JAKARTA/TOKYO -- Car-leasing startup Smove was startlingly popular and easy to use, even in expensive and rule-bound Singapore. With the tap of a prepaid card, anyone could jump in a vehicle off the street, start it with a push of a button and drive for as little as $1 per quarter hour.
As ride-hailing giants Uber Technologies and Grab expanded through Southeast Asia, rapidly and seemingly unstoppably, founder Tom Lokenvitz thought he'd found a way to ride on their coattails. By 2015 he'd scored a deal supplying cars to Uber's drivers -- which he scrambled to fill by taking out long leases to increase his fleet numbers. Meanwhile, Grab and Uber worked the upstart's playbook, offering deep discounts and subsidizing rides in an intensifying battle for market share in the region.