It’s 2014. Wei Zhu hasn’t heard about this fledgling ride-hailing startup called Grab. He’s just quit his job as a software engineer at Facebook and is about to head back to the US after spending two years at the social media giant’s Singapore office.

“I was paying close attention to the journey of Uber and the competition between China’s Didi and Kuaidi. I was fascinated by the ride-hailing sector and it was interesting to learn that there’s something similar in Singapore,” Zhu tells The Ken.

Zhu eventually decided against heading back to the US and joined Grab as its first chief technology officer in 2014. By the time he left the company the following year, it had a scalable tech system in place to cope with surging consumer demand across the region. It also had engineering teams in Singapore, China, and Vietnam.

Zhu then put the experience of building out Grab’s tech into founding his own company—an insurtech startup called Igloo—in 2016. He wasn’t the only one.

According to figures compiled by the Tech For Good Institute Tech For Good Institute The Ken The thinking behind Grab launching a new think tank Read more (TFGI), a new think-tank by the ride-hailing firm, 307 former Grab employees struck out on their own after their stint with the company. They’ve founded startups across a gamut of sectors, from foodtech and fintech to bookkeeping and workflow management and even cybersecurity. They’ve formed a sprawling alumni network across the length and breadth of Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem.

It’s a network reminiscent of the well-known ‘ PayPal Mafia PayPal Mafia Fortune The PayPal Mafia Read more ’, a group made up of the payments company’s former employees who went on to found some of the world’s biggest tech companies. The PayPal Mafia includes the likes of venture capital (VC) investor Peter Thiel and Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, among others.

Its influence stretches far and wide. Apart from being credited with the rise of consumer-focused internet companies, the PayPal Mafia and affiliated VC companies have made over a thousand investments thousand investments VentureBeat A look at the PayPal Mafia’s continued impact on Silicon Valley Read more across two decades, as of 2019. Thiel alone has invested in over 100 companies.

From GrabTaxi to Grab

After observing the Grab team in Kuala Lumpur for a week, Zhu eventually decided to join the startup, back when it was still being based in Malaysia.

AUTHOR

Ka Kay Lum

Based in Kuala Lumpur, Ka Kay covers investment activities, aka following the money, across Southeast Asia and in-depth stories on the often-overlooked Malaysian startup ecosystem. She was previously a regional writer for Nikkei-owned DealStreetAsia.

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