Published on July 26th, 2015 | by Bhavishya Kanjhan1
In conversation with the Fetchr co-founders
Operating an eCommerce business in the region is far more challenging than most people expect it to be. Not just operating, even merely servicing the market can be very difficult. This is exactly what Joy Ajlouny found out first hand when she was running Bon Faire. A luxury eCommerce platform, Bon Faire started experimenting by shipping to the Middle East. The order size and volume of orders were a pleasant surprise, the return rate however was not. She saw that the ‘address’ was not more than a name, a phone number and a city; a stark contrast to the specific addressing system prevalent in the markets she was used to; namely the Northern American countries.
She wasn’t the only one aware of the problem. Idriss Al Rifai faced similar issues when managing logistics for MarkaVIP; he built out a rather elaborate solution which resulted in the company creating its own logistics network. Except that he wanted to bring this solution to every one now. This is how MENA VIP was born.
MENA VIP, part of the MENA 360 group, had been operating for over a year when Al Rifai and Ajlouny met at a conference in the US. Al Rifai was speaking on the topic of solving the problem of logistics in the region; a problem that resonated with Ajlouny. This is where she joined (Joy-ned?) the team, they rebranded MENA VIP to Fetchr and started pitching to VCs in Silicon Valley.
Fetchr was successful in raising $11 million as their Series A round.
Ajlouny says “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy”. Most VC firms from the Silicon Valley aren’t making investments in the region. But Fetchr was successful in raising $11 million as their Series A round. The investment was led by New Enterprise Associates. When asked about the valuation, Al Rifai says he can’t disclose that. Ajlouny lets out “It’s a good one though”, followed by a cheeky smile that says it’s all I’m going to get from her.
We see ourselves as a technology company that ships – Joy Ajlouny
“We don’t see ourselves as a shipping company. We see ourselves as a technology company that ships” says Ajlouny. They have a team of developers in India that work on the product, while another small team in the UK that focuses primarily on the algorithm. Al Rifai refers to the latter as a group that has been placed in the ‘ivory tower’. But despite not calling itself a shipping company, Fetchr faces some very serious shipping challenges in the region. Packages are often delayed, and it takes multiple attempts before the item is already delivered. A lot of this can be attributed to changing habits of the consumers.
Fetchr is aware of that. “(Consumers) aren’t home anymore”, says Ajlouny. They’re at work, at a coffee shop or anywhere else. Al Rifai chimes in saying “Delivery companies should be able to find the user, not the other way around. ” Fetchr aims to resolve that with the user of its app. As a user, you can download the app which can tell the driver where you are exactly so the package comes to you where you are. This again a shift from the ‘we’ll deliver the package at your home between 10 and 6’ approach that is commonplace right now. Changing this is an ambitious endeavour, and Al Rifai and Ajlouny are nothing, if not ambitious.
Delivery companies should be able to find the user, not the other way around.
Fetchr, by their own reports, is currently doing 97% of deliveries within 24 hours, and they aim to improve that to 97% same day; an exponentially more difficult task. It’s started to make strides towards that into UAE and Bahrain right now, with their Saudi Arabia operations right around the corner. Kuwait and Qatar will be ready before the end of the year and Egypt is coming up early next year. While Fetchr has its own delivery fleet and warehousing facilities, this may not be the case for every country. Al Rifai says some of those elements may be outsourced to local partners as long as the performance metrics remain the same.
While the $11 million in funding is exciting news, not just for Fetchr, but for startups in the region, Ajlouny and Al Rifai say they’re just getting started. With eCommerce on a rapid growth curve in the region, the need for support services is likely to grow in proportion. This makes it an exciting time for anyone involved in eCommerce to be in business.