C-Suite Spotlight: Tan Hooi-Ling, CEO of 'super app' Grab
Who is Tan Hooi Ling?
Singapore-based co-founder and COO of ride-hailing service platform cum ‘super app’ Grab. A Malaysian native, who has a mechanical engineering degree and an MBA from Harvard Business School under her entrepreneurial belt, 35-year-old Tan Hooi Ling is now a multimillionaire and owner of what is considered to be Southeast Asia’s most valuable startup.
Why is she in the spotlight?
Having grown from a single-market taxi-booking app in 2012 to a ‘super app’ today, Grab is South-East Asia’s first ‘Decacorn’ – a company valued at more than US$10 billion. In 2018, Grab bought out Uber’s South-East Asia operations for billions, which helped boost Grab’s market share in Indonesia, SE Asia’s largest market. However, the company didn’t rest on its ride-hailing service laurels and instead launched a range of app-based services including food delivery, digital payments, financial services, and telemedicine, becoming a ‘super app’. Verticals include GrabMart, GrabPay, GrabFood and GrabInsure, among others.
Despite needing to cut its workforce by 5% a year ago, Grab recently announced plans to hire 350 individuals to support its massive growth plans, including expansion of products and services to support the digitilisation of micro-SMEs, the delivery of digital financial services across Southeast Asia, and the development of the upcoming digibank which will be managed by a Grab-Singtel consortium. Grab’s total goup net revenues grew 70% yoy in 2020 compared to 2019.
What exactly does she do as COO?
As COO since 2015, Tan has been overseeing critical pillars of Grab's operations, focused on business strategy and growth, growing market share in the eight Southeast Asian countries and more than 500 cities, as well as analytics, customer experience and peopler operations. She has doubled down on Grab’s verticals too, and is particularly passionate about solving the financial inclusion gap in Southeast Asia, launching Grab Financial Group.
Also passionate about philanthropy, under her leadership, Grab has partnered with organisations such as LibertyShared in anti-human trafficking efforts by training their driver-partners to spot and report instances of human trafficking, and participated in the UNDP’s Regional Dialogue on Integrated Solutions for Gender Equality. In 2018, she co-chaired the World Economic Forum on Asean and she's a board member of the NUS Board of Trustees and was recently named to the board of the Economic Development Board (EDB).
So, how did she get there?
Inspired by her civil engineering father to study mechanical engineering at the University of Bath, UK, Tan began her career with pharma firm Eli Lilly in London as an equipment engineer, before heading back home to Malaysia to start one of two career stints with consulting firm McKinsey. The first, as a business analyst with McKinsey Malaysia for three years, and later while living in San Francisco, as an Associate for McKinsey North America, advising global corporations in North America, Latin America and Austrlalia on strategic and operational issues. It was during her time at McKinsey that Tan bagged her MBA from Harvard and met Grab’s co-founder, Anthony Tan, who was part of her class of 2011.
Prior to co-founding Grab, Tan held several senior positions at Salesforce in the US for a few years, as Director for Corporate Operations and Senior Director for Pricing Intelligence and Monetization, where she led and supported high priority strategic and operational projects for the firm’s executive team, from M&A strategy through to performance management.
And what does she do when she's not working?
She finds joy in picking up new skills and experiences. Some of her favourite activities include swing dancing, snowboarding, and playing the ukulele.
In her own words...
“We are building products that positively impact millions across Southeast Asia and we want to continue deepening our R&D capabilities and push the boundaries of innovation, right here at our strategic base. This is only possible with the support of Grabbers across different business functions who are continually learning and adapting to new technologies and customers’ requirements.”
C-suite spotight: Melanie Perkins, CEO, Canva
Who is Melanie Perkins?
She’s the co-founder and CEO of Australian unicorn online design platform Canva, who ultimately became one of tech’s youngest female CEOs, at just 30, and recently became a billionaire aged 35, making her one of Australia’s richest and youngest.
Why is she in the spotlight right now?
Because less than a year after securing a US$6bn valuation during the pandemic, which provided a big boost to business, Canva has recently more than doubled its valuation, securing a $15bn valuation, which makes Perkins a billionaire, according to Forbes. The valuation comes in the wake of a new funding round in the first week of April 2021 led by T. Rowe Price and Dragoneer and raising $71m. At the same time, Canva announced its business has passed $500m in annualised revenue, up 130% from the year before.
What is Canva and why is it so successful?
Launched in 2013 by co-founders Melanie Perkins (CEO), Cliff Obrecht (COO) and Cameron Adams (Chief Product Officer), Sydney-headquartered Canva is a free-to-use online graphic design product that allows users to create everything from social media graphics to presentations and other visual content, as well as offering paid subscriptions like Canva Pro and Canva for Enterprise, with 3 million of its now 55 million users taking paid subscriptions.
Accruing 750,000 users in its first year, following a number of rounds of investment including from Mary Meeker’s Bond Capital in 2019 and this month’s massive funding round, Canva now boasts 55 million users across 190 countries, with offices in Sydney, Beijing, Manila, and most recently Austin, Texas, and is valued at $3.2 billion.
And while the company was originally most popular with SMEs, helping them draft and design print and digital assets, it’s since grown to become a real-time collaboration suite that’s being used by big firms including McKinsey, Salesforce and American Airlines. In fact, Canva claims that 85% of Fortune 500 companies use the platform’s services. They continue to add new features and during the pandemic, added presenter video recording tools.
How did Perkins get there?
The idea of Canva came to Perkins when she was at the university of Perth, where to earn money on the side she taught students design programmes. Many of her students found platforms like Adobe complicated and frustrating, and the ideas came to her to simplify and democratise design, to make it more approachable and accessible, more collaborative, and ultimately to empower all in design. So, she and university peer Cliff Obrecht, who became Canva co-founder and Perkins’ husband, created an online school yearbook design business, Fusion Yearbooks, to test it out. Operating from her mum’s living room, the yearbook design business was a massive success, expanding to New Zealand and France, and remains the largest yearbook publisher in Australia.
However, Perkins did not give up on her dream to create a one-stop-shop design site and at one point spent three months living with her brother in San Francisco where she pitched to more than 100 venture capitalists, all of whom rejected Canva. It was following a chance encounter at a conference in Perth with Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Tai, Perkins was winning over major investors including Hollywood celebrities Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson and building out Canva’s design platform with a fast-growing team of tech engineers and a high-profile tech advisor, Lars Rasmussen who co-founded Google Maps.
It was in 2012 when things really kicked off however when Perkins and Obrecht found a tech co-founder in Cameron Adams. The same year, they closed their first funding round, which was oversubscribed and raised $1.5m, with Canva going live in 2013. In 2019, an $85m funding round led by Silicon Valley investor Mary Meeker’s Bond Capital gave the company a valuation of $3.2bn, before the most recent funding around in April 2021 leading to a valuation of $15bn.
In her own words…
"I think it's pretty important to know that every single person is going through their own trials and tribulations. Knowing that it's tricky for everyone, that any adventure will be filled with rejections and littered with obstacles – somehow makes the adventure a little less lonely. And it's most important for people who feel like they are on the outside to know this."