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Managing finances, invoicing for products or services provided, and other financial tasks may not be alluring aspects of starting a business, but they are undoubtedly key requirements for running and scaling it. While established companies or even startups with deep pockets have the luxury to hire a large finance team or implement systems to automate finance function, it’s often a budget that small businesses cannot afford in early-stages of business.
Being an SME themselves, Morocco-based IT solutions company Sahih Business was quick to realize that using large accounting systems required a “long curve of learning,” and needed users with prior experience with such software. In case you are wondering what’s unique about a startup creating a financial software, consider this: after launching its SaaS accounting product in 2011, Sahih Business decided to go one step ahead in 2013 with its flagship product Aliphia- the “first” Arabic cloud-based SaaS accounting software for SMEs.
“Our objective is to offer a solution, easy to use, that encourages the use of cloud, and actually fits company requirements,” says Mohammed Adnan Morabet, co-founder and CEO, Sahih Business, summarizing the key proposition of Aliphia. “Aliphia offers a true Arabic user experience interface. That means that the software was made to support the Arabic language from the beginning, and not translated or “hacked” to poorly offer it,” he explains. The cloud-based platform is specifically tailored for small businesses and freelancers, allowing them to create and customize invoices, maintain accounts, manage clients, and track financial progress, among other functions. Aliphia also offers personalized financial reports on its dashboard, and supports Arabic text formatting, including Persian numbers. As for why they decided to create a separate Arabic solution, Morabet says, “We should consider that only a few languages are actually written from right to left in the globe, meaning that a translation is required to have your software ready, and that was never a priority for software vendors, due to the market requirements.” But governments across the MENA region have increasingly been adopting Arabic as a legal mandatory for businesses. For instance, in the UAE, Dubai’s Department of Economic Development (DED) has instructed commercial establishments to use Arabic as the main language for receipts and invoices by 2017, in addition to a language of their choice.
Morabet’s passion for web design, and his work experience of over 10 years in Morocco and Spain’s SaaS market, kept him going as he spent nearly three years in developing and refining his product, a process in which he was ably supported by co-founder and CMO Asmae Bouabdellah’s marketing expertise. Being a firm believer of a “solid business model” and “strong product,” Morabet says that the startup continues to build varied value-add features, and has structured itself to suit both product and services businesses. Following a freemium business model, Aliphia accepts e-payments thanks to its integration with digital systems, such as PayPal and 2Checkout. As Morabet puts it, the company’s mission goes beyond selling software, and it is keen on providing a full stack support for small businesses to scale. In line with this, Aliphia is also offered in local mode- clients with poor connectivity can enjoy the same Aliphia experience even without an internet connection with Aliphia BOX, a server that hosts Aliphia in LAN/WAN.
With installable software (that are sometimes free) and simple spreadsheets posing threat to Aliphia’s adoption, Morabet counts “a low price, and pay-as-you-go model,” and unique Arabic support as their selling proposition. Elaborating on what has been the startup’s biggest challenge, Morabet mentions difficulties faced in customer conversions and misconceptions about local providers. He feels that the region’s customers tend to look favorably at foreign vendors, and often see local ones as “less competent [or] trusted.” Another challenge Aliphia faces is inadequate feedback from users, which, Morabet says, leaves them wondering about their retention strategies. “Most of the customers use it and never come back, and you need to know why [this happened] when you have just started.” There is also the awareness gap with regards to cloud-based solutions, especially when it comes to their target customers- SMEs. But as small businesses struggle to scale up without access to sophisticated financial management tools, and regulators insisting on making Arabic a legal business requirement in the region, Morabet is convinced that there is a sizable market for Aliphia, but also a long way to go for the startup. However, true to his company’s objective, Morabet is very clear on where Aliphia’s focus lies: “We want to help Arabic businesses achieve their objectives of success by giving them access to the right tools that will help them pursue their goals.”
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Mohammed Adnan Morabet, co-founder and CEO, Sahih Business
“I think that countries like Morocco should learn more from the UAE and KSA; they are a clear example of successful Arab nations growing an entrepreneurship ecosystem with fundamentals. Contests, incubators, mentorship and funding are needed in the [Morocco] region to help entrepreneurs. They must be of quality, and serve a real purpose to the entrepreneurs and not the organizers.”
TIPS FOR ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS
“First, start selling as soon as possible, and from there improve your product and margins. The quantity of customers doesn’t matter if they are happy using your product; you need customers to learn about your business from them. Second, know your competition, and don’t do only what they do. Do what they thought they cannot do. Many businesses doing the same stuff can also be a lot of businesses doing the wrong things. Third, don’t believe the information you find over the internet about the MENA region; there is a lot of wrong data. Take it into consideration, but always take decisions using your own business data mixed with in-house tests.”