The market was ready for an e-commerce revolution, and in November 2015, the government announced a plan to support e-commerce businesses. The best evidence for about the need for us was the growth we have seen, and the potential in providing services to more people in the years to come,” says Dr. Aiman Erbad, co-founder of QatarBestDeals.com (QBD) and Board Chairman of Riyada Trading, the operator of the e-commerce portal.
QBD, launched in March 2015, was created to answer the local market need for a platform to sell products and provide end-to-end shipping and customer service. “Road traffic has increased significantly and congestion in stores and shopping malls is increasing. Shopping in general, and especially shopping in festive seasons, has become a hectic job. Professionals also find it hard to make time to visit stores. In addition, the statistics show large Internet connectivity penetration and an increasing number of people in Qatar using global e-commerce websites,” adds Erbad.
Erbad, a Qatari national, co-founded QDB with Tunisians Wassim Drira and Mariem Jabloun. Erbad, an Assistant Professor and Computer Engineering Program Coordinator at Qatar University, was distinguished with the Platinum Award from H.H. The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the Education Excellence Day 2013 (PhD Category), and recently graduated from Qatar Leadership Center’s rising leaders program. His research interests span cloud computing, distributed systems and multimedia, and he regularly reviews and serves as a technical program committee member in international journals and conferences in the area of multimedia systems and networking.
Drira holds a PhD from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie (Paris 6) and the Institut MinesTélécom/ Télécom SudParis, and his expertise includes security and wireless communication. Jabloun, with a Master’s Degree from the National School of Computer Science in Tunisia, excels in JEE Development and IoT platforms. Prior to launching the e-commerce venture, the founders knew one another for only a year.
“We have shared an interest in entrepreneurship and innovation as we worked as researchers in computer science and communication. As we studied the local market needs, paired with our experiences from living abroad in France and North America (including the U.S., and Canada), we noticed the gap in providing a unique online shopping experiences. This was the start for our startup, and [led to the] focus on providing the best e-commerce experience in Qatar and in the region,” adds Erbad.
Erbad explains how the platform helps suppliers and merchants to sell products online and enables users to get access to a variety of products in one place. “We buy our products from the local market and connect suppliers to consumers. We focus on electronics and accessories, and gifts such as perfume, flowers, chocolate to name a few, and we have a plan to expand our product portfolio.”
QBD handles the transactions end to end, and initially, the platform and new products are advertised using social media and through their mailing list of clients. “We handle online/cash payments, we deliver products and provide customer service, before and after sale. Most of our products have local warranty from local suppliers. Our prices are competitive with local suppliers and other websites.”
And setbacks? Erbad recalls how it was not easy to start the company as a number of permits is required and the setup costs are relatively high. In addition, they had a lack of access to the proper information available of the necessary steps in order to get started. “Some of these issues were resolved due to constant government efforts to streamline the process to start a business. We also received support from the Digital Incubation Center (DIC) which is part of the Ministry of Transportation and Communication,” adds Erbad. QBD mainly use SEO optimization to increase organic traffic from search engines. “We heavily use social media such as Facebook Ads, Twitter, and Instagram to advertise our products. We [also] have a mailing list of clients that we keep updated about new offers.”
Co-founder Jabloun, a mother of three, admits that her dedication to the startup does eat up a lot of her time, and that she finds difficulty keeping work-life balance in place. “Being a lady entrepreneur impacts my family life a lot. I can see that when I do training at ictQatar, while my daughter is sleeping near me. I really appreciate that the DIC encourages me doing that, and not missing the training sessions they provide. I am trying to put some limits, which is not that easy. But, I think my kids feels really that I’m quite happy, that I’m stronger, when they are playing near to me while I work from home on my laptop.”
QBD, as a long-term vision, sees an online virtual mall helping connect customers in Qatar and the region to local businesses, and their mission is to build an e-commerce platform to assist local and regional businesses to compete against the international market. Also, to provide the people of Qatar and the region with a more rewarding online shopping experience, competitive prices, and convenience.
“We connect with suppliers to establish a long-term relationship. We explain to our partners and suppliers the need to provide high quality products at reasonable prices, as e-commerce business is price sensitive. We explain to them that customers can buy the same products from regional and international supplier so it is essential to provide us with good deals.”
And in line with the country’s National Vision 2030, QBD is helping to diversify the country’s retail landscape by attempting to do their share for economic development. “QatarBestDeals.com can be a vehicle for economic diversification as we grow to become a regional and an international player. E-commerce companies such as Amazon and AliBaba have billions in revenue, so our dream is to become a regional player in five years.”
The co-founders are pleased with the progress and onboarding of new customers thus far, saying that the general public has embraced local e-commerce businesses. “We have been growing steadily for one year. We target professionals with limited shopping time, and people without easy access to shopping centers.” With a newly launched mobile work on app development began in August 2015, adding that now the apps are in the second iteration.
“We hired two full-time engineers for that task that worked on back-end, Android and iOS development. To reduce our development costs, we opted for hybrid mobile app development frameworks. This kind of platform uses the web technologies to develop applications that can be ported to many platforms in a short time. The first version had been released in mid-December, but after being tested by some selected persons, it has been reviewed to [improve on] some user interactivity and design issues.”
Drira also mentions that operational and marketing costs are higher than software development costs, and that being a part of DIC has helped keep the trio’s margins down together with the added benefits of training and assistance with things like software licenses. Self-funded, the co-founders all wear multiple hats to keep costs down even participating in deliveries and customer support, with Drira adding that the multitasking has been “great as it helps us understand the market and our customers.”
While the co-founders say they are open to investor discussions to encourage the business’ growth in the market, they do point out that it would take a person with an appetite for risk, who can see a larger game plan, and who isn’t looking for the safer real estate type investment route.
And do these enterprising founders have advice for ‘treps looking to enter the Qatari market? Erbad says entrepreneurs need to keep in mind that while starting a business takes significant time and effort, it is also extremely fulfilling. He also points out that your time to launch may be now, as support systems are abundant and can really facilitate the growth and maturation of enterprises with the right mix of dedication and setup. “The government is providing generous support through Qatar Development Bank and the Ministry of Transportation and Communication. This is the best time to start a business in Qatar, but it requires dedication and commitment.”
QatarBestDeals.com co-founders talk web development
“The cost of launching QatarBestDeals.com was quite important, not only in term of money but especially in terms of dedication and sacrifices. As we are all computer science engineers, we have preferred to work by ourselves on the development of this platform. Thus, for nearly four months we have dedicated a lot of our free time developing QatarBestDeals.com. The task was just hectic, but incredibly amazing! Working with passion and care on your ideas is just the best experience that you can have in all your life. But developing the platform was only the beginning of the story. Convincing companies to join QatarBestDeals.com, a new online shopping platform, was even more difficult task. But thanks to the communication skills of our co-founder Mariem, we have just amazing partners.” Wassim Drira
“I am a Senior Software Engineer, so I always talked to my laptop and my JEE platforms. I missed the fact of presenting my work to the final users especially that I am the most skilled person to sell what I have built. So here we are, I was delighted to do this job now not only because I believe in it, but because I am daily quite confident and happy to convince new companies to join us, to grow their sales, and to be more open to new technologies and new ways of selling.” Mariem Jabloun