Key startup success takeaways from the 'Careem Cartel'

Past and current employees elaborate on what makes Careem the region's biggest success story; In a discussion titled Mind over Matter, leading founders opine that working hard is not always the best thing



Bassel Al Nahlaoui, MD – Mobility, Careem; Wael Nafee, partner at Raed Ventures and a former VP at Careem; and Asma Alyamani, head of product at Mamo Pay and former product lead at Careem, explained the factors that contribute to Careem’s success and the takeaways they carried over into their new roles. — Supplied photos
Bassel Al Nahlaoui, MD – Mobility, Careem; Wael Nafee, partner at Raed Ventures and a former VP at Careem; and Asma Alyamani, head of product at Mamo Pay and former product lead at Careem, explained the factors that contribute to Careem’s success and the takeaways they carried over into their new roles. — Supplied photos
by

Muzaffar Rizvi

Published: Tue 23 Nov 2021, 7:59 PM

There are few start-up success stories that resonate in the region like Careem, which started in the UAE nine years ago and grew so huge that it was acquired by Uber for $3.1 billion in 2019, making it the first ‘unicorn’ in the Middle East. Its massive success served as a springboard for new entrepreneurial talent in the country and wider region, who learnt valuable lessons from its growth journey.

Former and current Careem employees, popularly known as the ‘Careem Cartel’, took to the stage at Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF) 2021 to impart key lessons in a panel discussion titled ‘Today’s employees, tomorrow’s entrepreneurs: Lessons from the Careem Cartel’, moderated by Tarek Fouad, head of growth at Shurooq Partners.

Bassel Al Nahlaoui, MD – Mobility, Careem; Wael Nafee, partner at Raed Ventures and a former VP at Careem; and Asma Alyamani, head of product at Mamo Pay and former product lead at Careem, explained the factors that contribute to Careem’s success and the takeaways they carried over into their new roles.

“To me, it is the energy and chaos of the early-stage start-up that was always attractive,” said Alyamani. I really loved growing and scaling the company (Careem) and wanted to replicate that experience all over again. Facing the different challenges and getting to wear different hats was another attraction. Recreating the success system and culture (for any startup) is cool but also complex, so emulating it is a great challenge.”

Careem set a big precedent in the market, according to Nafee. “If you reflect on the Careem journey, it is a catalyst of hope for all new entrants. The biggest impact it has had on the ecosystem is bringing the belief that you can build a startup on this scale and level. There are many ways you can help build a startup and establish its mission and values. Already knowing the hustle, I moved to my current role because I want to help more startups to do that.”

Al Nahlaoui, who oversees ride hailing, payments, food delivery and online groceries, says Careem’s core values remain the same and continue to drive its operations. “At our heart, we are still about helping people with our solutions. This region has 700 million people, and we still consider ourselves to be at the beginning of our journey. There will be lots more success stories that grow out of Careem, and we will continue to attract top talent and do impactful, meaningful work.”

The panellists agreed that internal culture was key to any company’s success, with the need to articulate its values, hiring the right people by “fit” and not just skill sets, and being continually customer centric and creating the best user experience for them. The success of companies like Careem can be attributed to having an obsession with solving the customer’s problems, they said.

Stepping back from the entrepreneurship hustle

In another panel discussion titled ‘Mind over matter: Rethinking the hustle and grind of being an entrepreneur’ Dr Naif Al Mutawa, cofounder of mental wellness platform Tuhoon; Craig McDonald, co-founder of FlexiPark; and Amna Al-Haddad, UAE Olympic weightlifter; speaking to moderator Triska Hamid, editorial director of Wamda, shared about why they decided to step back and take a break in the middle of their entrepreneurial journeys.

McDonald cited reasons such as work pressure, the burden of expectations, and physical and mental stress as the factors behind his decision. "It is really hard to build something from zero and make it successful, and when it does not go the way you want it to, you start blaming yourself," said McDonald.

"Just as you would take time to recover after an injury, it is important to step away and do nothing for a while if your business starts taking a toll on you," noted Al-Haddad.

"After working with people on their stress and depression for years, including some who came from entrepreneurial backgrounds, I'm now on the other side running a startup”, remarked the clinical psychologist-turned-entrepreneur, Al Mutawa, offering the session’s attendees the following piece of advice: “Entrepreneurship can get very addictive, and sometimes you need to step back and rethink it.”

The panellists suggested ways to tackle the issue, including taking up physical fitness activities, learning how to redirect and reframe negative thoughts, and blogging about one's experiences.

The fifth edition of the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF), one of the largest events for entrepreneurs in the region, organised by the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa), is witnessing the participation of 55 speakers, including influential regional and global entrepreneurs, industry titans, and young creatives from social, cultural and sports sectors, and more. Bringing together more than 4,000 entrepreneurs and founders of startups across sectors on one platform, the two-day festival is discussing ways to make a meaningful impact and promote positive change in the entrepreneurship sector in the UAE as well as the region.

SEF 2021 is being organised in partnership with the ICT Fund – an initiative of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and the Digital Government of the UAE, Sharjah Media City (Shams), Alef Group, and the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority.

— muzaffarrizvi@khaleejtimes.com


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