Women running startups should not be fazed by criticism: Grab founder

By Ha My    November 15, 2018 | 09:00 am PT
Tan Hooi Ling, Grab co-founder, says women entrepreneurs need passion, confidence and courage to overcome obstacles in the technology startup environment.

In 2012 Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling created the MyTeksi mobile app in Malaysia. It later became Grab and now operates in 235 cities in eight Southeast Asian countries.

In March 2018 Grab announced the acquisition of Uber's business in Southeast Asia, and is currently backed by major investors such as SoftBank, Didi Chuxing, Toyota, Microsoft, Hyundai.

Tan Hooi Ling speaks to VnExpress about the strategy of staffing to diversify corporate culture and what advice she has for women starting a business, especially in the technology space.

Ms Tan Hooi Ling, co - founder of Grab (left) with Mr Truong Gia Binh, Chairman of FPT Corporation. Photo: VnExpress

Tan Hooi Ling, co-founder of Grab (left) with Truong Gia Binh, chairman of FPT Corporation. Photo byVnExpress

-What are the difficulties you have to face as a woman entrepreneur in technology?

When my family found out I planned to quit a good job with a high salary at McKinsey to start a business, they were very surprised. They asked me what I was doing, why I chose this job and if I had any problem. My family tried to prevent me from starting a business in technology and taxi. They thought that I wasting my time on meaningless conversations with Malaysian taxi drivers. 

I understand their reaction. At that time taxis in Malaysia had many safety issues, especially for women. That's why I believe what I have done is right. I wanted to create a service that users could safely use, know who the driver is, how much it costs. 

-How is it different for women working in a technology environment?

Honestly, I don't see any difference. Although the objections from family, friends and society to women doing business may be bigger than men face sometimes women entrepreneurs should not be afraid of facing them. 

In Grab, we are not interested in gender differences in work. We only focus on those who are capable and qualified for the job. We want to create a team that can represent a market of over 600 million people. With such a wide coverage, Grab needs to create a diverse team to serve the Southeast Asian market. 

As an introvert, I often question myself when I worry about a problem, a decision at work. This "stop" time allows me to focus on observing, reconsidering the problem and finding a suitable solution. At the same time I talk to my colleagues about my concerns, seek new approaches to overcome difficulties. My motto is always to find ways to overcome limits, challenge myself.

-What is your advice for women starting a business in technology? 

The first lesson I learned is if you don't have strong trust, passion and motivation, you will be easily discouraged by harsh protests and criticism from those around you. The second lesson you need to understand is it is difficult to succeed if we go alone.

Working with other people in a good team helps us be motivated to overcome difficulties and get new ideas, find new approaches to solve problems. This advice is not just for women entrepreneurs; it is for all young people out there. 

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