(2018-01-24) Yegge Why I Left Google To Join Grab

Steve Yegge: Why I left Google to join Grab

After nearly 13 years at Google, I have finally left the nest! Never thought it would happen. I always thought I would die at Google

Why I left Google

The main reason I left Google is that they can no longer innovate. They’ve pretty much lost that ability. I believe there are several contributing factors, of which I’ll list four here.

First, they’re conservative: They are so focused on protecting what they’ve got

Second, they are mired in politics, which is sort of inevitable with a large enough organization; the only real alternative is a dictatorship, which has its own downsides.

Third, Google is arrogant. It has taken me years to understand that a company full of humble individuals can still be an arrogant company. Google has the arrogance of the “we”, not the “I”.

Their attempts at innovation have been confusing and mostly unsuccessful for close to a decade. Googlers know this is happening and are as frustrated by it as you are, but their leadership is failing them.

fourth, last, and probably worst of all, Google has become 100% competitor-focused rather than customer focused.

Google incentivizes successful feature and product launches, and by far the easiest, safest way to produce those is by copying competitors

But where would you go?

Facebook gets most of its “innovations” from acquisitions these days (Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus). And I also don’t like what I’ve heard about their culture, from friends who’ve gone there.

Amazon continues to innovate a fair bit, but they’re also not above copying ideas from competitors and trying to squish the smaller ones and generally being big mean bullies.

Oracle, Twitter, Apple, eBay, Microsoft, Adobe, SalesForce, and the other big brands here? They all seem kinda meh.

Why I joined Grab

I feel like I’ve joined a literal revolutionary war,

Grab is the biggest startup in the history of Southeast Asia. Grab is fighting the most important battle in the world today, on the biggest stage.

the simple and unsatisfying answer is: They’re the Uber of Southeast Asia.

let me try to thread the narrative from my view on the ground, from back when my sister-in-law Cathy and her husband Romano started a food truck

They had ridden the food truck wave at exactly the right time, and for a couple of years, food trucks were everywhere; they were the in thing. But early last year, Cathy and Romano abruptly sold their truck and their coveted city parking spot right next to Amazon, and quietly opened up a full-time kitchen dedicated to food delivery through Peach. They made this dramatic change because they had their ear to the ground, so they were among the first to recognize the significance of the Restaurant Apocalypse

Restaurants and food trucks are both about to be obliterated by Peach and Uber Eats.

The best profit for small business owners now lies in food delivery.

It is an exponentially-growing new industry built atop ride-hailing infrastructure, which itself only emerged a few years ago. The driver network can pick up food from literally anywhere and deliver it anywhere within a city-sized radius.

When this idea inevitably takes off, people are going to be able to order take-out from their neighbors, from anyone in the city who wants to cook their family recipe. It will change cuisine forever.

I began this story by grousing that Google can’t innovate anymore, but let’s face it: Uber, Amazon and Facebook (with Facebook Takeout) all didn’t see food coming either. They just copied it.

Southeast Asia: The World’s Battleground

In Southeast Asia (SEA), however, ride hailing is absolutely transformative and society-changing in ways that we can barely appreciate here

The traffic in SEA is terrible. Aside from Singapore, the traffic infrastructure ranges from bad to terrible to near-nonexistent. (I mean, c’mon, Indonesia alone is 17,000 islands.) The credit-card industry is near-nonexistent. This is a much, much harder problem than it is in the States. But there are half a billion people who desperately need both cheap transportation and jobs. Ride hailing provides both!

Transport and food are only scratching the surface. Same-day food delivery can be generalized to same-day anything delivery, for instance

You need to download the Grab app in order to hail a ride or order food. Everyone in Southeast Asia has smartphones, so everyone there is getting the Grab app. Which means the next step is Mobile Payments. Grab is signing up local merchants — and there are millions of them who can participate — at an incredible rate, so that people can pay for stuff with their Grab app.

SEA is primarily a cash economy. Fewer than 2% of adults in SEA have credit cards, and over 60% don’t have bank accounts at all. There’s still a deep distrust of banks, and of course there’s a ton of credit card fraud, which makes the whole thing so dicey that everyone just uses cash there.

Cash has a ton of problems. Thieves are everywhere, yes; but there is also an old-world substrate of bribery, corruption, scamming and fraud. For instance, getting into a taxi, if you’re not careful, can quickly land you in a situation where the driver has no meter and demands an exorbitant fee, which he will split with the police officer who will arrest you if you don’t pay up

If you pay for everything with your Grab app, then all the prices are agreed and decided up front, and you don’t need to carry any cash at all.

So why do I say I’m going to war?

This is a winner-take-all space,

Another takeaway is that Uber can be beaten, when a few years ago they seemed unbeatable

There’s another player in SEA, strongly resembling Grab. And they’re fierce. That competitor is Go-Jek.

Go-Jek and Grab are mortal enemies, locked in a life-and-death land war that’s going to enable the biggest social and economic transformation in modern history. So even though Vizzini warned us not to do exactly that, I’m getting myself involved in a land war in Asia.

This war is happening on two fronts: Online and offline

makes smart tech choices — e.g. AWS, the Go language, Kotlin for Android

Offline, there are armies of agents (real people) involved in expanding the network of drivers, merchants, passengers, and other participants.

This morning I saw a spy photo of an Indonesian mafia-run operation: a big seedy-looking room full of guys with stacks of phones doing fake ride bookings

Jeff Bezos has been trying for twenty years to solve the last-mile problem. Back in 1999 he pulled us all into a room and told all 300-odd of us employees that Amazon was dying. This was during the spectacular inflection point in Amazon’s hockey stick growth curve, and we all gaped at him, wondering what the hell he was smoking. He told us calmly that all we sold were books, music and video, and all of them were being digitized and would die soon.

But for essentially the whole world, the last-mile problem wasn’t solved until ride-hailing (Car Service) networks came along. And there is nowhere more difficult to solve that last mile than Southeast Asia

Grab is going to win this war. I know it now because I’ve met them, and I’ve met their allies, and I’ve met their customers.

They constantly encourage every employee to get involved with actual Grab users as often as possible

“Going to the ground” as a corporate culture is a leading indicator of innovative success. For Amazon it’s yearly. Grab is aiming for daily. Their employees all use Grab to commute, which provides direct contact with drivers and other passengers.


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