By Maya Itani
This week we witnessed the largest ever tech acquisition the Middle East has ever seen, as ride hailing pioneer Uber finalized a deal to purchase its Middle Eastern rival Careem for $3.1bn. While this is an astronomical achievement for the homegrown Dubai business, I can’t help but mourn my favourite startup as it embarks on this new chapter.
It is no secret that I am a massive Careem fan. Over the years, I have celebrated the brand’s deep understanding of the local consumer, and how it has used that to outmaneuver its global competitor at every turn in the Middle East. The Careem experience has always been much more enjoyable and seamless when compared to Uber.
While I received multiple messages from Careem on multiple platforms assuring me (and every other user) that nothing will change, I am highly skeptical. This may be the case for now, but over time the internal cultures will begin to overlap as the businesses try to become more efficient, and this will begin to reflect on the front end. I think of how Facebook vowed to preserve the Instagram experience upon acquisition, but over the years the photo sharing app has become more and more like a clone of its blue older sister. The Instagram experience is slowly fading, as the features on the two platforms become more and more similar.
So while I am extremely happy for the Careem team and for what this means for the region, I can’t help but feel sad for myself and all the other consumers who genuinely enjoy the cheeky brand and its service. Let’s hope that I’m wrong, and the acquisition simply gives the company more muscle to continue providing its fantastic, fun, and localized experience.