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From Concept To Launch: The Origin Story Of My Middle East Startup

From Concept To Launch: The Origin Story Of My Middle East Startup
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You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

For us entrepreneurs, few things generate more passion and excitement than spotting an unfulfilled market need. 

Often an entrepreneur will have hundreds of ideas for ventures, but finding the right one to focus your energies on is not always easy. Early on in my career, I worked in real estate. But it wasn’t until 10 years ago, while living in London, I spotted a gap in the online shopping market that inspired me to change direction.

In this region, international shopping platforms have always been a competitive challenge. I could see that building an e-commerce platform that combined scale, breakthrough innovation and superlative customer experience was the missing element in Saudi Arabia’s retail landscape.

Saudi Arabia, with its shifting landscape of younger consumers who approach shopping with a “digital first” mindset, was ripe for dynamic change. It’s always been my vision to make a difference to the lives of communities living in the MENA region through the power of breakthrough technology.

Related: KSA's SME Authority Launches HUB1006 To Encourage Entrepreneurship

However, while there is huge potential for striking the match of disruptive change in the Middle East marketplace, I knew it was going to take time, the right talent, and the right partners. 

So when the opportunity to work with the BinDawood Group’s Danube supermarket chain came to me a few years ago, I knew this was the moment I’d been waiting for. The BinDawood group’s success was built around a deep understanding of their customer base, driven by a clear vison to build the number one retail business in the region. I had been honored to work with the group in achieving the vision, and I knew that leading the journey of introducing new technologies to our customers, driving the transformation of the Danube business online, was where I could add the most value.

Danube has been at the forefront of retail in Saudi Arabia for more than 30 years. The standard of service and quality of products this homegrown brand offers shoppers is unparalleled in the region. Through its forensic research and commitment to listening to shoppers’ needs, Danube has customer insight in abundance and online shopping was set to revolutionize retail in the region. The challenge was set and the game was on. And I knew that breakthrough online technology was the answer.

Of course, no matter how good your strategy is, if you are playing a solo game, you are always going to lose out to a team.

After testing a beta version of the Danube app, when I met Paul Kenny and his technology partner James Whelton a couple of years ago, I was excited about what a partnership to build a new e-commerce grocery platform could mean for Danube. At the ages of 32 and 23 respectively, there aren’t many people who have done what these talented young Irish entrepreneurs had achieved. Paul, as the founder of voucher site cobone.com, had spearheaded one of the region’s e-commerce success stories, and James had founded CoderDojo at the age of 18, the hugely successful not-for-profit volunteer organization which is now in over 75 countries globally.

I knew they had the same commitment and bold ambitions: a dedication to excellence and creating extraordinary technology, but also to be part of building a company culture based on collaboration. 

Related: The Winning Formula: Creating The Kind Of Company People Love Working For

Enter AYM. Born in 2016, our mission is to build the breakthrough technology needed to revolutionize ecommerce in the Middle East –at speed, and at scale– without compromising on the quality of service.

This kind of platform didn’t exist at the time. With the might and heritage of the Danube brand behind us, we scaled up at speed (our team of technologists is now 20 strong) and established a good line of business credit so we could operate with the agility needed to drive fast growth.

The entire AYM team worked long, often 20-hour, days developing, building and refining an online retail platform that would bring the quality, accessibility and shopping experience of the physical Danube hypermarkets to life in a digital environment. 

We wanted to make it easy, convenient and hassle-free for our customers to buy from the platform.

By May 2017, we were ready to launch.

I believe the Danube app is a game changer for retail in KSA, and we’re already seeing strong usage and growth.

The Danube app and e-commerce platform, which is hosted on Danube.sa, empowers customers to order a full grocery shop from their desktop or smartphone in seconds, delivered to their door in 2 hours. The first of its kind to deliver this service, at scale, in the region.

And the future?

We’re focusing our energies on the successful roll out of the Danube app and e-commerce across Saudi Arabia, and potentially beyond. AYM’s mission is to become the most trusted, innovative brand for state-of-the-art online delivery services in the Middle East. Our business model means the business, investors, retailers and shoppers all benefit from the holistic approach we’re taking.

Our current and future ventures will be ground-breaking, but they are also driven by purpose: to create technology that will change the lives of individuals and communities for the better.

Related: Five Signs Your Business Has What It Takes To Make It

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