Careem: MENA's most important startup to date.
Founded as a quest to find purpose, Careem has imposed itself as one of the MENA region's most important startups of the past decades.
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“To simplify and improve people’s lives, and build an awesome organization that inspires”. This phrase has remained Careem’s virtually unchanged mission statement ever since the company was founded in Dubai by two ex-McKinsey consultants Magnus Olson of Sweden and Mudassir Sheikha of Pakistan, back in 2012.
Careem was founded on top of what I call a “founder cheat code”: two consultants looking for purpose. In the case of Careem, the two founders didn’t have an epiphany on a spiritual retreat to Tibet. Rather, Magnus almost lost his life following an unexpected brain aneurysm and promised himself he would build something impactful if he survived.
Following Magnus’ recovery, the pair started to brainstorm ideas of what they could fix in the region. As recounted by Magnus, Mudassir’s idea of “simplifying the transport of consultants in the Middle East” by building a B2B ride-hailing app didn’t exactly hit the mark of the world-changing mission Magnus had in mind. That was until he spoke to the drivers and realized this could be an opportunity to drastically change their lives. Careem was thus born, a ride-hailing app with a strong purpose surrounding their drivers' economic and social well-being, renamed “captains” to break the regional stigma around the job.
Using the battle-tested ride-hailing model and adapting it to local realities, which we’ll cover later, Careem quickly expanded throughout the entire MENA region, venturing into large, juicy markets such as Egypt and Pakistan as well as more challenging ones such as Palestine and Iraq. Contrary to its often brash ride-hailing competitors, Careem played nice with regulators, pitching them on how Careem’s service could improve transportation in their cities rather than brute-force their way into new markets. This privileged relationship with regional legislators would be key in defeating their main competitor: Uber.