UAE-Based Startup Waterwa Dives Into AED1.8 Billion Market With Its Online Water Delivery Platform
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Established as a holding company and registered in Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), Waterwa has a distinct offering that’s not quite what you would see every day in the region- the app offers a variety of brands of drinking water and beverages to be delivered at your doorstep with just a few clicks. Available on both iOS and Android devices, the app allows customers to subscribe for weekly or monthly deliveries to their homes and offices, with the option of cash-on-delivery or credit card payments. From small-sized bottles to large gallons of various brands of beverages, as well as snacks, the app (and its website) is simple enough to use, starting with prompts whether you live in UAE or Bahrain, followed by your area to see the available options to choose from.
The platform is the brainchild of Abdulla Najem and Essa Adel Alzaabi, both of whom have had other entrepreneurial ventures before- ranging from a media company, to a co-working space, a network marketing consultancy, a web and app development services provider, and a last-mile delivery app. Upon arriving to Dubai in 2018, Najem noticed how the market in Dubai is particularly tech-savvy, with consumers whose shopping habits are shifting almost completely online. Coincidentally, Najem was also encountering the hassle of carrying heavy drinking water twice a week from the supermarket, and after a conversation with Al Zaabi (who is now the startup’s co-founder and CTO), the duo realized that though the market offers a variety of grocery apps, there isn’t one specializing on selling, purchasing and delivering water. “We did our research and found out that water is actually the second biggest selling grocery item in the UAE, with a market size of AED1.8 billion- and this is where the idea of Waterwa came up,” says Najem.
Combining Najem’s business background and Alzaabi’s technical skills, the co-founders immediately started to develop the app. The team had a soft launch for a couple of months to test the market, validate the data and monitor it to see if there is a demand for such a solution. “Luckily, the market needed Waterwa,” says Najem. In the beta period, according to the co-founders, the platform received over AED150,000 sales with over 20,000 app downloads and around 1,000 customers on a monthly basis, amassing 5-10 partners in the industry. So far, Najem notes that their biggest challenge had been achieving significant growth, while maintaining the retention rate and providing the best service. “We worked on solving that by taking the process step by step, where we onboard new companies as a first stage, then work with them on reconciliation basis if the products have potential, and lastly, listing them under us where we control logistic and manage the service. By doing that, we ensure growth in our partnerships, and our customers know which orders are fulfilled by us and which [are the ones] by our partner companies, so it doesn’t affect our retention, if any unfortunate experience occurs.”
And it’s working- since its launch in 2019, from a four-member team, it grew to have 24 employees and over 110,000 downloads. As of writing, Najem states that they have 150 partners (such as Masafi, Al Ain, Mai Dubai, Arwa and Voss, among others), and have over AED850,000 in monthly sales. In January 2020, the startup also successfully secured a pre-seed funding of AED1 million from undisclosed investors.
As entrepreneurs in the business of water, the co-founders believe it to be a lucrative venture, as Waterwa fulfills a need in the market. Najem explains, “What makes us unique is that we serve trendy [and] healthy people here in the UAE, the knowledge of the importance of hydration, and the diversity of the population in Dubai and UAE- each having different preferences of water, and we managed to offer all these preferences in one place, offering over 150 brands and choices for the customers.”
Initially, the team utilized influencers to reach out to the local community and acquire initial customers. Later on, their approach utilized digital marketing, offline marketing and even cold calling to build a personal relationship with customers. “Our first signed partnership actually materialized in the strangest way,” says Najem. “We were trying to reach out to them months before we launched, and since we were still in the idea stage, no one took us seriously. So [when] we decided to launch, [we] started taking orders and submitting them to the partner’s companies through their call centers on our customers’ behalf! When the orders started increasing, it created a little bit of noise and they agreed to meet us and sign the deal with us.” This led to five more partnerships, Najem says, and eventually to over 100 partnerships.
Being proactive significantly helped the company throughout the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The duo says that being an e-commerce business has been helpful, with Alzaabi remarking that they’ve seen “higher than average growth in water consumption as people are more aware of the benefits of water during the pandemic.” Najem elaborates, “We were one of those companies who benefitted from the pandemic impact since our core business is home delivery, and everyone was on lockdown. That helped us to shift from being an aggregator to our partners, to building our own fulfillment centers and delivering to our customers on our own. [In turn, that] of course protects our data and ensures a better service to our customers, as well as gives us more control on the user experience with Waterwa to fulfill their needs with excellent satisfaction.”
Going forward, the co-founders want to stay focused on water and beverages, with a plan to expand its offerings across UAE and regionally. “We also aim to focus more on B2B and B2G partnerships, with a dream to be the only platform you refer to for your need of water and beverages for your home or business.”
‘TREP TALK: Abdulla Najem, co-founder and CEO, Waterwa, shares his tips to entrepreneurs
1. Focus “In the startup industry, it’s very easy to lose focus as you start small and have the flexibility to shift and jump and divert. But if you want to reach a niche goal you need to be super focused throughout the journey.”
2. Take the unknown path “Don’t be afraid to start something new that nobody tried to start before you or started and did not succeed. If you truly believe in it, go ahead and do it.”
3. Ship, then fix “A startup company to me is like a baby, if you work on growing and developing it behind closed door for years, it will come out unprepared for the real world. If you have an idea and concept ready, push it live and learn to fix and change along the way, that’s how babies learn their life skills from the world outside.”
4. Take the next step “When things get tough and you feel you have reached a dead-end, take one more step forward and see the magic happen!”