ITCAN Adapts To Changing Consumer Needs Amidst Accelerated Shift Towards Online Platforms Through The COVID-19 Crisis
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Established in 2015, ITCAN, a full-service technology and digital marketing company, was founded by Mansour Althani and Abdallah Althani. The two Saudi nationals, who started the company with zero funding, today have a firm with workforce of over 70 employees dispersed across four offices. With its main office headquartered in the UAE, ITCAN also has offices located in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and a recently opened one in India.
Despite winning the Young Entrepreneurship Contest (YEC) that was presented by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development in 2012 for an online clothing store concept, the Althanis still felt they lacked the required experience to successfully run a startup. After having gained practical experience in the marketing field over the next few years, Mansour says he gained the required capabilities to launch ITCAN in 2015. With the company being entirely self-funded right from day one, ITCAN's portfolio of clients today come from the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, including companies such as Al Tayer Group and Chalhoub Group.
Althani says the company is now looking into expanding further into the GCC and North Africa region. ITCAN launched in India earlier this year, and it is now looking to launch a new product (cpx.ae) that Mansour believes will boost the affiliation marketing sector in the GCC. Although he agrees that the timing might be risky, he also believes now is the time for the digital industries to boom because, in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Mansour says that consumer behaviours, especially online, have permanently changed.
Excerpts from an interview with Mansour Althani, co-founder and CEO, ITCAN:
What are the risks, challenges, and opportunities that ITCAN had to face?
"The whole idea of starting a startup like ITCAN is already a risk in itself. With this in mind, the key challenges that we had to face back then were finding the right concept; finding the funding and capital; finding the right team and finding the right character and mindset to handle the startup. When starting a business, you should be open to the idea that you might lose- accepting low profit initially while trying to build a career path and establishing a presence in the market.
You need to believe enough in your idea and your abilities to make others believe in you, which is where the opportunities start to grow. Opportunities should always be explored- they should never be lost and if ever, then you should learn from your losses. It was no different when ITCAN was starting out, as we had gained some opportunities and lost out to some. The best opportunities were working with huge brands since the first year of our launch. It was a bit stressful at the beginning, but we placed our trust and confidence in the capabilities of our team and what they can achieve."
How has the spread of COVID-19 enhanced the e-commerce business?
"The presence of coronavirus (COVID-19) has given light to a demand for e-commerce, which in turn, has accelerated the industry's growth. However, it is not only e-commerce that is experiencing the boom. The internet is filled with opportunities, particularly in education, gaming, etc. Most people started to shop only from the simplest and daily use stuff to clothing, makeup, household and other. Thus, this grew the demand on the ecommerce platforms. Also, so many businesses had to go online to keep serving their clients, so eventually that helped grow the industry, also making it an essential and vital part of every business plan from now on."
How has the company’s human capital adapted to the high demand of its services?
"ITCAN's revenue remained steady during the pandemic- even if a large part of our staff worked remotely from home. We also did not cut down on salaries, nor did we terminate any employee. In fact, we ended up hiring more employees to meet the demands of the market. The resilience of the company can be attributed to our ability to seamlessly switch to remote working without any challenges through the use of new tech tools to enhance efficiency. Once we started working from home, performance and productivity became stronger and higher. This prompted us to put some new rules into place- focused towards more innovation and knowledge.
We believe that our team has the right to work from wherever they want as long as they are safe and continue to keep productive. However, companies should arrange a proper policy to keep the flow of communication between its employees and to keep them up to date with all the news. To ensure productivity and continuity, we hold daily online meetings to keep in touch with members of the team and to keep them motivated."
What are ITCAN’s expectations for the e-commerce sector in GCC after the pandemic?
"The presence of COVID-19 has paved the way for industries and businesses to better understand the value of having an online presence if they want to keep up with the digital economy, which is becoming highly competitive, and meet its market needs. Post COVID-19, we believe that the market will never look like how it was before. Consumer behavior has definitely changed and will never go back to how it was previously. People will continue to rely further on online platforms to get their needs."