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Finance / VC Funding

Souqalmal.com Founder Ambareen Musa On Raising US$10 Million In Series B Funding

Souqalmal.com Founder Ambareen Musa On Raising US$10 Million In Series B Funding
Image credit: Souqalmal
Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Souqalmal.com, a UAE-based comparison website founded by Ambareen Musa in 2012, has raised US$10 million in a Series B investment to expand its operations in the region. The round is led by Saudi-based Riyad TAQNIA Fund (RTF), a venture capital fund founded by Riyad Capital and Taqnia, and includes UAE Exchange Group (UX Holdings Limited), a UAE-based money transfer, foreign exchange and payment solutions provider, and GoCompare Group PLC, which operates GoCompare, a UK-based financial services comparison website.

Commenting on the investment, Musa believes that each of the investors will contribute to Souqalmal’s growth in three distinctive ways- GoCompare.com by offering expertise and technology, UAE Exchange Group by securing wide customer reach across the region, and RTF by further fueling the website’s growth in Saudi Arabia. “GoCompare brings in the knowledge and know-how that RTF and UAE Exchange Group cannot give me; RTF is opening the Saudi market for us that nobody else can do, and UAE Exchange Group is bringing me 15 million customers regionally, which none of the two others can give me,” Musa says, speaking exclusively to Entrepreneur Middle East. “It’s the perfect combination of investors. Now, we are going to keep on pushing to make this a big regional business.”

Originally from Mauritius, Musa earned an undergraduate business degree from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and an MBA from INSEAD. Following her first foray into entrepreneurship -she founded an online property portal for international students in Australia at the age of 21- Musa started a corporate career which saw her working for GE’s financial arm, GE Money, in London, and for Bain & Company Middle East after moving to Dubai in 2008. In Dubai, she went on to set up the consulting arm of MasterCard Middle East and Africa, where she stayed for two years before founding Souqalmal.com in 2012.

Related: 6 Things They Don't Tell You When You Leave the Big Corporate World for Your Own Business

Operating in the UAE and KSA, Souqalmal.com allows users to compare retail banking products, such as credit cards, loans, accounts and insurance. Conceptualized as a highly transparent marketplace, Souqalmal.com is designed to empower consumers to make the right choice by bringing together on one convenient platform all the latest details on more than 3,200 retail banking, insurance, and education products offered by various providers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Since its inception in 2012, Souqalmal.com has received funds from seven angel investors (2012), and has closed a $1.2 million Series A round by London and Antwerp-based Hummingbird Ventures, known for supporting high-growth startups like Deliveroo (2013).

The successful raise of the website’s Series B round comes following its revenue increase of 300% year-on-year since inception, with only insurance vertical growing 800% in the last 12 months. “Service optimization and customer focus have also enabled us to slash our customer acquisition cost by 80%,” Musa adds. With respect to the lead investor, Musa describes RTF as one of the most professional VC funds she has spoken to in the region. “From the speed to being founder-friendly to the professionalism of getting back with answers, asking the right questions, doing the right due diligence,” she says. “But, what I have felt about them is that the respect for the fact that we are building a partnership versus ‘you want my money’ attitude. It has always felt as a partnership, it is a win-win situation.”

GoCompare.com, a financial services comparison website which floated on the London Stock Exchange last year, reached out to Musa seeking to make its first international investment. “They were very busy with their IPO, but after that, it was smooth sailing,” she says. “It’s their first investment outside the UK. They see us as the regional brand and as their entrance into the market. They believe that with their help we can build the aggregator of the region. They are convinced about the need for this kind of business as everybody needs transparency. That is applicable globally. But, the reason why they are not going greenfield is that local knowledge. It [their decision to invest in Souqalmal.com] was about the execution- how can I give to the customer here what they give to the customer in the UK? Therefore, GoCompare for us is all about know-how. They can give us their massive knowledge that we can apply to the region.”

UAE Exchange, a global remittance and foreign exchange business, has lately started investing in fintech startups whose business models and innovative products align with its business growth plans. The discussion about investing in Souqalmal.com started at the World Economic Forum, held in Amman, Jordan, last year. “I’ve always had the idea of having the brand out there for people to see it,” says Musa. “We are a fully online business, we are still using technology to build, but we will now have a presence offline. They were looking at going into digital, and I was looking at increasing the reach, potentially offline. They have a footfall of 400,000 people per day. During the negotiations, UAE Exchange came across as innovative, and people who didn’t want to be stuck in the past. Having investors who are corporates has always been a big fear of mine, but I have been incredibly impressed about UAE Exchange’s speed and their mindset of knowing what they want. They are investors, but we also have a strategic partnership with them. We’ll have Souqalmal.com kiosks in their branches, so customers will be able to go in and check out their insurance quotes. They can put in their details on the kiosk and pay, or if they want to pay cash, they can just go to the counter because UAE Exchange has the license to take funds for insurance.”

The funding will largely be used to launch new business lines, develop Souqalmal.com’s technology, and invest in marketing to further raise awareness and reach more people.

Investor speak 
Souqalmal.com’s investors on their decision to back the company

Adel Al-Ateeq, Acting CEO of Riyad TAQNIA Fund (RTF): “Souqalmal.com is much more than a comparison website. Financial literacy is a priority for Saudi Arabia and Souqalmal.com can play a leading role in this”, said “The company’s personal finance services will also help financial products be more accessible for all in the Kingdom and promote innovation in our financial services sector. We are excited to help Souqalmal.com share its expertise and extend its footprint in Saudi Arabia.”

Matthew Crummack, CEO of GoCompare: “Souqalmal.com is the clear leader in financial education and personal finance comparison in the Middle East, and is fully aligned with our mission to help people everywhere to save time and money. With a youthful and tech savvy population, the potential for growth in the region is huge and Souqalmal.com is the ideal partner for us here.”

Promoth Manghat, Group CEO and Executive Director, UAE Exchange: “We are constantly assessing how we can go that extra mile for our customers and we have watched Souqalmal.com’s rapid rise with interest. We have a wide customer base of over 15 million customers, to whom we offer a wide range of services at our stores. They look up to us for the convenience we bring to them by partnering with various service providers. We are happy to associate with Souqalmal.com and are now looking forward to introducing its unique services to this wide customer base across our extensive network.”

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