What Are Super Apps and Why Uber and Other World Companies Are Building Them

Breaking down how super apps help scale a business and what users think about them

Super app is a mobile ecosystem interface that combines different services. Enterprises build them to meet a wider range of users’ needs and to end up on their phone home screen.

Uber ecosystem services: food delivery, ride-hailing, car rental, grocery delivery, and trip reservation

The concept of a super app is relatively new. Mike Lasaridis, the founder of Blackberry, coined the term back in 2010. By that, he meant a “new class of applications” that use the power of a digital platform or ecosystem, giving users a seamless experience across the device. In other words, super apps help people manage both daily and less frequent tasks in one interface.

It wasn’t long before the world saw the first real example of a new class of applications, and it wasn’t Blackberry—it was WeChat. In 2011, it launched as a mobile messenger; in 2013, it got a built-in digital wallet; and in 2016, WeChat introduced mini apps by their internal development team and other developers.

These days, WeChat users can chat, play, order a ride, pay bills, donate money, and buy movie tickets within the same interface. In China, WeChat is ubiquitous: the number of its monthly active users (MAU) reached 1.29 billion in 2022, and 88% of all Chinese mobile users open it every day.

Services in WeChat super app: chats and channels, mini apps, and payments

There are 60+ enterprise super apps across the world

If you ever search for an example of a super app on the web, WeChat will always come up first. Still, it’s not the only one out there—there are over 60 enterprise super apps across the world.

Here at HeyInnovations, we are closely watching the market of super apps and digital ecosystems. Let’s have a look at the ones that we’ve been most inspired by:

The table that shows shows super apps in different regions of the world and the services they provide

According to the table, there is no single right choice on how to start a super app. Uber and Grab started with ride-hailing, Rappi and Yummy grew from food delivery, and AirAsia launched as a flight booking service. Eventually, all the companies managed to grow a sizable audience in their regions. Below we explain how they did it.

Four key elements of a super app

Over the past 10 years, we have developed 30 applications for ecosystems like Sportmaster and Motify. Based on our experience, we found that a super app should have four key features to be profitable and earn high customer ratings.

Popular service at the core. Companies start with a core service and build a large user base around it. Uber, Grab, and Gojek have ride-hailing at their core; Klarna and Vodapay were initially digital payment systems, and airasia super app’s first service was flight booking.

Examples of core services in Gojek, Klarna, and airasia super apps

Single ID. With a super app, users sign in to many different services with one ID. For example, one Grab account gives a user access to deliveries, mobility, financial and other services. The user data is shared among all of them, which makes it easier for the user to manage his daily tasks.

Example of a single ID in Grab super app

Mini apps. Mini apps are lightweight programs inside a super app. Like native apps, they offer different services: shopping, car rental, food delivery etc. The difference is that to use a mini app, the user doesn’t need to download and install it or create a profile—it opens in a super app that’s already installed. Global and local enterprises alike have mini apps in super apps, from Walmart and Nike to local coffee shops and movie tickets sellers.

Examples of mini apps in WeChat: Nike, Walmart, and Maoyan

Opening the platform to third parties is beneficial for both sides. For a super app owner, it’s an additional source of revenue. For example, in WeChat users pay in mini apps using a built-in WeChat payment system, and WeChat gets commissions on every transaction. For partners, developing a mini app is cheaper and easier than developing a native one. Besides, having their app on a big platform gives them access to millions of users and saves them money on promotion.

Not all super apps are open to third parties though—for example, Airasia’s mini programs are developed only internally. That’s an option for companies who want to develop the services under their brand and be in full control of the content.

Examples of super apps with mini apps developed in-house (WeChat) and externally (airasia)

Digital payment platform. The platform usually includes a mobile wallet, like Grab’s GrabPay, or Gojek’s GoPay. Some platforms allow for both online and offline payments, and some go even further and partner with financial companies to provide banking. This is what Rappi did—they partnered with Visa and offered their users to order a RappiCard through the application, both virtual and physical.

Examples of digital payment platforms in super apps: GrabFin, GoPay, and RappiBank

Why companies build super apps

To lower customer acquisition costs

It’s cheaper to attract users to one platform than to separate ones. In 2018, Gojek’s founder Nadiem Makarim explained that Gojek “converted” existing users into users of the new services, and it cost the company nothing because users already had the app. This model created a “positive cycle”—the cost of acquisition of every new customer for every new vertical continued to drop.

If a food delivery company pays $50 to acquire a customer, and the customer pays $7 for an order, the company will get a payback on the customer acquisition cost (CAC) only after 8 orders.

With a super app, it will happen after 2 or 3 orders, because the customer will order food, taxi, flight tickets, and other things in one place.

Alex CEO at HeyInnovations

To create new customer touchpoints and increase LTV

A company can keep the audience inside the ecosystem longer thanks to several additional services. For example, Uber combined ride-hailing and food delivery into a super app in 2019 to “upsell” ride customers to Eats deals. According to Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, customers’ engagement with the platform “more than doubles” when they use more than one product. That’s why it was reasonable to unite the products in one interface.

To diversify business and make it more stable

Additional services help businesses generate revenue in times of crisis in their core vertical. According to AirAsia’s CTO Pablo Sanz, the company had been looking for ancillary sources of revenue right before the pandemic started, and had laid the foundation of the airasia super app in 2019. Eventually, it helped keep the business afloat. Capital A, which now owns AirAsia, is considering the new digital platform as a way of mitigating market risks.

Reasons why Gojek, Uber, and Capital A built their super apps

Why partners work with super apps

To launch a service faster

Building a mini app is faster and cheaper than releasing a custom mobile application. It might be relevant for SMEs or niche businesses that don’t have much resources. For example, Vodacom helps developers create a mini program in Vodapay from scratch with their quick start documentation. Thus, it takes less time and people to complete the project.

To reach a wider audience

Existing data and the audience of a super app help developers focus on technology instead of promotion, and make it more profitable to launch a mini app than a full-scale application. That’s what made Swapp, a car rental service from UAE, partner with Careem in April 2022 instead of launching its own program.

Reasons why partners work with VodaPay and Careem super apps

Why users download super apps

To do many things in one interface

According to a PYMNTS and PayPal’s survey, 7 in 10 consumers are interested in using one application to manage payments and everyday activities. Rappi is a good example of a company closely watching this trend. 6 years after they had started the express delivery business, Rappi team noticed a growing demand from the customers to have financial services integrated into the same app. That’s how Rappi Pay and Rappi Bank were launched—digital payments and banking.

To save time and storage

With a super app, users don’t need to create a new login, add payment info or free up space for a new service. For example, Grab includes more than 20 services, and its average size on Android is 400MB. A standard Android application takes up 60MB, so if all of Grab’s services were standalone, they’d require more than a gigabyte of storage. That’s why a single app is more practical.

To save money

All services in the super app have a shared loyalty program and shared benefits like cash back, discounts, and coupons. For example, members of the Klarna rewards program get points for purchases through the Klarna platform. Also, Klarna’s users store and access all of their physical and digital loyalty cards in Klarna. Hence, they save money with Klarna because they earn and spend rewards on a larger number of products, and remember about the available discounts in their favorite stores.

Reasons why users download Rappi, Grab, and Klarna super apps

What to do first to launch a super app

Over the past 10 years, we developed 30 super apps and had 1 million downloads of our ecosystem applications. Based on our experience, we have created a guide on how to build a digital ecosystem in 10 steps. Download the guide if you’re thinking about your own digital ecosystem.