Grab’s early approach to marketing – speak at ‘any conference that would have us’

Ride-hailing app Grab’s Cheryl Goh has revealed the frugal marketing approach adopted by the firm – now a billion-dollar unicorn company – in its early days when there was little money in the coffers to spend on campaigns.

Speaking at the Tech in Asia conference in Singapore today the group vice-president of marketing, who was one of the first Grab employees jumping onboard before an app even existed in 2013, said: “We had no money when I joined so it was about ‘what can I do for free’. So we spoke at any conference that would have us, to get our name out there. It was nothing, it was a brand that was unknown.”

Goh also told delegates she had no background whatsoever in marketing when she met the Grab founder Anthony Tan. “I never knew marketing or did it professionally until I met Anthony. I was doing more sales and business development before Grab.”

Talking further about her early career, she said: “I didn’t have much regard for marketing to be honest because I thought they were just spending the money we worked so hard to earn.”

Grab recently acquired Uber in South East Asia and now operates in eight countries and 200 cities, with some 100 million downloads and 4,000 employees – according to Goh. The company plans to branch out beyond ride-hailing into food, bike-sharing, deliveries, financial services and online payments – having raised $375m in funding in 2014 alone, in order to invest in growth.

Indicating there would be announcements around future expansion plans in the coming months, Goh added: “We want to be the app that you use in every part of your life. We will integrate more services so that your life is lubricated by convenience. We consider ourselves to be more than ride-hailing.”

In a surprising quick-fire question and answer round to conclude the session, with the CEO of start-up Found, Grace Sai, acting as the interviewer, Goh also revealed some surprises. In her short-form answers, she suggested Grab would one day look to an initial public offering rather than being acquired. In addition, she told delegates at the Suntec Convention Centre that she thought men made for better start-up founders than women, but that this was “something we should change”.


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