitive advantage.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Anthony Tan

  • Anthony Tan is the CEO and co-founder of Grab.
  • Grab is a multifaceted platform that combines services similar to Uber, DoorDash, and PayPal.
  • Anthony is Malaysian-born and based in Singapore.
  • He is also characterized as a son, husband, father, and a man of faith.

"Anthony, you're well known in the tech community, you're well known in Southeast Asia, but for those who don't know you, you're the CEO and co-founder of Grab. Grab is essentially the combination of an uber plus a DoorDash plus a PayPal all on the same platform. You are Malaysian-born, you're based in Singapore, you are a son, you're a husband, you're a father, you're a man of faith. Am I missing anything?"

  • This quote introduces Anthony Tan and provides a brief overview of his background and the nature of his company, Grab.

Anthony's Humility and Background

  • Anthony expresses discomfort with praise, attributing it to his upbringing by Asian parents.

"Well, first of all, I'm squirming. I grew up with Asian parents, so I'm not used to such kind words. But thank you so much for that."

  • The quote reflects Anthony's humility and cultural background, which is not accustomed to overt praise.

The Genesis of Grab

  • The initial idea for Grab was conceived twelve years ago.
  • Traditional business methodology in Asia focused on building wealth first and then contributing to philanthropy later in life.
  • Anthony chose to diverge from this path, integrating social responsibility from the inception of Grab.
  • Grab was started as a for-profit social enterprise with a double bottom line, aiming to address social issues alongside financial goals.
  • The business plan was submitted for a social enterprise track rather than a business plan track.

"Historically, you would say, at least in the Asian, which I grew up with, methodology was really, hey, let's build a business, get rich when you're fifties, sixties, then contribute back and build your own philanthropy or foundation."

  • This quote explains the traditional business approach in Asia, which Anthony aimed to challenge with Grab's model.

"I think there could be a few scenarios when that happens. One is you get tempted and don't want to give back. Two is you actually cause negative externalities. Right? You pollute you, whatever. Because if it's all you are inspired by is profit maximization, then unfortunately you could cause a lot of harm. The argument is, yes, you could then create a foundation to sort of solve that. But we're going to talk about, when I came out, I was in early thirties, and then that's going to be 30 years of damage, potentially, versus in our case is literally building it from day one. In fact, when we came up with a business plan, it was a for-profit social enterprise, a Forbes, or a double bottom line business. And we actually didn't even submit it for the business plan track. We actually submitted it for the social enterprise track. That was the intent."

  • Anthony articulates the potential pitfalls of the traditional approach, such as the temptation not to give back and causing negative externalities. He emphasizes the importance of incorporating social goals from the start.

Focus on Safety

  • Grab focused on the issue of safety, particularly for women and children in transportation in Malaysia.
  • The problem of safety was personal to the founders and seen as a global issue.
  • Addressing safety concerns was seen as a way to unlock opportunities for various societal groups.
  • By enhancing safety, children could go to school without fear, women could safely travel to work, and drivers could earn more without becoming targets for crime.
  • Grab implemented cashless payment systems to reduce the risk for drivers who were earning more and carrying cash.

"Safety was a very personal problem for us. My co-founder and I Ling, she used to finish work late at night, her consulting hours at 11:00 p.m. For example, she would then have to jump in a taxi and pretend that she's on a call with her mom, just so that the driver would know she's with somebody else and if anything was to happen to her, she could call for help. That was how she had to go through life as a consultant when she finished late hours. So that's one personal second, is we wanted to go for a problem that was even yourself. If you lived in the States, you just crossed over Mexico City twelve years ago, you probably were worried to take a random taxi as well. So it was sort of a global problem. The third, what we felt was when you could solve this safety problem, you actually unlock a lot of possibilities. So children could go to schools without being worried because it wasn't an affordability issue. They were scared to take taxis, or women would be scared to take a taxi to work, and then they would choose not to go to work. And that leads to all kinds of second order effects. So we wanted to create or enable a group of people in society to whatever they can achieve and allow those opportunities to take place. So now drivers have a lot more income. They then became susceptible to crime because they had a lot of cash, because they were now earning a lot of money, and they basically became a mobile ATM machine. And what we did then was we said, look, let's inv"

  • The quote highlights the personal motivation behind Grab's focus on safety, the global relevance of the issue, and the positive societal impact of addressing it.

Evolution of Grab: From Safety in Transportation to Financial Services

  • Grab started with improving safety in transportation by introducing GrabPay, which aimed to reduce cash handling for drivers.
  • The transition from ride-hailing to financial services was driven by the needs of drivers and merchants for financing to grow their businesses.
  • Grab Lending was created to allow drivers to borrow money to purchase more bikes and rent them out, thereby expanding their income sources.
  • The establishment of digital banks was to address the issue that gig workers and small merchants faced with traditional banking, such as the requirement to save for at least 30 days to earn interest.
  • Grab's digital bank enables gig workers to earn interest on their savings on a daily basis, catering specifically to the financial needs of their driver and merchant segment.

"So we said, take cash out of the system by creating grab pay. Now, the benefit of that was safety for the drivers, but also customers could walk in and out, even in a high cash society like Southeast Asia."

This quote explains the initial motivation behind creating GrabPay, emphasizing both driver safety and customer convenience in a cash-reliant society.

"Then we created grab lending so that they can moved from not just being a driver, but they started being able to borrow to own two or three bikes, and then they could then rent those bikes out."

The quote outlines the expansion of Grab's services to include lending, allowing drivers to grow their business and income through borrowing and investment in additional vehicles.

"What we created was a digital bank that allows any of our gig workers to earn interest on a daily basis."

This quote highlights the innovation of Grab's digital banking services, which were designed to provide gig workers with more flexible and accessible savings and interest-earning opportunities.

Geographic Expansion of Grab Across Southeast Asia

  • Grab chose to scale across different countries in Southeast Asia despite the region's diversity in language, culture, and economic status.
  • The decision to expand was based on the ability to solve a common problem across these countries with a proven solution.
  • Grab was built as a double bottom line business, which required scale and velocity to be sustainable and to provide efficient services.
  • Scale was necessary to ensure a sufficient supply of vehicles for customers and reduce waiting times.
  • Velocity, achieved through high booking density and batching in the food business, was crucial for reducing costs and serving the lower-income segment sustainably.

"First of all, again, focus on what was a problem that could be solved. That's one. Two, we already had a solution. It was a proven solution that can scale across countries."

This quote explains the rationale behind Grab's geographic expansion, focusing on addressing a common problem with a scalable solution.

"Scale and velocity allows for a few things. One, when you have scale, it allows for a lot of supply because customers don't want to wait 2 hours for a car. They want it in five minutes."

The quote emphasizes the importance of scale in providing a large supply of vehicles, which is critical for meeting customer expectations for quick service.

"Batching is very important because, one, as a double bottom line business, you can drive to lower costs in a lower margin business to serve the bottom runner pyramid sustainably."

This quote discusses the strategy of batching in the food business as a means to lower operational costs and sustainably serve customers with lower income.

Design Choices in Grab's Business Model

  • Initially, Grab approached existing taxi drivers rather than random individuals to serve as drivers for the platform.
  • The choice to work with taxi drivers and then expand to other forms of transportation like tuk-tuks and motorcycles was a strategic design decision.
  • This approach was likely taken to leverage the existing infrastructure and expertise of taxi drivers, ensuring a level of quality and reliability in the service.

"The design choice we chose was to go with taxi drivers and then even go even lower than that, to go to tuk tuks, to go to two wheels, to go to..."

This incomplete quote suggests that Grab's strategy involved starting with taxi drivers and then expanding to other modes of transportation, indicating a step-by-step approach to growing their service offerings.

Design Choices for Mobility Solutions

  • The company focused on providing low-cost mobility solutions to serve the bottom of the pyramid.
  • They aimed to offer rides at significantly lower costs than the standard airport rides provided by competitors in more developed countries.
  • The company chose to scale quickly by designing methods to recruit drivers and build their system on affordable technology.
  • They opted for Android-based systems on 2.25-inch screens because Android was the lowest-cost smartphone option at the time, aligning with their goal to serve the economically lower end of the market while maintaining sustainability.

"The beginnings was always about how might we serve the bottom of the pyramid. So it was, if we can serve a ride for $0.20, we'll try and get that versus a dollar 200 airport ride."

  • This quote emphasizes the company's commitment to affordability and inclusivity, targeting the lower-income segment of the market with their services.

"We went for a 2.25-inch screen at that time. Samsung was the earliest in Android, and we bet on Android because it was the lowest cost smartphone at that point in time."

  • The quote explains the strategic choice of technology that would enable the company to reach a broader, more cost-sensitive customer base.

Regulatory Strategy and Scaling

  • The company's approach differed from the typical Silicon Valley startup mindset of moving quickly and breaking things.
  • They recognized the regulated nature of the mobility industry and chose to work with regulators instead of against them.
  • By collaborating with governments and aligning with their developmental agendas, the company ensured a more sustainable growth path.
  • This strategy may have slowed initial growth but provided long-term advantages, allowing them to outpace competitors like Uber.

"We knew it was regulated in the region, and because we chose taxis as our first vehicle type or mobility type, we knew that was regulated."

  • This quote highlights the company's awareness of the regulatory environment and their decision to work within it rather than circumvent it.

"Instead, I may have moved slower in the beginning, but in the long run, we actually outpaced."

  • The quote reflects on the strategic decision to prioritize regulatory compliance, which paid off in the long run by facilitating sustainable growth and competitive advantage.

Incorporating Environmental Sustainability

  • The company evolved from focusing on a double bottom line (economic and social) to a triple bottom line, adding environmental sustainability to their priorities.
  • Environmental considerations became crucial because climate conditions directly affect the economic performance of their business.
  • Recognizing that environmental disruptions like floods impede their drivers and, consequently, their business operations, the company committed to protecting the environment as part of their mission.
  • They set a goal to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2040 and began identifying the main sources of carbon emissions within their operations.

"We moved from a double bottom line to a triple bottom line. Again, it wasn't altruistic."

  • This quote indicates that the shift towards environmental sustainability was driven by practical business considerations rather than purely altruistic motives.

"By 2040 we are committed to net carbon neutral."

  • The quote states the company's environmental goal, showcasing their dedication to reducing their carbon footprint and contributing to global sustainability efforts.

Environmental Initiatives and Progress

  • The speaker discusses the company's efforts to reduce their carbon footprint through fleet electrification.
  • Over $200 million has been invested in lower emission and electric vehicles.
  • In Singapore, 50% of deliveries are zero emissions, utilizing walkers and electric personal mobility devices.
  • Indonesia has the most electrified miles in the company's mobility and delivery services.
  • The company is actively working with governments and potential partners to improve EV infrastructure and incentives.
  • Financial services are being developed to help with the high initial costs of electric vehicles.
  • The company acknowledges that they are a work in progress and have not fully solved the challenges but are making clear progress towards their goals.

"We've invested over $200 million in lower emission vehicles and electric vehicles."

  • This quote indicates the significant financial commitment the company has made towards reducing emissions by investing in greener vehicle options.

"In Singapore, for example, something like 50% of all our deliveries are done zero emissions."

  • This quote highlights the company's success in Singapore, where half of their deliveries are made without producing any emissions.

"We are working closely with governments...and making sure that EV infrastructure working out incentives on how to get the initial cost of investment."

  • This quote speaks to the collaborative efforts with governments to enhance electric vehicle infrastructure and manage the higher initial costs of electric vehicles.

The Global Challenge of Sustainability

  • The speaker acknowledges that tackling environmental issues is a global challenge that cannot be fought in isolation.
  • The difficulty lies in the fact that environmental issues need a collective effort and are not confined to specific regions.
  • Both speakers agree on the importance of everyone contributing to the effort to combat environmental degradation.

"It's completely fair. This is, I think, a journey where many, many of us are still trying to figure out, and it's slightly different from the social question because it's by definition global and it's very hard to fight it only in certain corners."

  • The quote reflects the speaker's view that environmental sustainability is a complex, global issue that requires a widespread and concerted effort to address.

"But we all have to do our part."

  • This quote emphasizes the collective responsibility that individuals and companies have in addressing environmental challenges.

Entrepreneurial Advice: Double or Triple Bottom Line Business

  • The speaker advises entrepreneurs to start businesses that address social and environmental issues, in addition to financial performance.
  • The growing rich-poor divide, especially in Southeast Asia, is presented as a significant social issue that entrepreneurs can help address.
  • The speaker stresses the importance of having a deep personal conviction and passion for the societal problems one aims to solve through business.
  • A strong sense of calling can provide a competitive advantage as it motivates entrepreneurs to work harder and with more dedication.
  • Regardless of success or failure, the intent to solve real societal problems is portrayed as a noble and fulfilling endeavor that future generations can be proud of.

"Start a double bottom line or triple bottom line business... One of that social problem, for example, what we are really looking at is this rich and poor divide."

  • This quote encourages entrepreneurs to consider the broader social impact of their businesses and to be aware of significant issues like economic inequality.

"You better do something that you love that you are absolutely convicted on... I felt that this was literally a calling from up above."

  • The quote conveys the speaker's belief in the power of personal conviction and passion as driving forces behind entrepreneurial success, especially when addressing societal challenges.

"Even whether you succeed or fail, you can say to your children's children that I did this because the intent was to solve a real societal problem."

  • This quote suggests that the true measure of an entrepreneur's endeavor is the intent to solve societal problems, which is a legacy that can be proudly passed down through generations.

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