Skift Take

Grab emerged as a leading superapp because of conditions specific to Southeast Asia. Don't look for U.S. and European copycats to get traction.

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Southeast Asia's Grab, which is on track to debut as a public company in an Altimeter Capital Growth special purpose acquisition company merger in the fourth quarter, became a leading superapp almost by accident. And the company's evolution tends to show why Western superapp advocates are missing the mark.

Westerners have often misunderstood the region.  "When my co-founder Anthony (Tan) and I started speaking to investors, nobody really knew about what Southeast Asia was, which countries it was, where it was even on the map," Grab co-founder Tan Hooi Ling told the Wall Street Journal last week. "But now, it’s really interesting to see how that has all changed cause everybody understands the region is really exciting, super high growth as an area because a lot of folks are calling it ‘China’ five years ago, right?"

Founded in 2012 in Singapore mainly as a ridehailing app, Grab added adjacent services such as food delivery and banking, primarily because it was doing things to meet customer needs. There wasn't an initial intent to create a superapp, although today that is very much the strategy.

Hooi Ling recalled that when t