The e-commerce trade bars have been raised higher as Souq.com steps forward by offering same-day delivery service in Saudi Arabia.
Souq has become the first e-commerce company in the country to offer such a practical service. Currently, only the citizens of Riyadh and Jeddah are poised to benefit from the Fulfilled by Souq (FBS) products.Saleem Hammad, General Manager of Souq.com’s Kingdom of Saudi Arabia chapter has expressed his confidence in the move and stressed that the focus of his company is making it ever more convenient for the customer to purchase products online and have them delivered at their doorsteps at the earliest. The only caveat associated with the offering is that the customers will have to order the product(s) before noon to ensure the company has sufficient time to prepare and dispatch products.
As the e-commerce industry peaks in the region, this announcement from Souq.com cuts at the heart of the rapid development that the industry has been undergoing in recent years.
Hammad claimed that by allowing the customers to have their products delivered in the same-day, his company was allowing the buyers to choose from a large assortment of products and categories at the quickest turnaround. The recent quirk of the company is duly complemented by the UI/UX focused mobile and web application of the company that confers ease of use and reliability to the customers who wish to purchase the products.
Many small and medium sized businesses are expected to profit from the same-day delivery policy of Souq.com. Amr Abdul-Aziz, one such entrepreneur and owner of Derma.KSA1 highlighted that same-day delivery means that now he can guarantee enhanced services to his customers which will incentivise them to order products faster, enabling him to manage his inventory better.
In a fast-paced world where customers are more aware of globalization than ever, state of the art technologies/products/services are quickly adopted by countries. The move by Souq.com definitely complements the path of innovation and can be regarded as an insightful strategy that is going to attract many customers to its services, consequently raising the level of competition and pushing other e-commerce companies operating in the region to expedite the process of developing an organic e-commerce industry in the region.
Bulk Grocery E-Commerce Platform BulkWhiz Closes Series A Round To Invest In Their AI Tech
BulkWhiz, an AI-powered bulk grocery e-commerce platform in the Middle East, has successfully closed its Series A funding round. The investment round was led by BECO Capital, along with 500 Startups and new investors China-based MSA Capital and Kuwait’s Capital Faith.
Founded in 2017 by Amira Rashad, with the idea to ease lives and reduce the task and cost of grocery shopping for families and small businesses by offering bulk grocery, BulkWhiz built its own proprietary AI that learns consumer behavior and personalize the experience to their needs. Since its launch, co-founder and CEO Rashad commends that their initial AI has “built the foundation for personalizing the customer experience, and for realizing efficiency across the value chain enabling us to own our entire supply chain at a fraction of the traditional cost.”
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Dailymealz expands its subscription-based delivery service to Kuwait
Dailymealz, a Saudi subscription-based (mainly healthy) food delivery
Mohamed El Zalabany, the co-founder and CEO of Dailymealz, speaking to MENAbytes, said, “After our success in Riyadh and the expansion to Jeddah and Dammam, we’re very excited to launch Dailymealz in Kuwait which is one of the biggest food delivery markets in the region, thanks to its 100 percent internet penetration rate and tech-savvy population.”
Middle East StartUps and Silicon Valley Guru look for common synergies
compiled from dispatches
Middle East investors have long had an interest in Silicon Valley, but now some of that attention is being reciprocated.
The Middle East’s first unicorn, Souq.com, was acquired by Amazon in 2017 for $580m. More recently, at the end of March 2019, ride-hailing service Careem was acquired by Uber, in a $3.1bn transaction that is expected to close in Q1 2020.
Amazon paid $580 million in cash for Souq, according to filings. Bloomberg previously reported that Amazon was in discussions over an investment at a valuation in excess of $1 billion but, amid rivalry from Emaar’s ambitious Noon.com project and others, an acquisition agreement was reached.
The two companies said today that they have completed an initial integration that allows customers to log into Souq.com using their Amazon account credentials.
Next up, they plan to integrate products and services between the two sites to leverage their respective scale. In an announcement, Souq.com in particular spoke of the potential to integrate with Amazon’s global seller and customer base to boost its business.
Careem will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Uber, operating as an independent company under the Careem brand and led by Careem founders. Careem became the region’s second unicorn in late 2016, just four years after it was formed. Since then, the company reckons it has “created over one million employment opportunities” and generated over $2bn in earnings across 15 markets.
However, not every journey to acquisition, or a $1bn evaluation, is that quick. As Ronaldo Mouchawar, CEO of Souq.com, noted in Harvard Business Review, his company was originally founded way back in 2005. His site migrated from being an eBay-like auction marketplace to a mobile-focused e-commerce platform before being bought by Amazon over a decade later.
Uber’s financial foray into the region, coupled with Amazon’s earlier purchase, has inevitably sparked interest in which company might be acquired next.
Predictions are notoriously difficult to make. Instead, we’ve opted to showcase four other major Middle East startups of varying sizes and focus on the ones that we think are worth watching.
ZDNet interviewed Fetchr’s founders Joy Ajlouny and Idriss Alrifai in 2015, just after the company had announced $11m in Series A funding. At the time, this was the largest such US investment in a Middle East originated app.
Since then, the shipping and logistics service has added a further $41m in Series B funding and quickly expanded.
“We started Fetchr with three developers and six years later we now we have close to 3,500 employees,” Alrifai told Supply Chain Digital in April 2018. “We’ve grown rapidly. Last year alone, we grew by 600%. Right now, we’re recruiting about 100 people a week and we’re still growing.”
Fetchr is expected to seek Series C funding later this year. The service – which ships to UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, and Egypt – seeks to “solve the unpredictability of package delivery in the UAE and Middle East because of the absence of a formal street address system”.
This address issue matters in a region where non-delivery rates are high, yet where demand for e-commerce is growing.
“We’re like Uber,” Ajlouny explained to ZDNet. “But instead of picking up a person, we use the same GPS coordinates to deliver packages.”
2. PROPERTY FINDER
Real-estate classifieds might not be the most exciting area for technology, but UAE-based Property Finder secured a $120m investment late last year from General Atlantic, a New York-based private-equity firm.
Chief executive Michael Lahyani told Reuters that the business, which operates in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Morocco, is now valued at close to $500m.
This is up from a valuation of $200m in 2016, when the Sweden-listed investment company Vostok New Ventures bought a 10% stake for $20m.
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The origins of the business can be traced back to 2005 when founder and CEO Michael Lahyani moved from Geneva to Dubai to launch UAE’s first printed real-estate magazine, Al Bab World.
The publication featured classified ads for properties, with some 70,000 copies delivered every two weeks. In October 2007, the outlet was rebranded and moved online.
Jamalon markets itself as the largest online bookstore in the Middle East. Based in Jordan, the site offers customers access to more than 10 million titles – from more than 30,000 publishers – in both Arabic and English.
Founded in 2010, Jamalon offers “customized payment methods that suit the Arab region”, such as Cash on Delivery, CashU – a prepaid online and mobile payment method available in the region – and Orange Money, a mobile money service used by the telecom operator. To date, Jamalon has raised a total of $14.2m, Crunchbase reports, in funding over six rounds, including $10m raised in March from a Series B round. Wamda reports that the company is now valued at $1.7bn.
According to a press release announcing the investment, this latest cash injection will “will be used to increase the reach of Arabic books across the globe”, the company said in a statement. Jamalon’s Print-on-Demand service can “print over two million titles in under five minutes per book”.
According to Vox: “The company has been referred to as the Amazon of the Middle East, but that label doesn’t quite do it justice. The platform’s success … is based on meeting a demand that Amazon has overlooked.” Jamalon offers more 150,000 books in Arabic, Vox pointed out, whereas “Amazon, by contrast, offers only a few hundred books in Arabic, and is often difficult and costly to use in the Arab world.”
Spotify launched in 13 Middle East and North Africa countries in November last year, offering free and premium services designed for listeners in the region. The service will cost about half the $9.99 subscription Spotify charges in the US, according to Billboard. In 2018, Deezer, the French streaming service, also launched in the region, following new investment and a partnership with the Arabic music service Rotana.
More than 100 prominent regional artists are signed to Rotana Records, which has historically produced its own content and shows for distribution via its TV, FM, and digital channels. These moves have put pressure on Anghami, the Lebanon-based music streaming service, which has had much of this market to itself since it launched in 2012.
Speaking at a BECO Capital conference last November, co-founder Elie Habib revealed that the service, enjoys over 1.5 billion streams per month, and that it has more than 13.5 million monthly active users. The platform supports over two million artists, and includes “a self upload service for independent artists”.
“Competition is great,” he posted on LinkedIn in late March 2019, highlighting a series of job openings. “We’re growing month on month and pushing hard to make sure that a local Arab business maintains domination in the region.” One plank of its strategy to stay ahead of the competition is to stress its local origins, as well as its local content. Rami Zeidan, vice-president of partnerships at Anghami, recently outlined how podcasts that originate in the Middle East are one element of this approach.
“We believe in our region; we are from the region, for the region,” he told Communicate Online, explaining how Anghami is investing in podcast discoverability, production, and marketing. Anghami is also innovating in other ways to tap into the region’s love of social media and offer a product that differentiates itself from its new rivals. Apart from its audio-streaming interface, the service has recently rolled out social features like Anghami Story, modeled after Snapchat and Instagram Stories, and Video Expressions, similar to now-defunct Musical.ly,” according to Billboard.
Along with “unconventional ad formats such as ‘shakeable’ ads and an original-content and artist-development program”, as a local company Anghami is also “currently ahead of Spotify and Deezer when it comes to high-quality localized content”.
Whether that last advantage can easily continue is a moot point. As Fares Ghandour, a partner at Wamda Capital, has spelled out, Anghami has “had a monopoly over local streaming for the past six years, but customer acquisition costs have been cheap because there was no one else to compete with them”. “Now that Deezer and Spotify are there, those costs will skyrocket. An acquisition by Tencent is by and large the most likely exit strategy that Anghami will pursue,” he predicted.
In 2018, a record number of investments – 366 of them – were made in the Middle East and North Africa region, Magnitt 2018 MENA Venture Investment Report found. More widely, it detailed that more than 155 institutions invested in the region’s startups in 2018, 30% of which were from outside the region.
These developments, coupled with efforts seen in the past year – such as the establishment of Egypt’s first venture-capital fund focused on investing in fintech, the $100m for startups in the Bahrain-based Al Waha Fund of Funds, and Tunisia’s startup act – are giving the region’s startup scene unprecedented momentum. With record levels of investment, interest from tech watchers and interesting new ventures launching all the time, the region’s startup scene looks like it’s going to get even hotter.
Golden Scent First Startup to obtain SAGIA Trading License
Leading beauty e-commerce platform celebrates a remarkable achievement in 2019 with a huge boost to its regional position
Following its four years of continued success, Golden Scent, the leading Saudi Beauty E-commerce Platform, announced that it has been granted the first commercial license by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), without the minimum capital requirement.
The company’s excellent reputation, class A investors and customer loyalty all combined to ensure the company could be exempted from the SAGIA’s Minimum Accepted Capital requirement.
The news, which was announced during the 7th Arabnet Riyadh Conference, marks a great achievement in 2019. As Golden Scent has expanded to new GCC markets, by entering the UAE and Kuwait, and exceeding over 3 million app downloads. The E-commerce platform increased its product portfolio by 250%, added new logistics warehouses, and continued to grow its manpower – both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Supporting start-ups has always been a key element for SAGIA’s mission, attracting and retaining investors and establishing Saudi Arabia as a world-class investment destination. As a result, Golden Scent has been granted the commercial license as it represents a perfect example of how Saudi entrepreneurs, supported by foreign capital, can make a significant contribution to developing a sustainable, diversified national economy – a key objective of Saudi Vision 2030.
Founded in 2000, SAGIA is the foreign investment license provider for the Kingdom. Alongside its legislative role, SAGIA works with government entities to create, develop and market business opportunities; offering specialized consultations to companies in different sectors. Through its five business centres, SAGIA provides most of the government services by facilitating the necessary steps for clients to start and maintain business.
Golden Scent is rapidly growing stronger since its launch in 2014 and continues to address and anticipates its clientele needs with special offers and discounts, with more surprises and additions in the pipeline to make 2019 yet another unforgettable year for the platform and its ever-growing client base. As Malik Al Shehab, Co-Founder and CEO of Golden Sent said: “We are very proud of the achievements we have accomplished till now, and receiving the commercial license from SAGIA. And we would like to thank all the supportive parties involved in Golden Scent’s journey in becoming a leading platform and a trusted brand in the Middle East market.”
UAE’s dubizzle launches off-plan property portal
Dubai-based platform ‘dubizzle Property’ has launched a new portal for listing off-line projects in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The recent online addition titled ‘New Projects’ lists more than 350 off-plan projects, including floor plans, construction updates, 360 virtual-reality tours and payment plans, according to a statement from the company.
“The number of new residential units to enter the market by the end of 2021 is expected to reach 124,000, so when we developed the New Projects section we really listened to our users and researched what investors – both local and international – are looking for,” Matthew Gregory, Director of Sales, dubizzle Property said in the statement.
Dubizzle Property has more than 130,000 live listings of UAE properties open for sale or rental.
While the UAE property sector faces challenging market conditions as rents and prices continued to fall in the first half of 2019, off-plan transfers dominated in Dubai in the second quarter of this year, accounting for over half of the total transfers, according to property consultancy Cavendish Maxwell.
The rate of price decline in Dubai communities has also slowed down in the second quarter of the year in comparison to the same period last year, according to the consultancy, with the average apartment prices dropping by 15.1 percent and villa/townhouse prices down by 14.7 percent. In Abu Dhabi, average sales prices dropped by 12.6 percent for apartments in major investment zones.
In April this year, the UAE capital opened up property and land purchase in investment zones for foreigners, in an effort to stimulate the local market.
UAE tech giant G42 Group invests $65M in Chinese ecommerce platform Jollychic
Jollychic, a Chinese cross-border ecommerce platform focused on the Middle East, has secured US$65 million from UAE tech giant G42 Group in a series C+ funding round. G42, which is behind several national strategic tech projects in the region, considered Jollychic’s potential and position in the Middle East and its vision of building an ecommerce-based internet ecosystem for the investment, according to a statement.
Jollychic said it plans to use the fresh funds to expand its segmentation, improve its logistics system, and develop third-party payment options and e-wallets. The funding will also help the company further strengthen its localization efforts. Its payment platform, JollyPay, recently received relevant licenses in the UAE and online payment service qualification in Saudi Arabia. The development will help Jollychic with its goal to build an ecommerce ecology and “no cash society” in the Middle East.
In 2018, the company secured investment in a series C round led by Sequoia Capital. Its shareholders include Junlian Capital, Lanxin Asia, Ping An Ventures, CDH Investment, Dachen Venture Capital, and Zhejiang Huarui, among others.
Qatar- Aggregator companies thrive in m-commerce space
Aggregator companies are thriving in Qatar’s growing mobile commerce (m-commerce) industry. M-commerce, which is the buying and selling of goods and services through smartphones and tablets, is a form of e-commerce. And while some food aggregators such as Talabat and Zomato are already making strides not just in Qatar but regionally and internationally, several Doha-based product and service aggregators are also quickly catching on to gain their market share. People want service aggregators. It’s basically the change of behavior. People are using apps more, and that’s why everything is going to be booked that way. But in reality nobody wants to download 30 different apps for 30 different services. I had that frustration, I didn’t want to cluster my phone. That whole process is a lot of hassle and time consuming, said Omar Ashour, Co-founder and CEO of EButler, in an interview with The Peninsula recently.
Dubbed as Qatar’s first one-stop app for any service needed; from home services like cleaning and maintenance, to car services including having your car taken to Fahes for registration renewal, as well as personal services like fitness training, legal services and even personal shopping. This m-commerce startup which was launched in January, promises to connect users with vetted and quality local service providers ‘with the tap of a button. Currently, EButler has already had about 10,000 downloads, and 70 percent of this are registered users. Ashour added: ‘We’ve been growing about 65 percent average month-on-month growth. Our target market started with expatriates, but it quickly turned into Qataris as well and people from all over the world. We’re a local startup with global goals. We want to represent Qatar on the global stage as one of the success stories of startups. And we’re aiming to grow in other countries as soon as next year. We’re looking at expanding to Kuwait, Turkey, and Oman.
The EButler app can be downloaded for free and users pay for the services without extra fees or markup, said Ashour. He added that the startup company has over 100 local service providers from various industries enrolled in its platform and is adding more every week. Urban Point, which provides mobile-based incentives for lifestyle experiences in Qatar, is another m-commerce startup that is proving to be a hit among the residents. This lifestyle savings app was awarded Mobile App of the Year by Entrepreneur Magazine, and has been selected by the World Economic Forum as a top Mena startup. To date, the company has over 100,000 members. It also has over 300 partners from various industries such as food & drink, beauty & health, fun & leisure, and retail & services. And its partners have so far made over QR12m through the various marketing strategies implemented under the digital platform.
Saif Qazi, Managing Director at Urban Point, said that the company’s partnership with Ooredoo was a key factor to its growth, in addition to providing users with unique benefits and strategy. He added: ‘Qatar is a great market for m-commerce startups to quickly test, pivot and scale. It has one of the highest telco and internet penetrations in the world and excellent government support programs for tech startups. There are a number of successful m-commerce applications that are heavily used by the mass population in Qatar. The market appetite for mobile products already exists in Qatar and startups just need to make sure that they provide a quality product that fulfils a need. Urban Point has already expanded to Kuwait and will soon be launching in a few other countries. ‘We focus on developing long term relationships and provide continuous and unique value to our partners, and this has helped us not only sustain our growth but also to use that growth and success as a validation to form partnerships in new markets. We envision Urban Point to be the starting point of local commerce in every country in which we operate, Qazi added.Similarly, Getit Group, a 100 percent Qatari multivendor online market platform which is referred to as the best online shopping portal in the country, has also recently launched its mobile app. The company’s web store offers every type of groceries, foodstuffs, mobile and electronic goods, fashion apparels, home appliances, industrial products and services and more.
As part of its long-term plans, the company is targeting to reach 40 percent of the market share in Qatar’s e-commerce industry which is estimated at over QR2bn. Globally, mobile commerce sales is predicted to make up for 53.9 percent of all e-commerce sales by 2021, according to market estimates. Smartphones are expected to be the main contributor to overall m-commerce growth.A PwC study on 2019 Consumer Insights in Middle East also stated that the biggest growth in mobile payment was experienced in the Middle East, with a 45 percent increase in mobile payment usage over the period of one year. That is almost double the rate of Western markets.
For the first time in the 10 years that PwC has conducted the survey, consumers surveyed are using smartphones over other mobile devices to shop online, with smartphone growth estimated at a 54 percent CAGR from 2016 to 2019 in the Middle East. About 24 percent of the consumers surveyed are also using a smartphone to shop online weekly.
Dubai Chamber hosts a dialogue at its headquarters aiming to engage and develop the Emirati youth
The Dubai Chamber Sustainability Network Taskforce on Emiratisation – an initiative from Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry – hosted a multi-stakeholder dialogue on engaging and developing young Emirati nationals. Taking place at the chamber’s headquarters, the session saw participating companies showcase their initiatives that aim to support young Emirati professionals.
Bringing together representatives from government entities and private companies across the UAE, the activity formed part of efforts by Dubai Chamber – the organisation that represents Dubai’s business community – to support UAE Vision 2021, which aims to create a knowledge-based economy through the engagement of skilled young UAE nationals and by developing local digital capacities.
Farida Al Ali, Assistant Undersecretary of National Human Resources Employment at the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE), delivered the keynote speech at the event, where she asserted that Emiratisation is an integral part of the scope of UAE Vision 2021. Al Ali noted that the Ministry had launched several initiatives in the past few years to promote hiring Emiratis in the public and private sectors, most notably ‘Tawteen’ in 2016.
For his part, Annamalai Chockalingam, Deputy CEO of Mawarid, said his company recognises the potential of Emirati nationals. He introduced Mawarid’s strategy for identifying skilled Emirati nationals and helping them develop through a three-year mentorship programme., going on to discuss the company’s yearly awards programme for engaging and developing Emirati nationals – ‘Tamaiaz’.
Dr Alia Al Serkal, VP for People Learning & Growth at du, outlined the most notable initiatives and programmes that the telecommunications company has launched to support young UAE nationals, stating that it is essential for the private sector to develop a clear strategy for attracting, employing, and training Emirati nationals to benefit from their expertise.
Dr Belaid Rettab, Senior Director of the Economic Research and Sustainable Business Development Sector at Dubai Chamber, noted that the Chamber is committed to training Emirati professionals, honing and developing their skills and empowering them to play a role in Dubai’s business community. Dr Rettab explained that the Chamber’s ‘Fursa’ programme trains fresh Emirati graduates and employs them throughout Dubai Chamber’s various departments, providing them the opportunity to build their careers in sectors where they can be of use to the country and its citizens.
The Dubai Chamber Sustainability Network serves as a platform for Dubai’s business community to come together, share expertise on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability challenges and develop practical solutions.
Founded in 2004, Dubai Chamber’s Centre for Responsible Business plays a leading role in promoting CSR and guiding organisations to adopt sustainable and responsible business practices. The CRB enlists a team of experts to assist members of Dubai Chamber and the rest of the business community in adopting responsible business practices that enhance their performance and competitive advantage. The centre organises events and provides CSR-focused counsel, in addition to research, training and assessment services.
New banking and licensing solutions tailored to the needs of startups, an uptick in the number of fintech startups specialising in SME banking and increased cooperation between UAE banks and the country’s startup ecosystem are among the key achievements outlined by the Dubai Chamber-led working group on SME banking.
The working group, in cooperation with Smart Dubai, Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus (Dtec) and a leading UAE bank, has developed a new one-stop shop solution powered by blockchain technology which enables startups and SMEs to apply for a business license and open a bank account.
Following the establishment of the working group and the release of a whitepaper on SME banking challenges published by Dubai Chamber in September 2018, two of its members – RAK Bank and Mashreq Bank – have begun offering new digital solutions and additional services designed specifically for startups. Meanwhile, an uptick has been observed in the number of fintech startups in Dubai addressing SME banking challenges, signalling stronger awareness about such matters.
Collaboration between UAE banks and the country’s startup ecosystem has increased considerably over the last nine months. For example, Noor Bank assisted 20 startups from Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus (Dtec) in opening bank accounts during the same period, marking a year-over-year increase of 35%. Enhanced communication about application documentation on the part of the bank reduced processing time and simplified the customer experience by providing startup customers with transparency and clarity up front.
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