Four months ago, Amwaj Mohammed could have been arrested for driving in Saudi Arabia. Now, she earns money driving for Careem — thanks to a royal decree that allowed Saudi women to drive.
Saudi Arabia in June became the last country to grant women driving rights, and it's the only one to do so in the age of ride-hailing apps. Uber and Careem, in the latest example of their regional rivalry, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on initiatives to attract female Saudi drivers to their platform. Four months later, Careem says it has over 2,000 female drivers on the road, and Uber says it has "a handful."
An Uber spokesperson said that many women who have indicated interest in Uber are still in the process of obtaining a license. When asked about Careem's success in recruiting licensed drivers, the spokesperson expressed having "no clue" about "what they [Careem] are doing or how they've done it."
Uber has pulled out of several international markets with tough local competition, such as Russia, China and Southeast Asia, aiming to trim losses ahead of an anticipated 2019 initial public offering of its stock. Yet Uber continues to compete in the Middle East against homegrown rival Careem, which announced $200 million in fresh funding on Thursday. Saudi Arabia holds particular significance: Its sovereign wealth fund became Uber's largest single-buyer investor when it bought a $3.5 billion stake in 2016.
Before the ban, women accounted for 80 percent of Uber's customers and 70 percent of Careem's. Now, with social and market tides changing, Careem may be beating Uber to the new market of potential drivers.