Startup Spotlight: UAE-Based Ezze Car Aims To Simplify The Car Renting Process In The Country
Ezze Car was launched as a virtual marketplace for car rental companies to list their cars and manage their fleets, with an aim to become a one-stop-shop for car renters to find cars that meet their requirements.
"I first noticed a major problem in the rental car industry when my son came back from the US and had issues renting a car," says Dr. Ashraf Khalil, CEO and co-founder of UAE-based online car rental marketplace Ezze Car. "I got very frustrated trying to figure out why there was so much uncertainty around simply renting a car."
What Dr. Khalil recalls as a moment of inspiration to launch his startup, along with his two female co-founders, Suha Glal and Maham Bukhari, is a lament that may not be unfamiliar to many in the country. Renting of cars in the UAE has, after all, seen a surge in demand over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2021 study by Ken Research showed that consumer preference in the UAE has shifted away from public modes of transportation towards rented cars- a shift that has been "aided by greater technological adoption, government regulations, and health concerns."
Khalil's observation about the loopholes in the industry, coupled with the new market trends, encouraged the co-founding trio to look for a feasible solution. "We did our research, spoke to people, and we also interviewed many rental companies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to figure out how they conduct their business and the rules and regulations they follow, what their profit margins look like, as well as the challenges they face," adds Dr. Khalil. "Soon, we realized that the peer-to-peer model has been highly successful in many countries and is quickly growing. It's more favorable because it's easier to rent from individuals who can use this as a means of earning a passive income." (To those who may be unaware, peer-to-peer car renting follows the sharing economy model wherein existing car owners make their vehicles available for others to rent for short periods of time.)
Dr. Ashraf Khalil, CEO and co-founder, Ezze Car. Source: Ezze Car
Thus, Ezze Car was launched in November 2021 as a virtual marketplace for car rental companies to list their cars and manage their fleets, with an aim to become a one-stop-shop for car renters to find cars that meet their requirements. The platform offers cars ranging from economical options to luxury and sports cars.
"Currently, we work with around 40 rental companies in all seven emirates in the UAE," explains Bukhari, who is also the Head of Business Development at Ezze Car. "They provide us with a list of their fleet along with their daily, weekly, monthly prices, insurance rates and any other additional options. We upload their fleet onto the Ezze platform. The customer then downloads the app, selects the car they want and finishes the process."
Maham Bukhari, Head of Business Development and co-founder, Ezze Car. Source: Ezze Car.
The app that Bukhari alludes to is named Ezze, and is available on both Android and iOS. An additional web-based application is also available for potential customers. Explaining the process of setting up an account, Chief Technological Officer (CTO) Glal says, "Users can download the app and create a profile; however, a profile is not necessary to browse through the available cars. They are also instructed to upload a picture of their Emirates ID and driver's license."
Notably, Ezze Car's services are also available to those simply visiting the country too. "If the user is a tourist, then they are also required to upload their passport and visa copies," Glal elaborates. "These documents are only accessible by the rental company in line with the UAE regulations. The whole process is seamless and can be done in less than five minutes including selecting and paying for the car."
At this point, Dr. Khalil iterates that opting for a purely online platform was a calculated move on the co-founders' part. "Many sectors are being disrupted world-wide due to radical technological advances and on-demand services," he says. "This is a consumer push and we recognize these disruptions so we are shaping Ezze to be an on-demand car rental platform that is quick, convenient and innovative."
Suha Glal, CTO and co-founder, Ezze Car. Source: Ezze Car
As a team of only six, Ezze Car has been generating revenue since its launch last year. "Our revenue stream is commission based, so we get a commission from every car that is rented," explains Bukhari. " However, the commission varies depending on the total rental amount and the number of days." According to Dr. Khalil, this has been a promising start despite not having raised funds so far. But he adds, "We are now open to funding and we see Ezze being able to grow quickly after receiving the necessary funds to grow. We have received a positive response from 98% of the rental companies that we have spoken with as they are very open to an easy online sales channel."
But an investment isn't all the co-founding trio is looking forward to in the months to come. What they're hoping to create is a more tangible impact in the industry itself. "Our future vision is to introduce peer-to-peer car sharing in the UAE, which will require a change in the current legislation," says Dr. Khalil. "It is definitely a way more sustainable business model that's profitable for both sides, the renter and the leaser. So our first goal for 2022 is to work with regulators and other stakeholders to launch the peer-to-peer car sharing model."
From a business point of view, Bukhari adds, "We aim to capture 5% of all online rental sales in the UAE. Currently, the online car rental sector is very fragmented and not easily accessible to renters, often requiring many phone calls and physical visits to the car rental offices. But at Ezze car we are working towards making renting accessible to everyone!"
Source: Ezze Car
At this point, it is perhaps important to highlight an aspect about Ezze Car's operations that is different from many of their peers- the firm is run by two female co-founders in what has always been a predominantly male-led industry. When asked what their journeys have been like so far, both women don't shy away from being blatantly honest in their replies. "We have learnt to push our points," says Bukhari. "Sometimes, it feels like our points are being dismissed simply because we are women. But I've learnt to be bolder and more confident because I know what I'm talking about…I've done my research."
On her part, Glal candidly admits that "it is unusual to find a black, Muslim, hijabi mother as a CTO, but that does not mean I am less competent than my male counterpart." And her journey too came with its share of gender-driven criticisms. "Not only am I working in a male-dominated industry but also my role as CTO is stereotypically associated with males," she says. "You cannot believe how many quotations I get from software development companies assuming I need their help and support to develop our platform. I started programming in my sophomore year in college and I loved it ever since. I was the lead developer in many cutting edge scientific research projects in the top universities in UAE. I learned that if you are competent, confident, smart, and hardworking, people will see that eventually. Actions are louder than words!"