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How super is the Careem super app? Meet the team behind it

What were the main challenges in building the super app that offers mobility, groceries, food, and money? The Careem team tells all.

[Source photo: Team Careem (L-R) Selim Turki, Senior Engineering Director - Data & AI; Shadi Sleiman, Senior Director of Engineering; Tiago Cabaço, VP of Design; Mohamad Charafeddine, VP of Product]

Less is more, but not in the case of a super app. More service, more variety, and more discounts have ensured the popularity of super apps. Starting from WeChat, Grab, and Paytm to Instagram, Whatsapp, and Facebook – all are leaning toward an integrated app offering. The super apps aren’t new to the Middle East either. If one were to gauge the popularity of apps competing in this segment, a good place to start would be to spot delivery workers in bright yellow, orange, and green on highways. Delivery is just one competitive edge of apps, and localization remains a differentiator. 

Careem, which began as a ride-hail service in 2012, gained the reputation as the Middle East start-up that didn’t just challenge Uber but beat it (prior to its acquisition) before achieving unicorn status. Now, Careem has 11 services and counting, 48 million registered users, and 2 million captains on its super app. With mobility, food, groceries, money, and delivery under its belt, its next stepping stone is to scale the super app model to other locations outside of Dubai. 

As part of the FC Teamwork series, we caught up with the team behind the Careem super app that is working to offer customers a hyperlocal, integrated app experience.

While many may be competing in the “super” category, Careem was the best place to build the super app, says Mohamad Charafeddine, the VP of Product for Mobility Platform, representing the supply side of the business. “Our goal is to design the best user experience, simplify and improve people’s lives in the region,” he says. 


Careem started with a clear purpose of attracting strong talent internationally, according to Charafeddine. “We have built a strong brand in ride-hail, serving more than a hundred cities in 13 countries but expanded to the adjacent vertical. Given that we have more than 48 million users and 2 million captains, we have the users’ geographic locations, their identity, and their payment methods. We have their trust and love,” says Charafeddine.

“We added food vertical and grocery; we have Careem Pay. Then we started to package those in a super app where we also tap into third-party tenants on top of the super app to create a better user experience like home cleaning services and PCR testing at home.”  

Since the business model works in Dubai, the company is planning to replicate it in the rest of the cities in the region. 

Selim Turki, Head of Data and AI, Careem, who joined the start-up in 2013 as a founding team member, says his purpose is to build the next tech institution in the region where data and AI are at the heart of value creation, both in terms of decision-making and creating solutions. 

The idea of powering the super app is to personalize customer experience based on AI. This enabled Careem to understand customers, says Turki. “Data and AI are the core of simplifying the users’ lives. AI and the super app allow us to understand what the customer is looking for and offer the best service at the right time.” 

Customer behavior occurs in patterns. And Turki says the more they identify the patterns, the better and more precise their forecast will be. “Once we understand the general patterns using AI, we will be able to offer a hyperlocal experience for every individual user.” 

The goal to create a reliable experience for customers and an extensible experience for third-party tenants has been the aim as it transitions from a mobility app to a super app, says Shadi Sleiman, Senior Director of Engineering, whose remit includes the service side of the platform comprising three components – logistics, eCommerce, and the super app. The transition brought about challenges involving maps’ accuracy and onboarding of more eCommerce use cases. “This added a layer of complexity to the business,” adds Sleiman. “The final challenges lay in scaling services.” 

“On the logistics front, we’ve partnered with some industry-leading companies to improve the accuracy of our locations. We’re leveraging machine learning models to improve estimates and position our fleet smartly in the city so we can better handle our demand,” says Sleiman. 

Careem is also exploring opportunities to understand the changing environment to improve the user experience. “On the eCommerce front, the additional complexity of moving from food to grocery and now to quick commerce has forced us to rethink how we handle essential services such as our catalog, search personalization, and item taxonomy. We’ve had to invest heavily in the right architecture to create a great user experience,” he explains. 

In addition to this, being cloud-native has helped the company to scale, meet increasing demand and improve services. 


Speaking about Careem’s mission to “simplify people’s lives to amplify their living,” Tiago Cabaço, VP of Design, says: “We want to take away everyday complexities and allow people to focus on things through our easy-to-use services. Be it traveling, spending time with loved ones, or learning something new.” 

Careem is living up to this lofty mission by expanding the super app footprint, boosting the partner ecosystem, and delivering a seamless user experience while attracting top talent.

“Our ambition is to add five or more partners to our super app. In terms of user experience, we want to deliver an intuitive and delightful super app experience,” he adds. “We want to keep pushing our boundaries, and do so intelligently and responsibly.”

Crediting much of the super app’s success to the team behind it, Cabaço highlights the importance of building Careem that attracts the world’s top talent. “We’re investing heavily in some of the best talent globally – talent that is inspired by our journey, and inspiring us by their skills, and superpowers.”

“We care about fostering environments where people grow and do what they love to do,” he adds. “If possible, as a cherry on top of the cake, we also want to make sure our people feel like they’re defining the next-gen of talent, not only in our region but globally as well. So, that’s what we can expect of the super app.” 


Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East who writes on tech, design, and culture. More

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