Parental relationships can be important when starting new businesses. Rarely more so than in the case of Anthony Tan – originator of the Asian “super-app” Grab, which having proved “an Uber killer” in its home markets is now readying for a $35bn-$40bn Wall Street float in the largest special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) deal yet seen.
Tan’s mother was one of the first investors in Grab’s Malaysian forerunner MyTeksi – the online taxi-booking service founded by the youthful entrepreneur in 2012, says the BBC. She was also pivotal to the app’s acceptance among institutional investors. “We saw how he spent time with his mum, how he talked to her, and how much respect he gave her,” says Kee Lock Chua of Vertex Ventures. “That told us he had strong character and conviction. Besides the solid idea, that helped us make the decision to invest in the business.” Chua’s firm paid $11m for a 22% stake in Grab: by the time he exited seven years later, it was worth “more than ten times that amount” – a measure of the company’s mushrooming growth as it expanded beyond taxis into food delivery, insurance, payments and lending across eight countries to become Southeast Asia’s most valuable start-up.
“The eye-popping numbers give a sense that Tan is blazing a trail for the entire region,” says the Financial Times. That is “very much in character”. Born into one of Malaysia’s wealthiest families, Harvard-educated Tan, now 39, has always been “unabashedly ambitious”, proclaiming just two years after founding the company that “if we get this right, we can literally go into the history books”. According to a lawyer whose firm works for Grab, “Anthony always wants to be number one”. He’s also spiritually driven, citing Jesus Christ as a business hero and describing his job as a “mission” to serve Southeast Asians’ needs.
Subscribe to MoneyWeek
Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE
It could all have been very different, notes a Harvard Business School profile. As a scion of the family behind Tan Chong Motor, one of Malaysia’s biggest car distributors, Tan was expected to join the family business. But he was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug while at Harvard. Challenged by a classmate, he came up with a plan to revamp the Malaysian taxi market.
It’s perhaps Tan’s unique mix of connections – he was “heavily influenced” by meetings with tech founders such as YouTube’s Steve Chen, and “lean start-up” gurus – that has done most to fuel Grab’s growth, says the FT. Supporters say it took someone like him “to navigate Southeast Asia’s interlinked world of politics and business”. But he’s never lost touch with street life. Now married and living in Singapore, he can often be seen eating cai fan (a cheap rice dish) in shopping malls. That familiarity with business on the ground helped in the epic battle to oust Uber. While the latter was seen as a competitive threat by local cab drivers, Grab was perceived as an ally. Thus when Tan decided to leverage Grab’s customer-base and offer financial services, it was viewed more as a helpful evolution than a power grab, says the BBC.
That said, the risks to Grab are mounting. There’s a danger that local governments will emulate China’s crackdown on e-commerce giants getting into digital banking. More imminently, he faces the challenge of debuting on Wall Street “just as institutional enthusiasm for SPACs is waning and short-sellers are circling”, says the Financial Times. “Anthony is a street fighter,” says a former employee. He may need to be.
Jane writes profiles for MoneyWeek and is city editor of The Week. A former British Society of Magazine Editors editor of the year, she cut her teeth in journalism editing The Daily Telegraph’s Letters page and writing gossip for the London Evening Standard – while contributing to a kaleidoscopic range of business magazines including Personnel Today, Edge, Microscope, Computing, PC Business World, and Business & Finance.
She has edited corporate publications for accountants BDO, business psychologists YSC Consulting, and the law firm Stephenson Harwood – also enjoying a stint as a researcher for the due diligence department of a global risk advisory firm.
Her sole book to date, Stay or Go? (2016), rehearsed the arguments on both sides of the EU referendum.
She lives in north London, has a degree in modern history from Trinity College, Oxford, and is currently learning to play the drums.
SIPP holders to get cash warnings and be offered default funds
News Providers will be required to offer investors a default fund and must warn customers of the inflationary risk of cash savings the regulator has said. What the new rules mean for your retirement pot?
By Marc Shoffman Published
Zoopla: Asking price discounts hit a five-year high – is now the time to buy a property?
News Zoopla’s October House Price Index shows sellers are accepting discounts of 5.5% on average to secure a sale – we reveal where homeowners are taking the biggest asking price cuts
By Marc Shoffman Published
The jury's out on the AI summit at Bletchley Park
World governments gathered for an AI summit at Bletchley Park in November, but were they too focused on threats at the expense of economic benefits?
By Simon Wilson Published
As a market correction begins, money is on the move.
The force of a market correction is equal and opposite to the delusion that preceded it, so we can imagine that the correction will also be unparalleled.
By Bill Bonner Published
How small businesses can retain staff in a competitive job market
Small businesses are struggling to retain staff and compete against large companies with deep pockets.
By David Prosser Published
The French economy's Macron bubble is bursting
Cheap debt and a luxury boom have flattered the French economy. That streak of luck is running out.
By Matthew Lynn Published
K-pop hitman Bang Si-hyuk aims to repeat BTS phenomenon
Bang Si-hyuk created the world’s biggest boy band, BTS, making K-pop music a global sensation and himself very rich. Can he repeat the trick with a girl band?
By Jane Lewis Published
Nudge theory – how does it hold up, 15 years later?
Nudge theory, the revolutionary theory of how governments can get you to change your behavior for your own good, is now 15 years old. How does it stand up?
By Stuart Watkins Published
Betting on US politics – who'll be the next US President?
In the latest betting on US politics, with just over a year until the next US presidential election, punters pick Donald Trump as the favourite.
By Dr Matthew Partridge Published
UK wages grow at a record pace
The latest UK wages data will add pressure on the BoE to push interest rates even higher.
By Nicole García Mérida Published