Gen AI and cloud optimization help Asian SuperApp Grab turn a profit

Headcount down 18 percent as content creation time shrinks from 99 hours to 90 minutes

Singapore-based superapp Grab logged its first ever positive net profit late last week, and revealed it was helped by cutting cloud costs and adopting generative AI.

"2023 was a pivotal year for Grab," enthused co-founder and CEO Anthony Tan in an earnings call.

The superapp's net profit hit $11 million in its Q4 2023 – a huge improvement from the previous year, when it reported a $391 million loss.

The biz ascribed the improvement a 32 percent decline in cloud costs, achieved after an optimization effort. An 18 percent reduction in total headcount helped too.

So did AI.

Tan disclosed Grab has built its own in-house LLM-powered marketing tool. The CEO claimed it had reduced content generation time from 99 hours to just 90 minutes, while raising output quality and driving click-through rates upward compared to manually generated content.

Step three: profit

In June 2023 Grab laid off 11 percent of its workforce. At the time, Tan promised the business was not reducing workforce "as a shortcut to profitability," but rather as a way to adapt to changing times. He cited generative AI as one environmental change that could allow organziations to stay nimble and sustainable.

"So this not only drives significantly greater throughput, but also enables us to stay lean and disciplined from a cost management perspective. Savings can then be reinvested into more technology to drive greater long-term growth for the platform," explained Tan.

Tan added that other generative AI initiatives are already in progress.

It wasn't just net profit in the positive – quarterly revenue increased 30 percent year on year to $653 million. The deliveries segment was the biggest money maker, growing 20 percent year-on-year to $321 million. Mobility services grew 26 percent to $237 million.

Tan attributed some of the increase to COVID recovery.

"Our mobility business, which was severely impacted by the pandemic, exceeded pre-COVID levels as we exited 2023. This was done through focused product investments into our key affordability initiatives and targeting traveler demand," he explained.

Grab also announced it has approved a buy back program to repurchase up to $500 million class A ordinary shares, signalling confidence in its short-term share price.

The biz has recently been the subject of merger rumors, reportedly involving Indonesian competitor GoTo. A buy-out of German competitor FoodPanda has also been rumored.

COO Alex Hungate hibernated the FoodPanda speculation:

While as a matter of policy we do not comment on rumors, we understand that Delivery Hero has issued a statement overnight indicating that they have terminated discussions with regard to a potential sale of their FoodPanda business in certain Southeast Asian markets. Consistent with that statement, Grab can also confirm that it is not pursuing any acquisition of that business.

Grab already faces scrutiny from the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore for a proposed acquisition of Trans-Cab last January. ®

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