Former Careem Growth Team Experiences

emre tok
13 min readMay 27, 2021

When I landed to Dubai back in 2017, we were bunch of people starting to put the first foundations of the term and mindset of Growth in Careem before it was acquired by Uber . Through out the journey, we had tons of experience learning's, successes and failures. How we built the team, what were the situation at that time, what would it be different if we started now.

In this article I would like to touch base, what this amazing team has achieved during their tenure and what they are doing now to continue the same energy, mindset, experience to other start-ups in the MENATP region and abroad…

You will find a long story of How a growth team was formed back in 2017, how evolved with different sub departments and organizational changes… I thought this could be helpful for everyone to get inspired, find their own way of operating and learning from our experiences

Lets jump in…

Customer Growth and Digital Marketing team back in 2019 forming sub departments of Acquisition, Engagement, Martech, Growth Operations, Performance Marketing, CRM and Analytics

The story started April 2017… When I accepted the offer from Mudassir Sheikha, I was knowing less on the Growth but more of Product Marketing, Management and core product disciplines. Luckily enough, there was a small group of amazing caliber colleagues were already in place already kicked the basics of growth initiatives , Furkan, Baris and Michel

PHASE I — Engagement Efforts (Started 2017 April)

Teamed up in an open space on the 40th floor of Shatha Tower of Dubai Media City, there were already basis of Growth A/B testing experimentation was there, by pulling data via SQL, working on huge excel sheets and DB to understand and understand users behaviors. There were tons of topics we have to do; help countries to expand to cities by acquiring users, engaging customers that we have already have in existing cities, decrease CAC, increase trips, GMV and revenue…

We had to prioritize… We picked the big bets.

  • We have and they were mostly related with increasing retention rate.
  • The second topic is we needed engineering and product support to launch our ideas such as focusing on High Value Customers and giving them an amazing service. This was a silver bullet over our competition with Uber.

For both we needed source. Therefore we have brought Ahsan from Pakistan to deep dive with his technical skills on building the first bits of automation learning from Furkan, Radhika landed to the UAE from India to look at retention and Heidi internally transferred from Careem Egypt Finance Team. Furkan with the above colleagues formed the first bits of Engagement Squad inc by inch.

The logic was :

  • Educate the team with deep technical skills
  • Make them pure full stack growth hackers whom can do multiple things at the same time (forecasting, budgeting, hacking, A/B testing, building bits of triers automation and understanding customer’s journey end to end)
  • Build the resilient growth mindset and spread this to the countries they work
  • Work literally 2–3X :)

Building the tech skills and getting the necessary approvals made us to move fast rather than waiting engineering and product support on any basics of automation, triggers, integration with CRM or other tools.

This (later I will explain in detail) resulted with building Growth Engine, prediction, forecasting abilities which resulted in efficiencies. Marketing Tech and Growth tech teams were working on mainly Automating the flows such as:

  • Building/selecting or leveraging new or existing marketing automation or tools to drive automated long-term growth
  • Coding Events/triggers and following users’ journey by full automation to do re marketing/churn prevention and predicting
  • Implement connection between CRM Tools, Paid Performance Marketing, SMS/Email Notifications with Data Science Models
  • Build Lifetime Value of the Customer based on strong Data science & Experimentation

I highly recommend visiting Barış Karaman’s blog on Medium to read series of articles on Data Driven Growth.

During 2017–2019, we had vast competition with Uber. during these times, they had more promotions budget and aggressive growth tactics. To survive and keep growing there were 3–4 steps we were focusing on:

  • Keep the High Valued customers aka commuters inside our platform via subscription or promos that offer multiple ride discounts
  • Grow with amazing on ground, driver, payment, registration and on boarding experiences as well as in care by collaborating with other teams
  • Efficient spending and not spend to customers who would intentionally abuse your promos (use promo and leave)
  • Increase the overall lifetime value of the customer in all segments and breakeven profitability

To do that we used very detailed A/B tests to find the utter efficient incremental upticks for increasing trips and revenue

A set of suggestion to startups or founders who are reading this article is hiring is the only one part of the equation but education, showing the way, teaching your colleagues and making everyone share their knowledge by documenting a heritage (playbooks) is the one very important another .

In Careem we have published many playbooks each have possible tens even hundreds of pages. These led every new joiner to have an amazing on boarding and they are spreading this culture where ever they go in their future Career. some topics we were working on :

  • Engaging customers at a sustainable cost. (CPAU: Cost Per Additional Usage) Calculating the incremental cost difference to change user behavior
  • Retaining Customers by amazing experiences and offers (Retention Rate, Churn Rate)
  • Building Mechanisms for locking and increasing usage (Loyalty) (# of loyalty Customers/Total Customer base)
Former Careem Martech Lead Baris, took the best blurred picture of the team, during my surprise birthday party. He is the VP of Growth in SWVL (They dont care of course how quality photographer you are but more how strong you are at growth :) )

PHASE II — Growth Ops. Joining to Customer Growth (October 2017)

One of the most challenging times we had was coordination with countries aka Mountain Peaks. (HQ was named as Base Camp in Careem) . If you ask me again would you be having this much of work related debates about how to use promotions, incentives to do growth marketing in the countries, I would possibly answer differently. We had quality discussions, tough times debating but it was always about work and never about disrespect, that was not part of Careem culture. It was more of disagree but commit.

During these times, coordination with countries managed by Aurora, and each country had it’s HQ Growth Operations counter part basically serving the countries AARRR Customer funnel needs and spend in an efficient and effective incentive budgets.

We started dedicating and of course hiring colleagues from different backgrounds, countries and started to create servant growth mindset to drive metrics of the countries. If they win, we win, we are in one big boat. Mustafa was leading Pakistan, Mille caring for UAE, Fahad as being a Saudi national solving problems in KSA, Sameh as being EGyptian for EGY and later IRQ, Sercan for experiencing multiple countries TUR, MOR, QAT, BAH, KUW in GCC and Tugce emerging Markets in various geographies. Later in the stages Yousra for EGY and Ansar for Pakistan joined the team…

With this org, all country campaigns, per cities orchestrated with the local teams every week with a standup type multiple meetings and slack/email/phone coordination. Local GMs and Marketing managers were the counter parts of Country Growth Operations Leads explained in above paragraph. The team provided all insights to countries and worked with local and other teams to orchestrate 360 Marketing initiatives under the P&L ownership of countries.

Moreover, when Growth Ops team landed to the specific country, they would be supported by local teams to understand high density locations such as airports, city centers, congestion and real time commuter experience to have qualitative and quantitative insights.

Sercan in Kuwait …

PHASE III — building the Acquisition Squad (November 2017)

After engagement, there were needs to focus the organic side of the acquisition. at these years digital Performance marketing was in another silo in the organization all paid channels, CRM, SEO and digital marketing analytics were managed there. When we figured out that the funnel drop-offs are very important especially during Signup, activation, On boarding and first 30 days, together with Furkan, we have decided that its time to build a dedicated Squad and , Secil Joined us. She teamed up with Ashiq and Alishan to form the Acquisition Squad of customer Growth team.

Team focused on doing months of analysis and came out of an idea called “Honeymoon program” to improve the experience during the first 30 days journey of a Careem Customer. They identified the reasons of drops such as not adding payment method, not proper nudging and education on the first 30 days, adding favorite address locations and understanding the app better. These automated, local language constructed 2–7–14–28 day triggers engaged the customer and won the MMA MEA Smarties Marketing Silver Award. Business analytics and internal analytics for serving countries became important, we hired Partha to look at our analytics area. Later Sakshi joined him forming analytics mini team.

  • Responsible for the Acquisition of right customers through paid and organic channels at optimal cost. (CPA/Cost per first usage)
  • Properly building the best on boarding experience and flow
  • Activating users with compelling offers or differentiated experiences (Activation Rate, DAU/MAU)
  • Increasing GMV, number of usage, & net revenue of new users
Team even met after work to have fun showed their analytical skills in the card and board games :)

PHASE IV — Performance Marketing merges with Growth (Aug 2018)

Around March 2018, we were mainly focusing on scaling retention via subscriptions, improving first part of the funnel and seeding the first bits of the Intelligent Marketing Technology solutions to the company such as Growth Engine. We had to hire technical growth teams to help Baris and Ahsan therefore, Sinan joined the team.

During 2018 series of internal discussions led the leadership to decide to look at the paid and organic side of the customer funnel could be logical. Digital Performance marketing team merged with Customer growth, moved to same floor, same sitting space. Now it was time to bring people under same direction and OKRs as well as culture. We did some tests for this.

  • We organized the same logic of Country Servant mentality to digital performance teams. If a person was helping a specific country to organize their paid ads, they teamed up with a Growth Hacker and Growth Operations Lead.
  • This lead seamless Digital Marketing, organic uplift and hassle free operations happening 7/24 365 days.
  • Growth Ops teams also worked to coordinate with countries any needs on analytical reporting and CRM coordination if they needed to send any marketing campaigns through SMS, Push and Email channels apart from their automated daily campaigns.
  • SEO/ASO handled centrally along with Adnetworks, CRM tool relations, API connections , attribution, re-targetting efforts and channel provider relationships as well as Supply team driver (captain) digital acquisition efforts.

Through out this journey Setu, Sathiya, Mougi, Hazal, Sakshi, Noor, Syed, Wisam, Zeerak, Haris, Arpit, Passant, Akash, Michael, Aditi and Unais. Our leader for this Performance marketing squad was Simon.

Typical Customer Funnel view that we were applying and following the KPIs and metrics for over 100 cities in an automated way. %90 of the campaigns to pick these drop-offs were done automatically by the Growth engine

PHASE V — Tribes and Squads Organization (Dec 2019)

In my last year, with the growing team I was fortunate enough to witness on top of what we build , we have teamed up cross functionally with Product, Design and Tech( Engineering) teams to form Customer team under my responsibility. Was one of the toughest, fun and full of learning time. How it happened?

Work Hard Play Hard… We obviously thought it could be too easy to go nearby so picked up end of Deira to commute to reach a Bowling tournament :)

We have organized the structure of the way we work in squads. we focused on:

  • Acquisition and Activation. This squad hold the front for the first 30 days of the customer from sign up, registration, and till first ride.
  • Engagement and Retention. After 30 days all things related with increasing revenue, loyalty, retention of the user as well as cross sell to food and add payment methods were here. Decreasing cash usage increase wallet usage was also important
  • Growth Operations, Digital Marketing and Martech teams were supportive on these squads. Product marketing ran by Shahrukh
  • Payment related topics, care related areas from customer’s app were coordinated with separate teams. We had great time working with colleagues from Product, Design and Engineering teams such as Asma, Sven, Yasser, Luke and many to list down would be long…

Working Rhythm for Growth Teams

If you want to be successful managing Growth teams, focus on the below manifesto for your cadence.

  • All Team Members carry the Team OKRs together %100
  • All Team Members have min 15% of Personal Development and Learning OKR on Growth related topics aka attending the Growth Academy
  • All Squads have their stand-up meetings (Preferably min 3 times a week)
  • Weekly meetings on Sunday/Monday mornings for learning from past, planning the current and vision for future
  • Catch up Meetings Weekly (All)
  • Monthly Presentation of progress to Leadership as well in Company All Hands/Town Hall
  • Monthly OKR Review Meetings with the accountable teams (countries, interior departments such as finance, people team etc. )
The morning where the team is preparing to launch necessary comms about Uber buying Careem for 3.1B $, the highest acquisition MENATP saw till that time. Left to right; Furkan, Asma, Aditi, Sven, Wisam, Aurora, Simon and me.

Where are they now…

You can click the names above inside the article to look at the profiles of my ex colleagues. some of them are leading, building growth and digital teams, some of them making their hands very dirty again being swiz-knifes in start-ups, some of them founded their companies and some pursued more corporate career paths.

Nothing is right or wrong. But one thing is very obvious that all learned super well, not only from Careem culture but the culture we tried to build inside the growth team. Now their main duty is to spread this to the new teams to seed the Growth Mindset…

Culture tips and Tricks

During the journey we tried to do apply a set of initiatives to improve the colleague engagement and build the growth mindset. Here are they:

  • Growth Academy. Everyone in the organization attended this. People learnt SQL to Python, Digital performance advertising to Business intelligence. It was a set of trainings with coffee and pizzas at nights after work. This led the team to harmonize the knowledge levels.
  • Best Practice sharing. Every Growth lead and hacker had extensive tests conducted for over 100 cities. every week these are shared and applied to other countries. No body worked in silos.
  • Meeting frequently outside work. Dinners, Lunch, bowling, cricket, football, American football, cooking together, celebrating birthdays in small and large groups was fun and made everyone have fun.
We even went to a restaurant, cooked for 40 people from scratch a 3–4 meal course :) Including a desert and hand made Gnocci :)
  • Country owners traveling to countries. We made sure the budget is allocated quarterly so people can go and meet with their counterparts. This made difference in country teams aka mountain peak and HQ coordination.
  • Hiring Tests and Cases. We had our own unique set of tests, cases and the way of hiring. All squads had also asked to see the people even they are joining to other squads.
  • Hackathons. We had 2–3 in 3 years. People had the chance present infront of founders or VPs. Careem Whatsapp Booking was launched during this hackathon as MVP and in less than a month was live.
  • Diversity. Customer domain was formed with 30 different nationalities of 80 colleagues. The diversity span was one of the best in MENATP region. We had the Flags of everyone on the floor making them remembering their countries all the time. Male/Female ratio at some point was 40% women again a good ratio for MENATP.
A Customer Growth 24 hr Hackathon in 2019 spring that cost us 50 pizza boxes :) The team ate like Gremlins… Customer domain was formed with 30 different nationalities of 80 colleagues. The diversity span was one of the best in MENATP region

Growth Mindset

The below is the example slide, I was using while I was building teams, consulting and it reflected the days we worked together as Customer Growth Team of Careem. We truly lived the logic by our hearts

Success Factors of the Most Effective Growth Teams

  • Culture of A / B testing
  • Strategic experimentation framework/guideline
  • Accept the risk of experimentation. Ok with failing if it’s a learning
  • Growth is a process, a marathon not a sprint
  • Deep understanding of customer’s pains and desires is essential
  • Move not fast but super fast
  • Flexibility to change as you learn
  • Cross-functional teams; multiple eyes are always better
Growth is building like a Cathedral.

Growth is building like a Cathedral. While building a magnificent Cathedral you must lead a significantly well-organized, highly skilled creative mindsets of individuals that is running by the clock to deliver… They need to constantly and very quickly fail and learn during their journey to their north stars which is a Masterpiece that will be remembered by generations….

Before I close, these are the factors I guess everybody will align. I had the most precious days learning from the team and everyone in Careem. I always say, we guided teams as their leaders and never lost out autonomous way of taking responsibility. Giving huge responsibility asking to take risk to even new joiners were in our DNA. This made everyone owning the company truly from ground up being the pillars. This now lead people to even get more responsibilities in their second part of their careers, including myself.

I am so proud of where they are now…
They are the former Careem Growth Mafia :)

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My passion are:

  • Blitz scaling Growth
  • People Engineering
  • Building hi performance growth teams

If you want to read more feel free to subscribe to my email letter and also follow me on and or know me in detail here



emre tok

Product. Growth. Marketing. Mobile. Former VP Growth Careem. xMicrosoft. Angel Investor. Classic Cars and Bicycles