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Jixun Foo’s Investment Journey with Grab

In 2014, Jenny, Hans, and I were on a business trip to Singapore. We were introduced to a young man named Anthony and we decided to meet at a Starbucks outlet in Plaza Singapura. We saw this well-built young man walking in with a big smile on his face. He was extremely polite but beamed with confidence.

He shared with us that he had won a competition at Harvard with a business plan for a ride-hailing service called MyTeksi and were building it to a real company. We asked why he wanted to do this. He was the youngest of three sons to a wealthy and influential family in Malaysia. He told us about his grandfather Tan Chong. Before building an influential automobile empire in Malaysia, Tan Chong was a cab driver. This image of the humble cab driver served as Anthony’s inspiration to make life better for cab drivers – after all, they were vital to driving a convenient experience for customers. While he was telling us this, I could sense this fierce determination to succeed and prove his worth beyond the family he was born into.

Anthony never wanted to sponge off his family’s business or fortune – he wanted to strike out on his own and make a name for himself. His inner drive stuck with me and I decided to take a serious look into the company.

After a visit to Malaysia where Grab was operating at the time, we decided to lead Grab’s Series B with me joining the board.

There was a lot of buzz about ride-hailing at the time – you had Uber and Lyft in the US and Didi and Kuaidi in China. We all saw how they amassed so much capital in such a short time frame – it was pretty scary to see just how much you needed to build such businesses. I won’t deny that Southeast Asia is a tricky region to work with. For one, it’s smaller than the US and China. Furthermore, the region is split into eleven different countries, which are further fragmented by their diversity of laws, cultures, religions, languages, and so on. This market is small yet complex – so why bother, right?

But I still stuck with my guns and chose Anthony and Grab. I found an opportunity within the complexity. In so many ways, Anthony is different – he has strong connections in the region that give him a considerable edge. His Harvard education in the US also means that he has a diverse talent network to tap on. He had classmates from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia – all key markets in Southeast Asia. This helped him to assemble the talent he needed to address Southeast Asia’s market fragmentation.

So later, Anthony led the charge to transform Grab from a ride-hailing app to a superapp. A lot of it boiled down to the implementation of an e-wallet into Grab. I drilled this idea of creating an e-wallet at board meetings for years because I knew that Grab was very well positioned to do it. Similar to how Alibaba’s power comes from the seamless payment experience through Ant Financial and Alipay, Grab needed to venture into payments to grow its business.

As I told Tech in Asia in a piece on GGV’s relationship with Grab, “Grab has to grow into new services. It has to become a lifestyle gateway going beyond ride-sharing. That’s the position they should take in order for them to continue to enhance their service offering and gain value at the same time.”

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to join Anthony on his journey to transform Grab from a simple ride-hailing app into Southeast Asia’s dominant superapp. I look forward to continuing to walk down this path with Anthony to bring Grab to new heights in the future.

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This post was originally published on Jixun Foo’s personal LinkedIn page.

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