International Women’s Day Special Feature

International Women’s Day Special Feature – Tan Hooi Ling

As a follow-up story on International Women’s Day event organised by SCCCI-CWG in Singapore, we managed to speak to Tan Hooi Ling, Co-Founder of Grab in an one-on-one interview. We talked about her experiences in entrepreneurship, particularly at Grab in their early start-up phase.

TS: How did you get started on entrepreneurship? Was this a path you foresee yourself doing?

HL: Actually it is quite the contrary, I never ever thought I would be an entrepreneur because I had a career in management consulting that I was quite happy with, but I think that what happens for most entrepreneurs is that you start to think about an idea you get super passionate about and then you start to realise that it is worth all your time and this is actually what happened to me. I met Anthony in business school, and we came up with the idea which was actually quite crazy.

Solving safety, taxis, in Malaysia, if you put all three together you get the same reaction my parents gave me which is "what in the world are you thinking"? But it was something that was so important to us as it was a huge problem that we had a solution for, so we spent a lot of our time and effort to get it through.

The good news for us is that it was a humongous market fit. Customers needed the solution, whether they are passengers finding safer rides, or riders looking for more efficient earnings; and it just grew and grew to what it is today. And as it started to gain more and more traction, we started to feel more and more responsible for the impact that we are having, and we also realised from that growth that we can have more impact in many different areas. So that is how we grew from a Malaysian company to a regional company and now we are in eight countries. And we are really thankful for that because if it weren’t for the idea and passion, we wouldn’t be able to do it.

TS: You previously mentioned that you were in management consulting, how has your corporate background help you in growing your business?

HL: I think all sorts of experiences help us. The good news about what I learnt from management consulting is that I now have a better understanding on what it takes to scale to a global MNC. At the same time, we all need to know that different things matter in different points in time for any company that is growing. So when we were first a start-up, if we tried to do the practices of a global MNC, we would have failed completely, because it would not have given us the ability to be fast and flexible and agile. But now with the fortune that we have, we are have scaled to four thousand Grabbers, eight operational countries, and you can see that a lot of learnings are coming into place.

TS: What is the biggest advice that you would give aspiring female entrepreneurs?

HL: Don’t give up when you hear a no. Entrepreneurship is difficult, it is not easy. Don’t be afraid to hear no, and when you hear it, ask yourself are you doing it because you believe in it, or are you doing it because other people believe in it? If it is for the latter, don’t bother continuing. Reflecting that on Grab’s journey, Anthony and I believed in it so much that no matter what all our family members were saying, no matter what everybody in the industry were saying, we still went ahead and did it, because we spoke to the customers, we spoke with the drivers, we spoke to the passengers and they all wanted it. And when we launched the product, that’s when traction built up.

Number two, is to know that you are going to be wrong many times. So even when you think you are right but you hear you are not, think about what those learnings mean. Be humble enough because one of the things I am most proud of is every single day I am fortunate enough to make many mistakes and I think of it as a silver lining because making mistakes are actually good; they enable you to learn. When you don’t make a mistake you can’t learn. And the reason we get to make so many mistakes is because we are moving so fast and therefore we are breaking a lot of boundaries along the way, and that has enabled us to continue growing.

Last but not least, find people who believe in the same vision and mission as you do. Don’t try to do it alone. For me and Anthony, when we first started the company, some people thought that it was better to start it alone because it is easier without a co-founder — less problems. But guess what? It also means less support, less ability to hear differing points of view. Differing points of view are so important; they help you stop yourself from making mistakes. That to me is the whole concept of diversity and why this is important, whether it is for women or men. It brings different perspectives that help you make sure that you are making better decisions each day.

Hooi Ling was very frank in sharing that being an entrepreneur is difficult, but she did not condone it. Instead, she believes that with the right mindset, attitude, and belief, anyone – male or female – can be successful. Also, the fact that she chosen to share these three bits of golden nuggets speaks volumes of their importance, as she could have easily given many other tips. We hope that you can takeaway invaluable lessons from her short but insightful comments and pursue your entrepreneurial dreams!

By Jesse Tan/8 March 2018 15:00 Singapore