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  • Terence Lee

Grab, the "Uber of South East Asia" to launch Online Medical consultations, Medicine deliv

Grab is continuing its relentless march towards becoming Southeast Asia’s “superapp.” The region’s leading ride-hailing firm has announced a joint venture with Ping An Good Doctor – the leading online healthcare player in China – to provide several services, including medicine delivery and appointment bookings.

The platform will launch in a few countries in the first quarter of 2019, and will use GrabPay to complete transactions. The new service is developed using GrabPlatform, a set of technologies that allows partners to leverage Grab’s user base, drivers, and technology.

“We will quickly replicate most of our services in China to the new Southeast Asia platform,” said Ping An Good Doctor’s CEO Wang Tao, at a press conference. “We will even bring our traditional Chinese medicine services there, as there are many Chinese immigrants in Southeast Asia.”

The joint venture with Ping An aims to solve what Grab describes as “a lack of adequate medical infrastructure in some countries, a rural-urban divide when it comes to the accessibility of doctors, and inefficiencies on the consumer end when needing to see the doctor.”

Grab’s press release also states that Indonesia has only one physician for nearly 5,000 people, whereas high-income countries have up to three to four doctors for every thousand people.

Grab will own 30 percent of the joint venture, and Ping An Good Doctor will own the rest. Both parties will invest an initial US$20 million into the new venture, although they may put in an additional US$120 million, noted a Ping An Good Doctor filing in the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong.

Grab has rapidly expanded its offerings ever since Uber’s exit from Southeast Asia. It has gone into food delivery, last-mile logistics, and even retail. The company is now even loading third-party content onto its main app in a bid to capture even more of the consumer’s attention.

While rival Go-Jek may be ahead in being a superapp in Indonesia (where it delivers medicine as well), it is playing catch-up in the rest of Southeast Asia. It has just rolled out a bike-hailing service in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines are also on its radar.

Another major Chinese presence

Chinese tech companies have been aggressively eyeing Southeast Asia as their next avenue for growth, and Ping An Good Doctor – which raised US$1.1 billion in its IPO – is no exception. Their expansion strategies vary, however.

For Alibaba, it was the acquisition of the region’s ecommerce leader, Lazada. Meanwhile, Ofo and Mobike did it themselves by setting up local operations. As for China’s live-streamed video leader YY, it launched a company in Singapore under another name – Bigo.

Their entry into Southeast Asia may have piled pressure onto smaller startups. Former Grab partner OBike, which was started by a Chinese national but is headquartered in Singapore, bowed out of the bike-sharing race in a few countries after lagging behind its rivals. It cited difficulties in adhering to regulations from local authorities as a reason for ceasing its business.

Then there is M17, which was birthed from a merger between Singapore’s Paktor and Taiwan’s Machipopo. It saw stagnant user growth even as Bigo’s user base grew. It suspended its initial public offering after seeing lackluster investor interest.

Ping An’s entry could put smaller online healthcare providers like Practo, Docdoc, and BookDoc on notice. According to Frost & Sullivan, it is the leading internet healthcare provider in China in terms of users with around US$270 million in revenue in 2017.

Its expertise could translate into gaining dominance especially in Indonesia, which many Chinese tech executives liken to where China was a few years ago in terms of infrastructure and maturity of internet services.

Update on August 16, 9.30pm: Added details of the deal and analysis.

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