We Got Funded: KSA Customer Engagement Platform Raises US$125 Million From SoftBank And Sanabil
Considered as the first investment by SoftBank in a Saudi startup, it's a commendable feat for the team and their efforts.
Riyadh-based customer engagement platform Unifonic has successfully closed a US$125 million in a Series B funding round, led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Sanabil Investments.
Launched in 2006 by Ahmed Hamdan and Hassan Hamdan, Unifonic’s solutions integrate customer communication channels including SMS, voice, and WhatsApp services into a single platform to enable companies to create stronger customer relationships. Catering to enterprises in the MENA and emerging markets, Unifonic optimizes communications in cases such as SMS for online banking, or WhatsApp vaccination requests. Some of its clients include Uber, Aramex, Centrepoint, Dr. Sulima Al Habib, and Bank Albilad.
Considered as the first investment by SoftBank in a Saudi startup, it’s a commendable feat for the team and their efforts. Faisal Rehman, Managing Partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers, addressed Unifonic’s distinct offering as being a key factor in his enterprise's participation in the investment round.
“Consumers and businesses are increasingly sophisticated in how they communicate digitally, but this has created fragmentation across multiple emerging channels," he says. "Unifonic’s technology manages this complexity into a single platform, enabling enterprise clients to form closer relationships with their customers."
“Our investment team on the ground in Riyadh has followed Unifonic for some time, and we have witnessed firsthand the company’s progress in establishing significant market leadership in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," he adds. "We look forward to supporting the Unifonic team in scaling the platform across the Middle East and other emerging markets.”
Initially bootstrapped, the startup has previously raised $21 million in a Series A round led by STV in 2018. According to a statement, the business has since then quadrupled in size, and now processes over 10 billion transactions on its platform annually.
According to Jonathan Labin, President, Unifonic, it was the ideal time for the startup to raise another round, as the team felt that customer engagement in emerging markets requires a major boost, especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 crisis accelerated the pace of digitalization even further, and this is especially true in the MENA region, where we’re seeing significant growth in the adoption of cloud-based technologies and applications,” he explains. “Businesses and governments have realized that it is time to act now if you don’t want to be left behind. The combination of these factors means that there is a massive opportunity we can capitalize on with the reputation we have already built and through this new investment.”
By the leveraging the startup’s partners, advisors and their own network, Labin says the fundraising process involved constant testing, listening to feedback, and then improvement. “This was not so dissimilar to other core processes of the company," he adds. "That meant lots of learning, but also a stronger team and a clearer plan for the future than ever before.”
Invigorated by its new capital infusion, the team plans to accelerate its product development and double the size of its team in 2022. “We expect to rapidly eclipse our current 10 billion transactions per year on our platform,” says Labin. “These achievements will come from scalping up our product and engineering teams to drive more value for our customers’ businesses, as well as strengthening our customer-facing teams, from sales to customer support."
"Geographical expansion is on the cards, and we will build the right technology and infrastructure to support the growth of our partner ecosystem around the world," Labin adds. "We will always drive digitalization in the region, but also be active in new markets, with specific plans announced in due course, as soon as we are ready.”
The road ahead is thus looking bright for Labin and his team. “One thing is clear," he says. "In order to achieve our ambitious goals, we will need to rely on a rockstar team from all over the world. That is why we already have talent from more than 30 countries working for us today, and also why we implemented a '10 weeks work from anywhere' policy in 2020. Please check out our careers page at if you are intrigued by our mission.”
‘TREP TALK ME: Jonathan Labin, President, Unifonic
What factors went into determining which investors were essential to the startup’s growth?
“We were looking for investors that shared our vision for the future of customer engagement. We were also very intent on finding partners that continued to focus on the MENA region, who understood how to scale in our industry and whom we could partner with locally. We also are thinking long-term and focused on investor teams that could add value when we execute our strategic plans for the next phase of massive growth, even beyond MENA. As you can imagine, it was extremely encouraging to discover, through our initial conversations with SoftBank and Sanabil, how very much aligned we were. It was clear to see early on, how we could move forward together.”
Pamella de Leon is the Startup Section Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East. She is keen on the MENA region’s entrepreneurship potential, with a specific interest to support enterprises and individuals creating an impact.