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 JD.com.

AUTHOR

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.

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