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Disrupting the disruptor: mobile taxi app Grab overtakes Uber in Asia

Nancy Napier

GrabBike mobile app-driven motorbike taxi service is dominating Asian markets. The company got a foothold by disrupting the Uber model, says Business Insider columnist Nancy Napier.
GrabBike mobile app-driven motorbike taxi service is dominating Asian markets. The company got a foothold by disrupting the Uber model, says Business Insider columnist Nancy Napier. Provided by Grabbike

I’m not a “first adopter” of most tech related products or services. I’d rather let the bugs be worked out before I venture in.

So I’m a latecomer to Uber, but I gave it a try in a place I thought would be a most unlikely first-time for me — Vietnam. But at least in Hanoi, Uber the disruptor, has, in some ways, been disrupted.

I realize Uber is not viewed so well right now, but I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about when it came to the business model. (By the way, there is no Lyft here.)

Compared to taxis in Hanoi, I found Uber cars to be clean, the drivers weren’t talking on the phone while they weaved through some of the world’s most chaotic traffic, and the price was sometimes half what a taxi would be for the same trip.

Then one day, a colleague said, ‘Let’s Grab a cab for you,’ and he did. It wasn’t what I expected.

Grab is an Uber competitor that is shaking up the Uber model in Asia.

Same clean quiet car, and slightly cheaper. I wanted to try it, mostly because of how they’ve disrupted the market.

Grab was founded by two Harvard Business School grads, both from Malaysia. The idea came when a friend mentioned how hard it was to “grab a cab” in Malaysia. So the idea was born, an Uber type cab business but also a similar one for motorbikes. And it’s taken off in Asia.GrabBike’s Vietnam CEO boasts 50,000 drivers in Vietnam alone.

In Hanoi, GrabBike motorbike drivers sport green polo shirts and green and white helmets. They dominate the roads, gather under bridges to wait for work and buzz around in traffic. Once they appeared, UberMOTO started its motorbike business, but by then GrabBike was moving toward dominance. To date, UberMOTO has about 20,000 drivers, less than half of GrabBike’s fleet.

Both services offer helmets for customers who ride on the back.

Since motorbikes are so maneuverable, they can get to destinations faster than bulky cars. I experienced that in action last week when I spent time on a colleague’s bike going to an appointment. (Side note: I felt very smug when this young man said I could ride the back of the bike very well, and sidesaddle, something that many Vietnamese women cannot do. Who knew one could impress the young with motorbike balance?).

The key here, according the Vietnamese I talked, to is that Grab really grabbed the motorbike market before Uber was involved and ran away with it. So perhaps timing is another way of disrupting, at least in chaotic traffic.

Nancy Napier is a distinguished professor at Boise State University; nnapier@boisestate.edu.

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