In 2016, a covert meeting took place in Jakarta, Indonesia. Go-Jek CEO Nadiem Makarim, Grab CEO Anthony Tan and one of then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s highest-ranking lieutenants in Southeast Asia convened to divide Indonesia’s mobility pie amongst themselves. The country was understandably high-priority for all three companies—it’s Southeast Asia’s largest economy, with a population of 260 million.

At the time, local taxi groups were violently protesting the rise of ride-hailing platforms, which they believed were ruining their livelihood. In crisis, it was time to pull together. It helped that Makarim and Tan were on good terms, having known each other from their student days in Harvard, and, indeed, the meeting was fruitful. It ended with a toast to a new affiliation. 

At the time, each company was focused on a single vertical, so they decided to divide and conquer. Uber would go after private cars, Go-Jek—headquartered in Indonesia—would focus on the country’s omnipresent two-wheeled motorbike taxis (ojeks), leaving Grab to concentrate on the licensed taxi business. 

Fast forward to 2019, and an alliance of any kind couldn’t be further from reality.

Uber left Southeast Asia last year—trading its staff and assets to Grab in exchange for a 27.5% stake in the Singapore-based company. Grab and Go-Jek, meanwhile, have grown to be bitter rivals, with Tan and Makarim’s friendship a casualty of competition. 

Today, both aim to be Southeast Asia’s go-to super app—a much-hyped buzzword for apps that cover a multitude of consumers’ daily needs. Indeed, both companies offer bike taxis, licensed taxis, private cars, a mobile wallet, grocery shopping, and a bevvy of on-demand services ranging from massages to haircuts. And they compete on every one of these fronts.

With Southeast Asia’s digital economy set to triple to reach $240 billion over the next seven years, according to a report co-authored by Google, Go-Jek has expanded to take on Grab in Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore as well. All over the past 12 months, although no expansion boasts the full suite of services that Go-Jek offers in Indonesia, yet.

The platform approach, coupled with the potential of the Southeast Asia market, has seen billions of dollars of capital poured into Grab and Go-Jek. Today, Go-Jek is closing in on a $10 billion valuation. Grab, meanwhile, is valued at $14 billion. Grab’s ongoing Series H round is forecast to close with a total of $6.5 billion raised. Go-Jek, on the other hand, is raising a Series F that, initially aimed at $2 billion, has reportedly been enlarged to $3 billion. 

With funding comes a new angle to the face-off between the two—Grab and Go-Jek have become proxies for their deep-pocketed investors.

 “Grab is backed by SoftBank—so close to Alibaba—while Go-Jek’s investors include Tencent and


Jon Russell

Jon Russell is Southeast Asia editor for The Ken based in Bangkok. Originally from the UK, Jon moved to Thailand in 2008. He’s passionate about telling thoughtful business stories, and tracking the impact of the internet in his adopted home of Southeast Asia.

View Full Profile

Read this story. Subscribe Now

This story is available across both editions. Subscribe to the one that’s most relevant for you. Questions?

Pick an edition


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at [email protected] detailing the error or queries.