Time For Coffee? There's An App For That, Says COFE Founder Ali Al Ebrahim
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You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.This article is part of a series on pioneering entrepreneurs in Kuwait that Entrepreneur Middle East has built in collaboration with Kuwait Finance House. Kuwait Finance House is considered a pioneer in Islamic finance or Sharia’a compliant banking, with it being the first Islamic bank established in 1977 in the State of Kuwait, and is today one of the foremost Islamic financial institutions in the world.
For those of us who enjoy a cup of coffee, whether on the run or in our own comfort, it's safe to say that we would find the ease of ordering coffee online from their mobile devices very convenient. The COFE app does just that.
COFE is a coffee-centric marketplace app conceptualized in Kuwait and developed in Silicon Valley for coffee communities around the world. And those working in the coffee industry will find this app particularly interesting, since the COFE marketplace gives them quick access to a wide range of independent and coffee franchise vendors through multiple concierge service options while also enabling them to order and pay online. In fact, the entire selection and purchasing process takes place in the app.
Since its beta launch in February 2018 in Kuwait, it has been the COFE team’s intention to digitize the coffee marketplace. “It’s been a task we have succeeded with in Kuwait, and are now in the process of extending to other markets, starting with the UAE and KSA this year, before launching in London,” says Ali Al Ebrahim, founder and CEO, COFE. “COFE’s expansion efforts are a way for us to take this integration of everything coffee-related on a digital platform, to the global market.”
At this point, it's likely that most of you are wondering, well, why coffee, as an industry to target as a startup? "The coffee marketplace offers a multi-billion growth opportunity," Al Ebrahim replies. "With the coffee share of beverage growing by 5.5% per annum, that makes the coffee market the second most lucrative commodity market after oil. Specialty coffee shops alone have shown a 60% growth rate in recent years. Some of the biggest deals to be signed involve the acquisition of coffee-centric companies, like the deals for Keurig (US$13.9 billion), Einstein Bros ($1.35 Billion), Costa Coffee ($5.1 Billion) and Pret-A-Manger ($2 Billion), to name a few."
And how does COFE plan to capitalize in this particular sector? "While there are marketplace apps for almost all industries; hospitality (Airbnb, Booking.com), food delivery (Deliveroo, Talabat), travel (Expedia, Priceline), there is a lack of a coffee marketplace app in the market," Al Ebrahim notes. "Looking at the current trend in the mobile application industry in particular, the Starbucks app in 2018 had 23.4 million mobile paying users, ranking above Apple Pay (22 million users) and Google Pay (11.1 million users). Even regionally, there have been some major deals within the mobile application industry, like Uber-Careem ($3.1 Billion) and Talabat - Rocket Internet ($170 Million). Given this data, both the coffee market and the mobile application industries are showing phenomenal growth rates, and thus COFE app."
Edited excerpts from a conversation with COFE's Ali Al Ebrahim:
What has been the reaction you've received for your offering in Kuwait?
While the industry is rapidly growing, coffee consumption in Kuwait is rising, and gaining strong attention from the consumer. The recent explosion of local coffee shops in the country has come to show the strength of demand in this market. Studies have shown that the number of coffee shop openings in Kuwait has more than doubled to reach 48 coffee shops in 2016, and 81 coffee shops opening in 2017.
Given these insights, the steadily growing number of COFE app users and the opportunity for expansion, we are inclined to say that not only has the app been well-received by the Kuwaiti audiences, but has succeeded in filling a crucial gap in the coffee customer journey. The very fact that we’re looking into major expansions within such a short period of time speaks for the reception by the app users in Kuwait, and the increasing curiosity of customers outside the country.
Most COFE app users are focused on the in-store services rather than delivery, as it cuts down on the cumbersome process of ordering coffee by standing in line, and waiting to be served, giving them more time to connect with each other over their cuppa. As such, the COFE app uses technology to enhance human connections.
What has been the most negative feedback to your offerings that you've received so far, and how did you go about tackling it?
The greatest challenge we faced at COFE was not about customer feedback, but rather addressing the needs of our vendors. We wanted to create a highly customizable application that gives COFE shops higher autonomy in terms of their storefronts on the application, services offered and inventory management. Most applications in the F&B industry do not offer customizable inventory management right down to the level of individual stores. And we at COFE App have spent substantial time and effort in creating a backend system that allows coffee shops to manage inventory, pricing and menu for every individual store, and not just that but also the ability to customize services available at every location.
According to you, what are some of the main considerations that entrepreneurs should keep when starting up a business in Kuwait?
Right now, technology is at the forefront of all new businesses. In fact, even established businesses are now venturing into the tech sector for growth and expansion. The market for mobile applications is only just booming, and there is a lot of promise in the industry. As such, having a strong tech team has become of paramount importance for businesses. Technology is the primary asset for any new company. Another important aspect to keep in mind is that, when getting investors on board, make sure to target strategic investors, those companies or individuals who understand your business values and goals and are looking to grow together. Gather as much insider insights and information on your chosen market, as these will go a long way in helping you determine the industry and path you choose.
Lastly, what are some of the opportunities that you see available in the Kuwaiti market today, and what would be your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Like I mentioned earlier, technology as a business sector is only just starting out and is full of opportunities. I would recommend picking a niche instead of venturing into general businesses. Before you start, determine what your business USP is going to be and build everything around it. Use your USP to differentiate your products and services from others. Another important quality that every entrepreneur and their venture needs is adaptability. Whatever your action plan is, it will need constant adjustments based on the environment you are operating in. Being quick to notice the changes and adapting your plan accordingly is what will eventually determine whether or not your venture makes it. Understanding when change is needed, and then being quick to respond is crucial.Related: UAE App CAFU Brings The Fuel To Wherever You (And Your Vehicle) May Be