GrabTaxi books its biggest investor in Japan telecom giant SoftBank

Pedestrians pass before a shop of Japanese telecom giant Softbank in Tokyo. The company has pumped in US$250 million (S$328.15 million) to become the top investor in South-east Asian mobile taxi-booking application GrabTaxi Holdings Pte Ltd, its bigg
Pedestrians pass before a shop of Japanese telecom giant Softbank in Tokyo. The company has pumped in US$250 million (S$328.15 million) to become the top investor in South-east Asian mobile taxi-booking application GrabTaxi Holdings Pte Ltd, its biggest investment in a South-east Asian Internet firm. -- PHOTO: AFP
The GrabTaxi app. It allows customers to order cabs closest to their location by mobile phone. -- ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
The GrabTaxi app. It allows customers to order cabs closest to their location by mobile phone. -- ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Japanese telecoms firm SoftBank Corp has pumped in US$250 million (S$328.15 million) to become the top investor in mobile taxi-booking application GrabTaxi Holdings Pte Ltd, its biggest investment in a Southeast Asian Internet firm.

GrabTaxi, which allows customers to order cabs closest to their location by mobile phone, operates in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. In a statement, the two companies said the funding will be used to accelerate the app's expansion in the region.

The investment in GrabTaxi comes about a month after SoftBank and its billionaire CEO and founder Masayoshi Son announced a US$627 million funding into online marketplace Snapdeal as part of a plan to put US$10 billion into India's booming online retail market.

SoftBank also said in October it will lead a US$210 million investment round with existing investors in India's ANI Technologies, which owns a mobile application for taxi bookings.

The Japanese firm is the largest investor in recently listed Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Including the SoftBank investment, GrabTaxi has raised US$340 million in funding. The statement did not specify how much of GrabTaxi SoftBank will own.

Other investors in GrabTaxi, which was developed by two Harvard Business School graduates and launched in Malaysia in 2012 as MyTeksi, include a unit of Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings and U.S. investor Tiger Global Management. The app competes with Rocket Internet's Easy Taxi as well as Uber's better known app.

Taxi-hailing apps have become popular in Southeast Asia, especially Singapore, one of the most expensive places in the world to own a private car.

Finding a cab during peak hours and during frequent tropical downpours can be difficult in the city-state, which last month said it planned to start regulating third-party taxi booking services for the first time.

Heavy traffic in cities such as Manila and Jakarta also makes finding taxis tough.

Those troubles are benefitting apps such as GrabTaxi. In the past 12 months to November this year, the number of users of the mobile app has jumped six-fold to about half a million and taxi drivers in its network have grown four-fold to 60,000, according to the company. GrabTaxi also estimates that there are three taxi bookings made through their app every second across the region, which is almost an 800 per cent increase from a year ago.

Said founder and chief executive officer Anthony Tan: "We are excited to end a stellar year of growth with this record funding from the global powerhouse softbank. We are thankful that they believe in us and will leverage SoftBank's expertise and group synergies across their mobile and Internet platforms to further accelerate our growth."

Cheryl Goh, GrabTaxi group vice-president of marketing added, "Growth remains a key focus for GrabTaxi and we now have a considerable war chest to accelerate our rapid expansion in Southeast Asia. Our strong focus in this region also means that each of six GrabTaxi markets stands to receive a significant portion of funding compared to larger players that have to stretch their funding much further.