Denise Tan of Riding Pink on creating safer travel options: Women in Tech

From a social movement to a full-fledged ride-hailing platform.

Being a woman in Malaysia is not easy. The country was recently ranked the fifth most dangerous country to live in as a woman in the Asia-Pacific region. According to the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry of Malaysia, more than 50,000 cases of sex crimes and domestic violence have been recorded between 2013 and May 2018. Many more go unreported due to a lack of appropriate laws to protect women in the country.

It’s a fact that women in Malaysia are subjected to higher risk of being targeted than men, even during times when they should feel safe. Women sometimes encounter various forms of harassment, such as unwanted texts or calls after a ride with a male driver, or even stares through the rear mirror during the ride. More serious cases can involve bodily harm—or the direct threat of it. A relative’s experience of being robbed at knife point by a taxi driver many years ago left a deep impression on Denise Tan, a stay-at-home mom who would later found Riding Pink, Malaysia’s first women-only transportation platform.

Founded in 2016, Riding Pink was conceived as a network akin to a social movement of women drivers for women riders. As such, the founding team started out with what they called a “minimalist approach,” matching riders with drivers manually via Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger.

As the service became more popular, Riding Pink’s core team began to develop a backend system, first by centralizing bookings and matching riders with drivers systematically. Eventually, to respond to the overwhelming demand, the firm developed an app to expedite the process. Today, riders and drivers can use either the website or the Android app to manage bookings.

Speaking with KrASIA by email, Tan revealed that Riding Pink’s drivers tend to be stay-at-home moms or women from what the Malaysian government calls the B40 group—the country’s population that makes up the bottom 40% of earners. Through Riding Pink’s platform, top drivers are able to earn more than RM 4,000 (approximately USD 960) each month, Tan said.

Riding Pink also provides women with an alternate source of income. Tan revealed that the company’s genesis also draws on her own experiences when she left the workforce eight years ago to care for her children at home. When her kids began attending kindergarten, she found that there weren’t many vocational opportunities for women who sought part-time jobs.

Ride-hailing platforms changed this, as mothers could work according to their own schedules, but there was another obstacle. Tan said, “Allowing their wife in the car with another male stranger was not something many husbands would agree to.” Riding Pink’s transportation for women, by women, sidestepped this issue.

Riding Pink utilizes a stringent registration process that requires all users to upload a scanned copy of their identification card, preceding the government’s recent regulation stipulating riders on all ride-hailing platforms to do exactly that.

Furthermore, the company also has a full-time GPS feature that allows riders to track the driver, as well as an SOS option that sends out distress messages, voice clips, and the exact location to the user’s emergency contact.

When asked how Riding Pink perceives itself in the ride-hailing market, Tan said, “We would like to think of Riding Pink as a separate niche player in the e-hailing market in relation to the mass market unicorns, such as Go-Jek and Grab. The large players in the market are focused on market share and growth, while we prefer to remain close to our mission statement.”

The proof? Riding Pink has turned down several offers to venture into new streams of businesses that would introduce new revenue channels but dilute their core brand. The company has even rejected a buyout offer that did not resonate with Riding Pink’s vision and long-term goals.

This doesn’t mean Riding Pink is slowing down. At the moment, the company operates in Klang Valley and Negeri Sembilan. In their office in Petaling Jaya, a team of five full-timers and four part-time staff keep things running. Tan said that the company will be expanding very soon, and an iOS app is already in the making to reach a larger pool of users. 

Eventually, Denise hopes to see Riding Pink offering rides in all major Malaysian cities—perhaps even elsewhere in the world. No matter where it lands, Riding Pink will stay true to its core mission of empowering women with safer rides.