Referral programs, ‘you’d be crazy not to’ style promotions and granular segmentation to find your target market – Careem chauffeur service co-founder and managing director Mudassir Sheikha gives his tips for success.

1. Get the product right

First and foremost, be sure you are creating a product that can offer an experience that not only brings people back, but one that they want to tell their friends about. If your product is not at this stage yet, take a step back and focus on getting it right; recruit a set of friends and family to pilot the product and give their feedback. Listen to all the feedback, good and bad, and then relentlessly iterate until you have created something that the market is going to want.

When you are a start-up, things are never going to be absolutely perfect when you launch – but your customer experiences need to be as close to perfect as possible. Here at Careem we made our first trip less than six weeks after starting the company – as you can imagine, none of the sophisticated back-end systems we have now were in place then, but we had the right set of people working in the team to be sure we could provide customers with a great experience.

We built a user-friendly website where people could book hand-picked chauffeurs with awesome cars to provide the best in-car experience and, when a booking came, the rest was mostly done manually. That was essentially the sophistication level of the product then, but it didn’t compromise the customer experience.

We took care of our customers and that was what mattered – they came back and referred their friends, providing us with more and more business, while we worked on automating everything at the back end so we could handle the volumes effectively.

2. Identify your segments

Like any marketing textbook would say, identify the segments of your target market that are most lacking. Granularity pays off here. The more you can identify your segments in detail, the more compelling and tailored the offers you can make to them. In the initial stages for Careem the key segments were professional services firms (e.g. consultants, lawyers, bankers) and people living in villa areas (Emirates Hills, Arabian Ranches, etc) where taxis were not readily available. Since then, our target audiences have expanded greatly, both horizontally and vertically.

3. Give them a reason to try your product… and share

Once you are confident about your product and have identified your segment(s), you need to give your future customers a reason to try out your product. There are many things you can do here, the simplest being to make your product complimentary to first-time users so they can try it out. This may not be feasible for all products, so you need to experiment with other ways to let people experience your product: car dealerships do it through test drives; real-estate developers do it through model homes.

Once users have tried your product (and hopefully liked it), incentivize them to share your product with their friends. At Careem, we’ve had a referral program from the beginning, which rewards our users with credits for referring their friends. This program has been our most successful marketing tool and brings in more than 20 percent of our new users.

You can also develop ‘you’d be crazy not to’ offers that create noise amongst your target audience. For example, when we launched in Arabian Ranches about two years ago, we had a day of complimentary rides to and from the Ranches. This got people in the Ranches talking about the service and sharing it with their neighbors. And why not? It was a free ride on us, no catches.

4. Keep users engaged

We live in a competitive world, so you cannot rest on your laurels after signing up a customer. You need to engage them continuously, especially those users who may have stopped using your product. Put a loyalty program in place to encourage users to stay, as well as an activation program to woo back former customers who may not be using you anymore. And make them like you. Let your brand be human and ready to listen to whatever your customer might want to fire right back at you.

Mudassir Sheikha is the co-founder and Managing Director at Careem, Middle East’s leading chauffeur-driven car service. Prior to Careem, Mudassir was an Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company, where he was part of the high-tech practice advising clients globally on strategy and business-building. Mudassir has a background in technology entrepreneurship from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he co-founded DeviceAnywhere, a mobile application platform company acquired by Keynote Systems. He has an academic background in Computer Science and Economics from Stanford and USC. He lives in Dubai with his wife and their twin daughters.

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