Young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs are changing the way that business is conducted in the Middle East. Often, they find ways to promote and expand their business is in environments that aren’t necessarily conducive to start-up growth.
Recent news articles have highlighted the success of the Middle East’s tech entrepreneurs. These individuals are identifying needs in the region and are creating companies that fill them. Sometimes they accomplish this using nothing more than a smartphone and access to the Internet.
Positive Examples and Trends Abound
For example, Ala’ Alsalla, who is 31, founded Jamalon, an online platform that sells and ships books written in Arabic and English, out of his family home in Amman. The company now has annual revenues of $2.6 million, 60 employees, and offices in Amman and Dubai. Amid rising literacy rates in the Middle East, Alsalla noticed that Amazon provided few Arabic language books. His company filled the void.
Experts are seeing other positive trends along with the rise in entrepreneurship in the Middle East. Young entrepreneurs also are maneuvering around traditional laws and regulations that previously have limited entrepreneurs to family-run local businesses. As a result, they are capturing a market often dominated by young people who have smart phones.
A Shared Vision Is Key to Success
One key to their success is connecting with investors who share their vision for the region. According to Bloomberg, in 2018 Arab entrepreneurs raised $3 billion in technology investments. Opportunities for young entrepreneurs to learn how to secure investments also are increasing. Incubators are providing financial and business advice and hosting regional gatherings where entrepreneurs and investors can connect.
Saudi Arabia’s “2030 Vision” aims to diversify its economy and make it more welcoming to entrepreneurs. In addition, 500 Falcons, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm fund, has announced that it will invest $30 million in companies in the Middle East. Here are three Middle East-based start-ups that have garnered international attention and are breaking ground in the region for their innovation and growth.
Founded in Dubai, this e-taxi service caters has achieved success by using technology to solve problems surrounding lack of public transportation, infrastructure, and personal bank accounts. It allows users to buy prepaid cards or pay with cash. The company connects people with rides and delivery services for goods they need—including transporting cattle.
The company was founded in 2013. Now it’s now valued at $1 billion and has 30 million users in 14 markets. In late March, Careem’s founders confirmed that Uber was buying the company for more than $3 billion while allowing it to keep its brand and identity and carry on with normal operations.
Careem founder Mudassir Sheikha recently described the sale as a “lift-off moment for the region.” He hopes that it will cause other investors to take a closer look at Middle East start-ups.
Founder Ronaldo Mouchawar first considered creating an e-commerce site for the Middle East in the early 2000s. This is when the platform Maktoob became the first in the region to successfully connect people online.
Mouchawar, who already had worked with a few digital start-ups, saw that Maktoob was one of few large-scale platforms that didn’t require users to speak English. However, Maktoob’s users primarily were on the site to share information. Mouchawar spun off Souq (which means “market” in Arabic) into an online auction site. Later, he expanded, connecting merchants with buyers.
By 2017, Souq was operating in seven countries and employed 3,000 people. That year, Amazon announced it was buying Souq.com for $580 million. In early May 2019, the site official was renamed Amazon.ae.
This app is the first to directly pay users with cash, in this case for their feedback and opinions on goods and services. Karim Aly founded Taskspotting in 2014 to help companies get user feedback.
Now it has expanded into an “outsourcing marketplace” that focuses on mystery shopping, retail execution audits, and competitive intelligence surveys. In other words, Taskspotting provides companies with current insights from real customers for everything from looking at new cars to tasting Shawarma. Users are paid through Paypal or at exchange centers.
The app benefits users, who can earn a little extra money as the cost of living increases in Middle Eastern cities. It also benefits the companies that commission the data. “Imagine being able to reach out to thousands of consumers, ask them for the information you need from the market and receive it back accurately and in real-time, all at the touch of a button,” Aly recently told a media outlet.
Taskspotting has been praised for capitalizing on crowdsourcing to provide businesses with vital, up-to-date information that can solve real business problems through a better understanding of user experience. The company already is fielding hundreds of questions from MENA region residents about when the app will go live in their cities.