Idriss Al Rifai, Founder & CEO Fetchr, talked with Dr. Tausif Malik, Founder-Editor of GCC Region’s First Startup & Entrepreneurship News portal ‘gccstartup.news’. Here are the excerpts of the Interview.
Dr. Tausif Malik.Please give us brief background about your self and your co-founder?
Idriss Al Rifai. As the CEO and Founder of Fetchr, Idriss Al Rifai has always been passionate about disrupting the Middle East retail market with technologies and customer-centric services that enable the growth of e-commerce in the region. The idea to start Fechr was first born while Idriss was heading the operations at Marka VIP.
The company faced several issues with customer complaints about delayed packages or sometimes packages not getting delivered at all due to drivers facing issues finding addresses in the region, leading to high return rates. The industry did not care about the customer, did not take them seriously. Idriss built an in-house logistics department to expedite deliveries. While working on this, Idriss realized the potential impact a customer-centric, technology backed delivery solution could have for ecommerce and all deliveries across the region. In 2012 Idriss decided to start Fetchr, and teamed up with Joy Ajlouny, Co-Founder and Creative Director.
Joy Ajlouny has been an e-commerce industry professional for over 20 years based in San Francisco, California. Previously Joy founded Bonfaire, an Internet based discovery platform for luxury footwear and accessories that was VC backed. Bonfaire was acquired in 2013 by fashion e-commerce giant Moda Operandi, owned by LVMH and Conde Nast to name a few. As Venture Capital firms invest in mostly male founders, Joy successfully raised funds for two companies from some of the most prestigious Venture Capital firms in Silicon Valley, making her part of the elite group of 2% of all women ever funded
Dr. Tausif Malik.Please tell us about your entrepreneurship journey?
Idriss Al Rifai. Being a tech start-up in the Middle East can be an uphill battle sometimes, especially back in 2012 when Fetchr was first founded. I faced a number of challenges when first starting out with Fetchr- from attracting and making clients think ahead of the curve, to making sure the product and software improve at the right pace, sourcing key people and talent, fundraising etc. Raising funds in the Middle East too was not an easy task, with a lot of people being risk averse to investing in an early stage start-up. Only after sheer determination, a belief in Fetchr’s vision and teaming with Joy Ajlouny that we were we able to secure the first Series A funding from a top-tier Silicon Valley VC firm, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), making us the first start-up to be backed by a top Silicon Valley VC fund in the Middle East. We recently also raised our Series B funding of 41M USD, led by a mix of NEA investors (NEA was the co-lead) and regional powerhouse, Majid Al Futtaim.
Dr. Tausif Malik.How does your system work ?
Idriss Al Rifai. Our technology packs provide a cloud-based platform where all tasks and drivers are connected. Any new task is taken on by the cloud and is assigned to a driver based on an algorithm that defines the most optimal way to take this new request into account without disrupting other driver’s routes. All GPS locations from customers are also integrated into the cloud, allowing us to provide a superior experience for the customers: higher transparency, precise time of arrival for the driver. On the consumer end, we have developed native mobile apps in both Android and iOS, with two services for peer to peer deliveries – standard service (same day and next day deliveries) and NOW service (on-demand deliveries picked up in less than 30 minutes)
Dr. Tausif Malik.How fast is your delivery time and pricing?
Idriss Al Rifai. Through our NOW (on-demand) service, the delivery time can be as early as within the hour, depending on the pick-up and delivery location of the customer. We realize that the market and the customer is continuously evolving and we continue to innovate to stay ahead of the curve. In terms of the pricing, we charge a flat fee of 40 AED for the on-demand deliveries, which is quite competitive given that we offer a point to point delivery to the customer. Through our app customers also have the option to use our standard service, through which customers receive packages same day or next day (depending on the pick-up and drop-off location in UAE). The service is priced at 30 AED, and includes deliveries all over UAE.
Dr. Tausif Malik.Are there any other delivery apps like Fetchr?
Idriss Al Rifai. When Fetchr was first launched, we innovated a first of its kind delivery service in the MENA region, powered completely through an app and capturing the customers GPS location to overcome the “no address” problem in the Middle East. However, as the market for on-demand delivery services has grown, so has the competition. We have a few competitors present in the market now, though I believe we maintain our competitive edge by continuously innovating, responding to user behavior and adding new features and innovative products to our service offerings.
Dr. Tausif Malik.Fetchr is dubbed as Middle East regions Unicorn; How do you feel about it?
Idriss Al Rifai. I think it’s a combination of pride, but also immense responsibility to grow the company at an even greater trajectory than where we are currently. As one of the first start-ups in the region to raise money from Silicon Valley and now earn this title I feel we have a greater responsibility to set the tone and keep building this bridge between the Valley and the Middle East: there is a whole eco system here that needs breathing space and the hope to secure non-regional money.
Dr. Tausif Malik.What are your future plans?
Idriss Al Rifai. Our future plans are focused on expansion across the MENA region and on product innovation to improve our service offerings for our customers. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that every customer across emerging markets can receive a package on-time with a hassle-free shipping experience, with his cell phone at the core of his experience.
Dr. Tausif Malik.Based on your experience, what are the challenges expat Entrepreneurs and startups face in the GCC region?
Idriss Al Rifai. The entrepreneurial environment in U.A.E has come a long way since I first started here. We now have plenty of resources available for emerging startups in the region. I think the biggest challenge that remains here is the high costs associated with launching your business- from license fees, to visas to dealing with all the paper work before you can even begin! Overall though, the start-up community here is burgeoning and there are plenty of opportunities for great ideas in this region.
Dr. Tausif Malik.Finally, a message to Expat Entrepreneurs in the GCC region?
Idriss Al Rifai. Believe in your vision and think ahead of the curve. You have to be a forward thinker to thrive in today’s environment, and this requires a strong vision and persistence under all circumstances. Speak passionately about your idea and build a strong team of talented individuals who will help you grow fast.