Grab, South East Asia’s leading ride-hailing and services app, has focused on a hyper-local strategy to drive expansion across multiple markets and category verticals, according to a senior executive at the company.

The company recently celebrated reaching for than 2.5 billion rides, with 63% of that growth occurring in the last year, according to Grab CTO and Head of Engineering, Theo Vassilakis. Grab now operates in 235 cities across South East Asia.

“Every country is very different,” said Vassilakis at the FUTR Asia Summit in Singapore. “Different infrastructure, different regulations, different systems, different expectations from users – all of those things are different.

“If you approach each market with that in mind, then you can just do much, much better, and you can create a lot of change a lot quicker.” (For more, read WARC’s report: Hyper-local strategy drives growth for Grab.)

Though Grab has faced consumer backlash in Singapore since taking over Uber’s operations mid-year, it continues to press forward across South East Asia. By building an ecosystem of services ranging from transport, food, delivery, grocery, financial and mobile wallet, the company is banking on breaking users into the digital economy.

A hyper-local growth strategy is key: local variants of Grab abound in each market, such as GrabTukTuk and GrabRemorque in Cambodia, and the GrabTrike in the Philippines, which reflect locally popular modes of transport. Problem-solving at the local level is also a starting point, instead of developing a ‘one size fits all’ service for all countries.

Accepting cash payments, rather than just digital ones, was one necessary localization for emerging markets. In South East Asia, 40% of people don’t have a bank account and 90% of people don’t have a credit card.

According to Vassilakis, making the decision to take payments by cash was “one of the important realisations that Grab came to in this region”.

“If your service requires you to pay with a credit card, 90% of the people can’t use it,” he pointed out. So cash had to be an option but that brings all sorts of complications for a digital business. “It requires a bunch of consensus from everyone in the system to treat the cash right and manage it correctly,” he said.

Sourced from WARC