Crisis Control: UAE-Based Startup Geeks Offers Tech Support At Your Doorstep (Literally)
For those of you who have experienced the sheer panic that comes after your trusted mobile or laptop gets damaged, this UAE-based startup's offering may sound like a godsend. Launched in December 2014, Geeks offers on-demand tech services and support, with a simple but very appealing value proposition: when you find your favorite gadgets unusable, highly-skilled and trained technicians (i.e. "geeks") will be dispatched to your location, be it at your office, event, or home, at your doorstep, and wherever possible, they'd get the problem fixed on the spot.
The idea for the enterprise came to co-founders Mousa Yassin and Fathi Al Sharif after the latter once had to get his laptop repaired, and found the experience to be a costly and inefficient affair- he either had to pay for an expensive replacement, or visit Bur Dubai to search through more affordable repair shops. The co-founders considered the long-term viability and scale of the problem, along with the growing trends of tech dependence and the need for quality tech support. The co-founders were also motivated with their desire to do something different after their years in corporate roles -Yassin, who's now the CEO, comes from a management, operations and automation services background, while Al Sharif, the startup's CTO, hails from an extensive IT background, which includes a stint at Microsoft.
"At a certain point, [you have] an urge to do something different, more challenging and to create something meaningful to the world," says Yassin. "It starts off with that feeling, and then you act on it when the time [comes], and [the] idea is just right." They started off Geeks with a basic MVP to handle requests, and then ran a basic marketing campaign to assess the market's potential. When the duo saw positive results, Al Sharif worked on the startup full-time, while Yassin worked part-time to fund the business until they were ready to raise funding a year later.
In January 2015, they served their first customer, and during those early days of the venture, the co-founders picked up and returned devices to customers themselves, gradually building their overall operations and their systems as they learnt from customers' feedback. They then started to onboard technicians to be paid on commission to deliver services to customers at their locations. The company now also offers a live online chat on its website, which responded in less than 15 minutes when I inquired about a service.
As for their funding, the startup raised US$600,000 in a seed round in June 2016, led by Wamda Capital, with the round including investment group Equitrust and Bayt.com CEO Rabea Ataya. It was followed by a bridge round in November 2017, led by Wamda Capital again, and including Dubai Silicon Oasis, VentureSouq, Vision VC, and strategic Saudi angel investors. Next up, the startup is planning for a Series A round in Q4 2018, and more rounds in the future, as Yassin asserts their resolve to be "in this for the long run." And the startup is also honing their USP to strengthen their endurance. For businesses, Yassin says that their USP is being able to automate the IT support process through providing business clients with the startup's personalized platform for them to manage their IT assets and proactively monitor their network, firewall, and devices. Clients would also receive access to a dedicated and certified remote support team and on-demand workforce.
For consumers, Yassin asserts that their USP is being able to provide instant and reliable support at the customer's location, with an average time from inquiry to delivery in 90 minutes for an iPhone repair. According to the duo, compared to their competitors, their transparent and simple approach is their differentiating factor. They also automate their platform and offer a customer-centric approach while delivering as fast as possible with the best quality and reasonable prices.
It's certainly a novel business proposition to provide emergency phone/IT repairs- the duo says they incorporated the feature knowing how the average SME in the region may not be knowledgeable on cloud solutions and setting up and maintaining their IT environment, pointing out UAE as an ideal market to build a foundation. Scaling their door-to-door service is part of their strategy, with their early days spent on building the right tech to support the on-demand business model.
With the need to become cyber resilient more essential than ever, identifying cyber threats and vulnerabilities is also part of the startup's services. Chief Sales Officer Ala Majaj says, "Hacking is all about finding vulnerabilities within existing systems that are not updated. To protect themselves, companies need to automate cyber protection by using fully automated tools on every level."
The co-founders are big believers of the potential and positive impact of the on-demand economy in the region. Though they note that the region is still segmented, with every country having its own set of rules and regulations, they assert how it's currently changing as governments acknowledge the problem on solving it and work on bringing international tech-driven companies into the market.
On major hurdles they've faced, Yassin says, "It's constantly moving throughout the lifecycle of the business." Currently, they're working on finding and onboarding the right talent, but earlier on, their issues were around figuring out their business model to "control our unit economics," as well as figuring out the best approach to "designing and implementing the initial product with the right measures and controls."
Two years in the business and getting closer to the bridge round, the duo says their concern included "building a positive culture driven by output, figuring out customer acquisition metrics and our sales funnel in the business segment and setting up our consumer and business products for scalability." Looking at their traction, the startup seems to be faring well despite its hurdles. The duo says 2017 ended with 100 active business members on their business IT support and automation platform, and 420 unique non-member businesses that used Geeks as an on-demand service, with 10,000 unique customers supported overall. They also have an extensive list of partners including Cisco, Microsoft, Lenovo, Dell, HP, VEEAM, VMare, Acronis and APC, with business clients complimenting the startup's automation, simplicity and visibility of its platform.
In the coming months, the startup plans to expand their business segment into Saudi Arabia: "We see great potential in the software we built to run and automate our business, and are currently testing this opportunity. Providing this software to physical service providers around the world will help us fuel the on-demand economy, and help other businesses automate their operation." Here's wishing Geeks all the luck!
Geeks co-founders, CEO Mousa Yassin and CTO Fathi Al Sharif
What's your advice to entrepreneurs starting a business in the UAE?
"Start with ensuring you have the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. This comes before even figuring out what you're doing. Emotional and egotistic conflicts can really take you back a few years. The team needs to be fueled by trust, self-ownership and output. Put enough thought into assessing the opportunity's market potential. UAE is a great place to start and will help prepare your business for the future, but the market size will not be enough especially with all the product development costs you're going to incur.
So, take a holistic view of the global market and keep it in mind throughout your initial journey. Your startup is going to consume thousands of hours from you and your team, make sure you're inputting these hours somewhere that will generate enough output in the long run. Follow a lean and data-driven approach. Drop your ego, no one knows anything. Keep testing and let the data dictate what you should do next. Stay flexible and don't be afraid to pivot, this fear can either help you focus on a single target and succeed or could hold you back from achieving a much larger opportunity."