Grab is investing $100M to shut Uber out of fast-growing Myanmar

Grab is going all out to win the nascent ride-hailing market in Myanmar after it committed to investing $100 million into the Southeast Asian country over the next three years.

Myanmar might just be the world’s most fascinating internet market. Internet access had been heavily restricted when the country was fully controlled by the military, but it opened up following the free elections in 2015.

A huge adoption of mobile services followed as businesses, including operators and tech companies, flowed into the once reclusive country sensing an opportunity. Increased competition saw the cost of a SIM card, which was once $200 or upwards of $1,500 during military rule, drop to below $5 prompting the country’s 55 million population to move to mobile en masse.

Today, Myanmar has more registered SIM cards than people — a fact that was unthinkable just half a decade ago — and, with no real legacy fixed internet, the country has made a leap to mobile like no other place on earth.

E-commerce was an obvious first focus of Myanmar’s tech wave, and local takes on Uber popped up in recent years as smartphones became more widely owned. Earlier this year, the ride-sharing industry was shored up when Grab and Uber expanded into Myanmar, marking the seventh market in Southeast Asia for both services.

Now, Grab is claiming leadership — with 25,000 daily bookings and 6,000 drivers since its launch in March — and it has revealed an aggressive plan to cement its position.

As it has done in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, the Singapore-headquartered company has unveiled an investment package (at $100 million) to grow its business and move beyond transportation services. Doubtless its recent $2 billion funding has given the opportunity to initiate this program.

The initial focus early on centers around expanding the Grab service from capital city Yangon into other parts of the country, and increasing its local team to 200 people. But Grab is also looking to deploy its digital payment services in Myanmar, as it has done in Indonesia. Its in-app GrabPay wallet is foremost a way to pay fares without using cash, but it has been extended to offer a rewards program in partnership with a range of well-known retailers in a bid to stoke loyalty among Grab passengers.

In Indonesia, Grab is also working to offer payments outside of car services and it looks like it may do the same in Myanmar at some point since credit card ownership is below five percent and the jump to mobile leaves Myanmar open to digital payment systems.

“Our commitment to address transport challenges with locally suited and innovative solutions that create more social and economic opportunity works well for both Grab and our local communities. This is already one of our fastest-growing markets, and we are very excited to deepen our commitment into Myanmar,” Grab CEO Anthony Tan said in a statement.

Outside of mobile operators, Grab is one of the earliest consumer tech companies to make such a commitment to Myanmar. But you can expect more to follow as the opportunities in Myanmar continue to open.