Brian Cu: An advocate more than a boss

gagagagaraaaab Brian Cu

We might know Brian Cu as the local head of the most active and widely-used ride-hailing app Grab, but at the end of the day, he admits that he’s a regular commuter just like most of us.

“I take a Grab going to work then I take a train going home because it’s much faster. I take the train and then take the jeep and then I’m home. It takes an hour and 10 minutes. If I take a car, whether it’s my car or a GrabCar, it takes me two and a half hours,” Cu shared.

“I feel like I’m doing my part of taking one car off the road in favor of mass transit. If we can unlock the thinking of people on how we can use multi-modal transport, I think we’ll be better from a traffic point of view,” he added.

A vocal advocate of mass transit, Grab Philippines is a product of Cu’s vision to bring the Filipino people more convenient options for transport.

In an interview with the Manila Bulletin, Cu shared that he is a big supporter of mass transport which is in contrary to personal transport like GrabCar, one of the services that Grab offers. But don’t get him wrong, though. What he wanted was for GrabCars to be an aide to mass transport systems.

“Honestly, if you ask me, I don’t want GrabCars in EDSA. I want them feeding into mass transport systems that go along EDSA. That would create less traffic. It will create a good cycle of growth and value created. That’s where I wanted to go.”

Similar with other companies, Grab started its success story with humble beginnings. But what made Grab different is how they work more for passion, rather than just for pure business. Cu, being the leader of the local office of the Singapore-based firm is a solid epitome of this. In fact, he himself was part of the original team who built Grab Philippines and did all the manual work.

“I started Grab in 2012 and that was GrabTaxi days. The team has grown significantly. A small part of the team was the team that started Grab with me and those were the most exciting,” Cu said.

“We’ve gone to the whole hardship of -- imagine how we started it -- we convinced taxi drivers to sign up to the platform, but to do that, we needed to find taxis. So, we went around and took pictures of taxis and their phone numbers. And then the next day, we would go and visit all these taxis. We talked to owners and convinced them to work with us,” he recalled.

Before taking the task to be the head of Grab Philippines, Cu worked as one of the founders of the online fashion platform Zalora, but eventually entered the transportation industry, where his heart is, full-time.

“I get excited talking to drivers, talking to passengers, and realizing how Grab has uplifted someone’s life,” he shared.

According to Cu, he would drive and pick-up passengers once in a while in order to understand the drivers’ point of view, and the passengers’ sentiments. He shared that this also has become a standard procedure for his team, where everyone needs to be a Grab driver at least once.

“The way Grab does things is about empathizing with the drivers and being immersed in what they do, how they work, and how they think. From there, you can build empathy, and we’d understand ano pinanggagalingan ng hinanakit nila,” Cu said.

“For us, we do what’s fair. At the end of the day, drivers are our customers also as much as the riders are our customers. We need to make sure that our customers are satisfied and happy driving on the platform, and they can see driving not as ‘panakip butas’ but a really long-term career that they can have.”

‘Super app’

 Fast forward to 2019, Grab has become more than just a ride-hailing app. Not only did it convince thousands of what the company calls as their driver-partners to join them in making the local transport system convenient and better, but it also has opened more facets into the platform, therefore creating more opportunities for people.

From empowering drivers, Grab has leveraged into uplifting micro-entrepreneurs when they introduced GrabFood. Launched just November of last year, GrabFood now has more than 6,000 merchants that range from small carinderias to restaurants.

“The whole food story is nice. The small entrepreneur who cooks, say, really good sisig can now expand their business through Grab. We have Jolly Jeeps and Metro Chefs on the platform, but of course, we also make sure that food safety is our priority,” Cu said.

“We go to the most chained restaurants and the hole in the wall ones. They’re like little gems that you find.”

GrabFood is just one aspect of how Grab envisions to be as what Cu described it, a super app that delivers everything that an individual needs -- seamless mobility, on-demand food delivery, logistics, cashless payments, and financial services -- all wrapped up in one app.

“What we’re becoming is a lifestyle -- your everyday super app, where there’s a lot of push button as you need it. Services that can be delivered to consumers. We’re a purpose-based app. It covers items that you need to do three or four times a day but the transactions are swift and efficient,” Cu said.

These services, according to Cu, combined with his team’s constant thirst to experiment and think out of the box, are the same reasons why Grab is future-proof.

“We’ll continue to operate on the next hundred years. People would still move, people would still love to eat, people will still need to deliver stuff. A lot of the services that we need are pretty rock solid when it comes to long-term needs of customers,” he said.

While the technology side of Grab including the developments within the app are made in the company’s tech centers spread across the globe, Cu shared that his team invested efforts to make the Grab app localized.

“We gave a lot of input because we want to localize the product as much as possible. We gave a lot of input on how the local features should be.”

Driving the digital economy

 Tapping on the ecosystem of cashless payments, Grab introduced GrabPay last year, which now has transformed into a mobile wallet which can be used beyond transport. While this initiative of Grab is not directly addressed to the unbanked sector, Cu shared that this is the company’s way of promoting financial inclusion to all of its users.

“Grab cannot solve the unbanked, but I think what it can do is create more financial literacy and to give more financial access. It’s not about banked or unbanked, it’s about giving financial options to anyone who needs it,” Cu said.

The said service is also in line with Grab’s vision of smart cities.

“There’s a concept around smart cities where we fit squarely and it’s called mobility as a service. We’re able to really create a more fluid mobility as a service where multimodal transport is prevalent. And with a click of a button, through GrabPay ideally, it pays for everything -- from car rides to bus tickets -- everything is connected.”

“Grab has around two to three million users per month so it’s a big part of digital inclusiveness and digital interaction already. We’re moving into becoming an open platform which means through Grab, other digital players that are in line with our values of supporting micro-entrepreneurs and improving convenience for the clients and users, can now place their products and services on the app and immediately get access to that many users,” Cu said.