For many of us, the Movement Control Order (MCO) hindered mobility as staying at home was the most effective method to break the chain of transmission of Covid-19.
Mobility providers including car-sharing platform Socar saw a drastic decrease in demand and decided to focus on forging new partnerships by leveraging on the gig economy to provide transport and delivery solutions for thriving small businesses. Socar Malaysia’s CEO Leon Foong shares more about this new partnership and why the concept of car-sharing will be embraced further in tandem with Malaysia’s high unemployment rate.
What was the first action plan you initiated when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was announced?
The most important aspect during the Movement Control Order (MCO) was definitely the safety of our users especially with the rapid spread of COVID-19, hence our first course of action was ensuring that our vehicles were properly maintained and sanitised. During the MCO period, we did not encourage our members to make travel plans and leave their homes but we did assure them that if there was an absolute need to use our cars to purchase groceries or medical supplies or for emergencies, our cars were available and had been properly maintained in the slow period.
Some of the measures we took included regularly cleaning and sanitising our cars. We also supplied disinfectant wipes in our cars for members and encouraged them to always clean up after themselves after using the cars by disposing of all their rubbish to keep the car clean for the next member, thus creating a positive domino effect. To top that, our SOCARE team was reachable via our in-app chat function should our members need any additional support.
When it came to the SOCAR-2-YOU car delivery service by our team, we ensured that our team maintained a safe distance from our members. With our keyless car-sharing technology in place, this contactless handoff of cars offered our members that extra ease of mind while using our service for essential travel.
Although we have moved into the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) phase, we are still practising these preventive measures because the hygiene of our cars and the safety of our members will always be our utmost priority.
SOCAR collaborated with a few delivery partners during the MCO. Can you share with us more about this move and will these partnerships be long-term?
SOCAR Business Mobility was one of the new offerings we introduced during the MCO period to assist SMEs and home businesses with transport solutions because we understood the challenges they were encountering in making deliveries. The main purpose of introducing the SOCAR Business Mobility plan was empowering home businesses to carry on with minimal disruption. The first phase of the SOCAR Business Mobility plan was made available for both short term and long term bookings across Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru and Ipoh. We at SOCAR also understood the cash flow needs of small businesses, hence we also offered a pre-topped up vehicle option that could be requested via email.
We then decided to expand our offering by partnering with e-commerce delivery partners such as Teleport, MrSpeedy, Lalamove and Pickupp. We decided to partner with these e-commerce delivery partners because of the similar vision that we all shared – to empower Malaysians with more opportunities to generate income during the current economic uncertainty. With this partnership and access to SOCAR’s vehicles, we were able to reduce the barriers to entry for Malaysians to join the sharing economy. Ultimately, we want to use our platform and assets to offer new means for Malaysians to generate extra income.
We hope to continue these partnerships, because SOCAR aspires to not just be a transportation enabler but to also be a driver for economic growth. We also aim to continue partnering with organisations and businesses that share a mutual vision in the months to come. Through our wide range of vehicles, competitive rates, convenient pick-up points and generous mileage and petrol allowance, we aim to continue supporting SMEs and home businesses to grow sustainably while also reducing their day to day cash flow needs.
Besides that, what were some of the other key strategies you implemented during the MCO?
Besides the hygiene and safety measures and the introduction of SOCAR Business Mobility, we were able to take a step back, which gave us the opportunity to get to know and understand our members better. This in turn gave us fresh insights into ways to offer added value to them through our offerings.
Now that restrictions have been loosened and we have moved into the recovery MCO phase, we will be introducing new and exciting offerings based on demand from our members and feedback received. These new offerings will give more Malaysians the opportunity to be a part of the sharing economy and earn an additional income, especially now that the unemployment rate in Malaysia is projected to be between 3.5 percent to 5.5 percent. We see SOCAR’s model of multiflex mobility being resilient during down cycles, especially when vehicle hire purchase loans start becoming less accessible to the masses.
As an entrepreneur, what was the biggest lesson you’ve learned from this whole ordeal?
Personally, I think one of the biggest lessons I have learned from this whole ordeal would be the confirmation that the ability to think on your feet and easily adapt to unexpected situations is more relevant than ever. Being in a technology-driven industry like SOCAR’s, we are constantly evolving hence the turnaround time for all our efforts and activities needs to be impeccable. It is truly saddening to see businesses that have been around for decades having to cease operations and close down due to this pandemic but this has just underlined the importance of flexibility and adaptability when running a business. This is something I have always stressed on, not only for myself but with the team at SOCAR as well. Moving forward, we will certainly look to take a page out of Nassim Taleb’s book Anti-fragile and aim to create a business that can thrive during times of chaos and disorder.
As the MCO was a challenging time for many businesses, can you share with us some of your tips to get into the right headspace and mindset to tackle those challenges?
Live in the present, and focus on the things that you have control over. It is easy to get distracted by chaos and uncertainty, but by focusing and channeling your resources on the things you have control over, you can ultimately decide on how well you respond to changes in the business environment.
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What were some of the successful pivots you’ve witnessed other businesses implementing during this period?
I genuinely believe that on-demand/same day grocery delivery will be a huge growth sector in the region. I’m surprised that online grocery shopping has not been more widely adopted since carrying large bulky items and standing in line just to pay for them is something I don’t believe anyone enjoys doing. Our partnership with MyGroser has been a very fulfilling one as we see them leverage technology to ensure households get both dry and wet goods delivered to them during the MCO period. Even in the US, we’ve seen ride hailing giants such as Uber pivot into the grocery space with their acquisition of Postmates.
How do you predict the high unemployment rate in Malaysia this year will affect SOCAR’s usership?
Actually, this goes back to the main reason we introduced SOCAR in Malaysia, where we felt that it would be a good fit for the market. We introduced SOCAR for a couple of reasons. We wanted to encourage Malaysians to skip car ownership because it would be lighter on their bank account as well as on the environment with fewer private cars. Moreover, we also noticed that Malaysia had one of the highest percentages of driving licence ownership among the population, in Southeast Asia, so there is a large potential customer base.
Now that we see a drastic hike in unemployment numbers in Malaysia, SOCAR becomes an even more reliable option because members would still be able to enjoy the benefits of using a car without experiencing the hassle and bearing the cost of owning one. Our members are able to enjoy the variety and convenience of over 2,000 cars in 26 different models in over 1,000 locations across Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor and Ipoh. We also provide the option of getting the car delivered right to their doorstep with our SOCAR-2-YOU service.
In February this year, we announced our subsidiary TREVO, which is a people-to-people car sharing marketplace that enables drivers (Guests) to book any car that fits their needs and wants from car owners (Hosts) in the TREVO community. One of the key goals of this business model was to add value to the multiflex ecosystem by empowering a new segment of users to earn money from sharing their cars when they are not using them, and in the process, alleviate the financial burden of servicing a hefty monthly auto loan instalment. For TREVO Guests, we target to curate best in class vehicles in terms of selection and quality at very attractive prices, to meet their driving needs. Ultimately, TREVO is about driving people forward towards achieving their financial and lifestyle goals.
In a nutshell, with the current unemployment rate, if you do not own a car but would like to use one, we have SOCAR to meet your needs. If you own a car or cars that are underutilised and would like to earn extra income, then we have TREVO. We do not see the unemployment rate in Malaysia affecting our take up rate. Instead, we see a silver lining where Malaysians are more open to trying our platforms, thus presenting a greater opportunity for us to attract people to come onboard and join the SOCAR and TREVO communities.
We believe that the multiflex mobility option that we offer will always complement the public transportation system in Malaysia and we aim to continue encouraging more Malaysians to embrace the concept of car-sharing. Our conviction in shared mobility remains as strong as ever and we certainly appreciate the support for the multiflex movement from the government and the Malaysian public.
What is your strategy for SOCAR to bounce back post-MCO?
Our strategy moving forward is to continue maintaining close contact with the government and stakeholders to enable more Malaysians to embrace the idea of going carless and enable more individuals from the B40 segment to benefit from our service offerings. We remain optimistic that our business will be able to bounce back in due time, as we offer added value to the multiflex community.
We also recently expanded the coverage area for our SOCAR-2-YOU service in Penang and Johor Bahru after seeing an increase in demand for contactless delivery of SOCAR vehicles to the houses of our members. With this expansion, we expect to see more Malaysians enjoying seamless multiflex mobility with expanded convenience right from their doorstep, especially now that interstate travel is allowed and Malaysians are able to embrace their own adventures and live out their cuti-cuti Malaysia dreams.
We also target to continue growing and strengthening SOCAR’s foothold in Malaysia, especially with the new offerings that we have in the pipeline. Lastly, in view of the growth that we had in the past year, we aim to keep up this momentum and are continuously looking for ways to maintain our position as the leading car sharing operator in the market.