Uber is on a hiring spree in Singapore despite ‘exiting’ Southeast Asia

Uber agreed to sell its Southeast Asia business in March, but it isn’t leaving the region. In fact, the U.S. firm is doubling down with plans to more than double its staff in Singapore.

That’s right. Uber is currently in the midst of a major recruitment drive that will see Singapore, the first city it expanded to in Asia, remain its headquarters for the Asia Pacific region despite its local exit. Unfortunately for customers who miss having a strong alternative to Grab, Uber won’t be bringing its ride-hailing app back in Singapore or anywhere else in Southeast Asia.

Uber’s own job portal lists 19 open roles for Singapore, but the company has contacted headhunting and recruitment firms to help fill as many as 75 vacancies, three sources with knowledge of Uber’s hiring plans told TechCrunch.

The new hires will take Uber’s headcount in Singapore to well over 100 employees, the sources claimed.

Ironically, of course, Uber let most of its staff in Southeast Asia leave when it stopped serving customers across its eight markets in Southeast Asia in April — although it was forced to extend into May in Singapore. As part of its exit deal, Grab got first dibs on 500 or so Uber Southeast Asia staff but that strategy didn’t pan out as planned, as TechCrunch previously reported. Indeed, a recent report suggested that fewer than 10 percent of ‘Uberites’ moved over to become ‘Grabbers’.

And yet, here we are, Uber is aggressively hiring in Singapore — but why?

The original plan following the Grab deal was for Uber to relocate its regional headquarters to either Japan or Hong Kong, two sources told TechCrunch, but in recent months that strategy has shifted. Just weeks ago, the remaining Singapore Uber collective — which consists of managers and executives — secured budget to staff up and find a larger office in the name of creating a support team for its remaining Asia Pacific markets.

The plan is for the Singapore-based employees to provide services such as HR, accounting, admin, marketing and PR across Uber APAC, which includes Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia and India — although the latter has more sovereignty with its own president who reports into the U.S..

An Uber spokesperson acknowledged that the company is in the process of hiring in Singapore, but declined to provide further details.

Sources with knowledge of discussions inside the company told TechCrunch that the decision to stay in Singapore is down to a number of reasons.

Hong Kong, which had been a frontrunner to become Uber’s new APAC HQ, was ruled because Uber’s legal status in the country is unclear — a number of drivers have been prosecuted — while Japan and Australia were deemed to be too remote to be regional hubs. That left Singapore, as an established city for business with an existing Uber staff, as the remaining option.

Sources also told TechCrunch, however, that a degree of self-service was involved. Those executives and managers who managed to remove themselves from the “shame” of being shipped to Grab dug their heels in to avoid relocating their lives and families elsewhere, two sources claimed.

Talking to TechCrunch, some former Uber staff questioned whether the remaining Asian markets require remote services from Singapore, which is one of the world’s most expensive cities. Together the countries are hardly huge revenue generators for Uber and could be handled locally or other global cities. There’s certainly an argument that the continued investment in Singapore is at odds with the widely-held theory that Uber left Southeast Asia, a money-losing market, to clean up its balance sheet ahead of a much-anticipated IPO next year.

One former Uber employee who did transition to Grab noticed that the U.S. firm is now hiring for their previous role. That situation is made worse by a ban that prevented Uber’s Southeast Asia employees from applying to transfer to other parts of the firm’s global business. That’s despite many being allowed to do so in the case of previous Uber exit deals in China and Russia.

The result is that Uber is hiring in Singapore, a market where it no longer offers its service and gave up most of its staff to its rival. Anything can happen in the ride-sharing space!

China’s Didi beefs up its newly-independent car services business with an acquisition

A week after spinning out its driver services business and giving it $1 billion in investment capital, Didi Chuxing has added to it through an acquisition.

Xiaoju Automobile Solutions (XAS), which the Didi spinout is called, announced today it has bought Hiservice, a three-year-old company that provides after-service care for car owners using a digital platform.

The deal was undisclosed, but XAS said that Hiservice will be combined with its maintenance and repair division to form a new unit that’s focused on car-owner services such as maintenance, parts and components. That’ll be called Xiaoju Auto Care (小桔养车) for those of you who are keeping up with the names of these Didi subsidiaries.

That auto care business will be jointly run by Yinbo Yi, who had run Didi’s auto care business, and Hiservice founder Cheng Qian, Didi confirmed. The new business claims 28 physical maintenance centers across seven cities in Asia.

Didi’s move to create XAS, which removes an asset-heavy business from the core Didi books, is seen by many as a sign that the company plans to go public soon. Unsurprisingly, Didi isn’t commenting on that at this point. The company was last valued at $56 billion when it raised a $4 billion round late last year — it has since added a $500 million strategic investment from travel company Booking Holdings.

While it is organizing its China-based business, Didi has also spent this year expanding into new markets. It has launched in Mexico, Australia and Taiwan while it acquired Uber rival 99 in Brazil. It is also edging close to launching a taxi-booking service in Japan via a joint venture with SoftBank.

India’s Uber rival Ola is headed to Europe with ride-hailing launch in the UK

The UK is getting a new alternative to Uber after India-based ride-hailing company Ola announced plans to expand to the country, which will become its first market in Europe.

Ola was founded in 2010 and it covers over 110 cities in India where it offers licensed taxis, private hire cars and rickshaws through a network of over one million drivers. The company has raised around $3 billion from investors that include SoftBank, Chinese duo Tencent and Didi Chuxing and DST Global . It was last valued at $7 billion. Ola ventured overseas for the first time when it launched in Australia earlier this year — it is now in seven cities there — and its move into the UK signals a further expansion into Europe.

Ola’s UK service isn’t live right now, but the company said it will begin offering licensed taxi and private hire bookings initially in South Wales and Greater Manchester “soon.” Ola plans to expand that coverage nationwide before the end of this year. That will eventually mean taking on Uber and potentially Taxify another unicorn startup backed by Didi which is looking to relaunch in the UK — in London and other major cities.

So, why the UK?

Ola CEO and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal called the country “a fantastic place to do business” and added that he “look[s] forward to providing a responsible, compelling, new service that can help the country meet its ever demanding mobility needs.”

It’s no secret that Uber has struggled in London, where its gung-ho attitude to business — ‘launch first, apologize later’ — has seen it run into issues with regulators. Uber (just about) won a provisional 15-month transport license earlier this year following an appeal against the city’s transportation regulator, Transport for London (TfL) earlier rejected its application.

The’ New Uber’ — under CEO Dara Khosrowshahi — is trying to right the wrongs of the past, but compliance with regulators takes time and requires wholesale changes to business, operations and company culture.

Ola isn’t commenting directly on its rivalry with Uber — we did ask, but got a predictable “no comment” — but the tone of its announcement today shows it is focused on being a more collaborative player than Uber.

Indeed, there’s been much groundwork. Aggarwal met with regulators in London last year and he said in a statement released today that he plans “continued engagement with policymakers and regulators” as the Ola service expands across the UK.

International expansion is very much part of Ola’s ambition to go public, which Aggarwal recently said could happen in the next three to four years. But Ola isn’t alone in looking overseas. Didi, the firm that defeated Uber in China and has backed Ola, Taxify and many others, has also been busy moving into new markets.

Last year, the firm raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and go overseas and it has come good on that promise by entering MexicoAustralia and Taiwan. It also landed Brazil through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99 and it is preparing to go live in Japan, where it will operate a taxi-booking service through a joint venture with SoftBank.

Grab picks up $2 billion more to fuel growth in post-Uber Southeast Asia

Grab, the ride-hailing service that struck a deal to take Uber out of Southeast Asia, has announced that it has pulled in $2 billion in new capital as it seeks to go beyond ride-hailing to offer more on-demand services.

The $2 billion figure includes a $1 billion investment from Toyota which was announced in June, and it sees a whole host of institutional investors join the Grab party. Some of those names include OppenheimerFunds, Ping An Capital, Mirae Asset — Naver Asia Growth Fund, Cinda Sino-Rock Investment Management Company, All-Stars Investment, Vulcan Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Macquarie Capital.

Grab confirmed that the round is still open, so we can expect that it’ll add more investors and figures to this deal.

The deal values Grab at $11 billion post-money, which is the same as the $10 billion valuation it earned following the Toyota deal. The caliber of investors certainly suggests an IPO is on the cards soon — not that it ever hasn’t been — although the company didn’t comment directly on that when we asked.

This new financing takes Grab to $6 billion from investors. Some of its other notable backers include SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing, which both led a $2 billion round last year which gave Grab the gas to negotiate a deal with Uber that saw the U.S. ride-hailing giant exit Southeast Asia in exchange for a 27.5 percent stake in Grab. From that perspective, the deal was a win-win for both sides.

In this post-Uber world, Grab is transitioning to offer more services beyond just rides. It has long done so, with its own payment service and food deliveries, but it is rolling out a revamped “super app” design that no longer opens to a ride request page and that reflects the changing strategy of the Singapore-based company.

10 July 2018; Tan Hooi Ling, co-Founder, Grab, at a press conference during day one of RISE 2018 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / RISE via Sportsfile

Grab said in a statement today that this new money will go towards that “O2O” [offline-to-online] strategy that turns Grab’s app into a platform that allows traditional, offline services to tap the internet to reach new customers. The trend started out in China, with Alibaba and Tencent among those pushing O2O services, and Grab is determined to be that solution for Southeast Asia’s 650 million consumers.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy with a population of over 260 million, is a key focus for Grab, the company said. The company has been pushed out new financial services in the country, fueled by an acquisition last year, and it claims it is winning “significant market share” with GMV quadrupled in the first half of this year.

With Uber out of the picture, the company’s main rival for the ‘Southeast Asia Super App Crown’ is Go-Jek, the Indonesian on-demand service valued at $5 billion.

Go-Jek has long focused on its home market but this year it unveiled an ambitious plan to expand to three new markets. That kicked off yesterday with a launch in Vietnam, and the company has plans to arrive in Thailand and the Philippines before the end of the year.

Go-Jek has raised over $2 billion and it counts KKR, Warburg Pincus, Google and Chinese duo Tencent and Meituan among its backers.

Go-Jek kicks off Southeast Asia expansion with Vietnam launch

Go-Jek, the Indonesia-based ride-sharing company valued at $5 billion, has begun its ambitious plan to increase its rivalry with Grab by expanding into three new markets after it opened shop in Vietnam.

The service — which is known as Go-Viet — covers an initial 12 districts in Ho Chi Minh City with a motorbike on-demand service. Rival Grab is in five cities in Vietnam and its services include motorbikes, taxis, private cars and food delivery.

The August 1 Vietnam launch as TechCrunch reported in June. The plan is to then expand into Thailand in September, and the Philippines before the end of this year. Singapore remains a market that Go-Jek would like to enter — it has held partnership talks with taxi operator ComfortDelGro — but it remains unclear whether, and when, that might happen.

Go-Jek expansion plan will put some heat on Grab, which has occupied a near-dominant position across Southeast Asia since it acquired Uber’s local business back in March.

Unlike Grab, though, Go-Jek is taking a very local approach to each market. Not only will it use a local name in each country — in Thailand it will be called “Get” — it has hired local ‘founder’ teams who will be responsible for service offerings and other local business aspects. It isn’t clear how closely they will work with the core Go-Jek team in Indonesia.

That may mean anyone traveling between countries will need to download local Go-Jek apps, which is in contrast to Grab, which offers a single app for eight countries in Southeast Asia.

Valued at $10 billion, Grab has raised over $5 billion from investors, including its most recent $1 billion investment from Toyota. Go-Jek has pulled in just over $2 billion. Tencent, Google, Meituan and others participated in its most recent (estimated) $1.4 billion raise which closed earlier this year.

Southeast Asia’s Grab hit by backlash over changes to customer loyal program

Life without Uber should be simple for Grab, but a battle with regulators in Singapore could see the company’s acquisition of Uber’s Southeast Asia business unwound while some consumers have voiced concern around a lack of competition.

Grab co-founder Hooi Ling Tan recently claimed competition remains in the market, but that hasn’t stopped another consumer backlash after the ride-hailing firm altered its loyalty program without warning.

To be fair to Grab, earning loyalty points for taxi rides is something unique — Uber doesn’t offer any kind of program, for example — and the changes initiated last week seem aimed at spreading the benefit beyond taxis and into Grab’s newer ventures, which include its GrabPay payment service and food deliveries.

However, in doing so, the company made two cardinal sins. The changes included the lowering of benefits for Grab’s highest tier (read: most loyal) customers — with rebates dropping from a range of 3.5-4.5 percent to 0.7-1.7 percent, as MileLion explains in thorough detail. Worse than that, it initiated the new terms, which include these drastic drops, on a Friday and with immediate effect.

That meant points earned over the past year were suddenly devalued with no apparent recourse.

10 July 2018; Tan Hooi Ling, Co-Founder, Grab, speaks at a pressconferencee during day one of RISE 2018 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / RISE via Sportsfile

Unsurprisingly that sparked a backlash, with many consumers accusing Grab of making the changes to save on money. (Grab has said it hasn’t increased prices after Uber’s exit despite some consumers claiming to the contrary.)

That led to a second announcement, made late on Monday, that postponed the introduction of the new loyalty program terms until September 30. However, it hasn’t scrapped the new changes themselves. That’s the right move, and it gives customers the chance to spend the credit they earned in the way they believed it would be redeemed before the change kicks in.

“We acknowledge that customers would appreciate time to adjust to the changes. Effective tomorrow (24 July) at 8am until 30 September, GrabRewards members can claim ride reward points at the previous rates. Customers who have purchased Grab ride rewards based on the new rates will have the difference in points refunded,” the company said in a statement.

It added that it plans to introduce “more exclusive perks” for its higher-tier ‘platinum” and ‘gold’ customers before the end of the year. TechCrunch understands that will relate to partnerships with third-parties, enabling users to spend points accumulated with Grab in more places although details aren’t finalized.

In the past, competition with Uber might have given Grab some leeway for messing up communication with users. But, as this latest saga shows, the removal of that competition has dented consumer confidence in Grab, and that means every misstep has the potential to alienate or upset users more than it did in the past. That’s part and parcel of adjusting from being the underdog fighting a global giant to being the biggest fish in the pond.

China’s Didi Chuxing is close to launching a taxi-booking service in Japan

Days after raising $500 million via a strategic investment from travel giant Booking Holdings, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing has continued its international push with the launch of a local business in Japan.

Its new Japan-based unit is a joint venture with SoftBank, a longtime Didi investor, which has been in the works since an announcement back in February. Today’s news isn’t that the service is live yet — it isn’t — but rather than the JV has been formally launched.

Didi did say, however, that it plans to launch services for passengers, drivers and taxi operators in Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Tokyo and other major cities from autumn this year. Didi said that its users in China and Hong Kong will be able to use the soon-to-launch Japan service through their regular Didi app — that’s interesting since a ‘roaming’ strategy involving Lyft and others arranged years ago never came to fruition.

And yes, you did read correctly that taxi operators are part of the target audience. That’s because Japan doesn’t allow unlicensed private cars to operate as taxis.

That’s made the country a real challenge for Uber, which has held talks with taxi operators, and it also explains why one of the leading ride-hailing service in Japan — JapanTaxi — is backed by the taxi industry. JapanTaxi is even owned by an insider, Ichiro Kawanabe, who runs Japan’s largest taxi operator Nihon Kotsu and heads up the country’s taxi federation.

Working with taxi operators means Didi has a fleet management platform, as above, as part of its Japan-based service.

That concession on working with taxis doesn’t necessarily mean that Didi isn’t focused on widening the market by enabling “ride-sharing” with non-taxi drivers in the future.

Reuters reports that SoftBank supremo Masayoshi Son — one half of the Didi Japan joint venture — made some family scathing comments at an annual event.

“Ride-sharing is prohibited by law in Japan. I can’t believe there is still such a stupid country,” Son is said to have remarked.

Didi, of course, is playing things more cautious as it rides into Japan.

The company said that the country, which is the world’s third-largest market based on taxi ride revenue, “holds great potential as a market for online taxi-hailing.”

“There is earnest demand for more convenient urban and regional transportation services, especially in light of the growing population of senior citizens,” Didi added via a statement.

The Japanese expansion is another example of Didi’s push to internationalize its service beyond China in 2018. Last year, it raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and move into new markets, and this year it has come good on that promise by entering Mexico, Australia and Taiwan. While over in Brazil, it leaped into the market through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99.

The 99 deal was a particularly interesting one since Didi had previously backed the company via an investment. Didi didn’t say much about the mechanics of that strategy, but it has investments in ride-sharing companies worldwide, including Lyft, Grab, Ola, Careem and Taxify, which you’d imagine, like 99, could be converted into full-on acquisitions at some point in moves that would speed up that international expansion.

China’s Didi Chuxing continues its international expansion with Australia launch

Didi Chuxing, China’s dominant ride-hailing company, is continuing its international expansion after it announced plans to launch in Australia this month.

The company — which bought Uber’s China business in 2016 — said it will begin serving customers in Melbourne from June 25 following a month-long trial period in Geelong, a neighboring city that’s 75km away. The business will be run by a Didi subsidiary in Australia and it plans to offer “a series of welcome packages to both drivers and riders” — aka discounts and promotions, no doubt. It began signing up drivers on June 1, the company added.

The Australia launch will again put Didi in direct competition with Uber, but that is becoming increasingly common, and also Ola and Didi which both count Didi as an investor — more on that below. This move follows forays into Taiwan, Mexico and Brazil this year as Didi has finally expanded beyond its China-based empire.

Didi raised $4 billion in December to develop AI, general technology and to fund international expansion and it has taken a variety of routes to doing the latter. This Australia launch is organic, with Didi developing its own team, while in Taiwan it has used a franchise model and it went into Brazil via acquisition, snapping up local Uber-rival 99 at a valuation of $1 billion.

It is also set to enter Japan where it has teamed up with investor SoftBank on a joint-venture.

“In 2018, Didi will continue to cultivate markets in Latin America, Australia and Japan. We are confident a combination of world-class transportation AI technology and deep local expertise will bring a better experience to overseas markets,” the company added in a statement.

This international expansion has also brought a new level of confusion since Didi has cultivated relationships with other ride-hailing companies across the world while also expanding its own presence internationally.

The Uber deal brought with it a stock swap — turning Didi and Uber from competitors into stakeholders — and the Chinese company has also backed Grab in Southeast Asia, Lyft in the U.S., Ola in India, Careem in the Middle East and — more recentlyTaxify, which is primarily focused on Europe and Africa.

In the case of Australia, Didi will come up against Uber, Ola — present in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney via an expansion made earlier this year — and Taxify, too. Uber vs Didi is to be expected — that’s a complicated relationship — but in taking on Ola (so soon after it came to Australia), Didi is competing directly with a company that it funded via an investment deal for the first time.

That might be a small insight into Didi’s relationship with Ola. Unlike Grab, which has seen Didi follow-on its investments, the Chinese firm sat out Ola’s most recent fundraising last year despite making an investment in the company back in 2015.

“The ride-hailing industry is still a young business, and the potential for growth is substantial. Competition exists in ride-hailing, like in any flourishing industry. But it leads to better products and services, which ultimately benefits users,” Didi told TechCrunch in a statement when asked about its new rivalry with Ola and Taxify.

That’s a similar sentiment to Taxify: “With a market the size of Australia, we think there is room for multiple players to operate and grow,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Ola declined to comment.

The move into Australia comes at a time when Didi is under intense pressure following the death of a passenger uses its ‘Hitch’ service last month.

The company suspended the Hitch service — which allows groups people who are headed in the same direction together — and removed a number of features while limiting its operations to day-time only. This week, it said it would resume night-time rides but only for drivers picking up passengers of the same sex.

Airbnb CEO said company will ‘be ready to IPO next year’ but might not

Airbnb brings in billions of dollars of revenue annually and is profitable on an EBITDA basis, so many wonder if and when the home-sharing company will go public. At the Code Conference today, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said the company will “be ready to IPO next year, but I don’t know if we will.”

He added that he wants to make sure it’s a major benefit to the company when Airbnb does go public. Following some more probing, Chesky said he has “no issues with [going public] at all. It could happen.”

Meanwhile, Airbnb has been struggling from a regulatory standpoint since at least 2010. Specifically, San Francisco and New York are two of the most difficult cities from a regulatory standpoint, Chesky said.

In New York, for example, there has been a standstill since 2010. At this point, Chesky said he expects it to take a few more years to overcome the challenge in New York.

“It doesn’t seem like the end is in sight with that challenge,” Chesky said. That challenge, Chesky said, involves the hotel industry and unions that “have galvanized people in these perpetual battles.”

Another general critique of Airbnb is its effect on rising rent costs and displacement. Chesky added that if it was simply a business decision, “it probably wouldn’t be worth it to stay there” in New York. But Chesky said there are hosts who have come to rely on Airbnb to earn income.

At Code, Chesky also touted Airbnb’s experiences product and how it’s growing 10x faster than its homes product. Airbnb Experiences sees 1.5 million bookings a year, Chesky said. Experiences, which Airbnb started testing in 2014 and officially launched in 2016, is Airbnb’s product that helps travelers find things to do in cities throughout the world.

When it first launched, Airbnb didn’t verify the experiences, but after some bad experiences, Airbnb has started verifying them.

“They’re doing incredibly well,” Chesky said. He added that the “experience economy” is growing and “there will probably be a massive economy around experiences.”

Grab launches a food delivery service in Southeast Asia

Fresh from completing its acquisition of Uber’s Southeast Asia business, ride-hailing firm Grab has officially launched its food delivery business — GrabFood — today.

The service is already available in beta in a handful of countries, including Thailand, but now it is available in Singapore (Grab HQ) with plans to reach Grab’s core six markets in Southeast Asia in the coming months. As part of its acquisition of Uber Southeast Asia, Grab took charge of UberEats in the region and moved its merchants and customer base to GrabFood before shuttering the Uber service.

GrabFood is available as a standalone app in Singapore, but in countries where Grab offers motorbikes on-demand the service is integrated into the core Grab app. The service will compete against the likes of Deliveroo, FoodPanda, Go-Jek’s GoFood, and others.

The GrabFood service is also tied to Grab’s rewards and loyalty program — GrabRewards — and customers can use cash, cards or GrabPay to pay for their orders. Two notable features allow customers schedule orders in advance while there is also no minimum spend on orders.

Grab announced a deal to buy rival Uber’s local business in March, although the deal itself doesn’t seem to have progressed quite as smoothly as expected. As TechCrunch reported last month, a mixture of regulatory concerns, disgruntled employees scheduled to transition to Grab and consumer concern at the lack of competition have weighed on what is Grab’s coming-of-age moment.

Nonetheless, Grab said in a statement that its move into food delivery is an important part of its strategy to develop “an interconnected ecosystem of consumer services to make the everyday lives of people easier.”

Removing Uber may have made that goal more realistic, but Grab will face competition regionally after Go-Jek, the market leader in Indonesia that’s backed by the likes of Google and Tencent, confirmed plans to expand to four new markets imminently. Go-Jek is putting $500 million behind that expansion, which it said will be modeled on a partner approach that gives local founding teams full control of the business in each new country.

Rather than standing still, Grab is reported to be raising $1 billion in fresh funding at a valuation of $10 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. That would represent a significant increase on the $6 billion valuation that Grab commanded when it gobbled up $2 billion from SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing last July.

Go-Jek, meanwhile, recently raised around $1.5 billion from a list of investors that include Tencent, JD.com, Google, Allianz, Meituan and Singapore-based funds GIC and Temasek.