Qatar Startup Feed Reinvents Communication Between Foodies And Restaurants The startup was driven by the view that "implementation of interactive technology" was a gap in the hotel-restaurant-café (HoReCa) industry.

By Aparajita Mukherjee

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Feed co-founders Abi Elamin, Nour Moussalli and Moe Shibib. Image credit: Feed.
It all started with a personal experience," says Abi Elamin, co-founder of Feed, a new mobile app that has come out of Qatar. "One year ago, we were at a coffee shop where we are regulars. We know all the staff by name, they know our orders by heart, but we started to notice a pattern. Come rush hour, when the place gets packed, something would be amiss! We'd get the wrong order, our waiter wouldn't be smiling anymore, and there'd be a certain kind of tension in the air. We started observing them and all we could see were robots, going back and forth getting menus, placing orders and lining up at the cashier to settle bills. So, we thought: "In this tech-savvy era, wouldn't automating these tasks help our waiters be more present?' If we could place an order, or settle a bill at the click of a button, wouldn't that eliminate this tense atmosphere? And voila, Feed was born."

Armed with that idea, Abi Elamin, along with cofounders Nour Moussalli and Moe Shibib, applied to the Qatar Business Incubation Center (QBIC), and in May 2016, the trio joined Wave 6 of the Lean StartUp Program, ranking first among eight other accepted teams. What followed was their fine-tuning of the Feed business model by combining their personal experience of usual pains at restaurants, with their ability and thirst for learning, using both to their benefit. "As people who were on the other side of the restaurant-service equation, we asked questions that challenged the norm in the restaurant business and realized that our problems as guests were a result of problems on the restaurant's side!" Elamin adds: "It was apparent that the implementation of interactive technology was a gap in the hotel-restaurant-café (HoReCa) industry. Furthermore, after we had conducted our first round of market research at around 20 restaurant branches, we understood that the problem was repetitive, persistent, and not limited to Qatar, herein came a fresh concept that Feed came to address by identifying a gap in the industry worldwide. One of any restaurant's main goals is to cater to the guests and retain them, and Feed's purpose is to enhance the level of service at restaurants by minimizing the recurrent communication errors and reducing the mechanical tasks of waiters, such as getting menus and bills. By automating these processes through the use of technology, we're giving waiters more time to attend to their guests on a personal, interactive level, thus breaking the ice between the guests and restaurant staff and bringing the human touch back to the fast-paced lifestyle."

Given Nour Moussalli's and Moe Shibib's computer engineering degrees from the Lebanese American University in Lebanon and City, University of London, respectively, a digital business idea was the logical way forward for the three co-founders. Moussalli had pursued a career in project management with EMC, in Dubai and Doha, prior to co-founding Feed as its Chief Technology Officer. Shibib worked in finance and media before joining the Feed team as a project manager. Elamin, a pharmacy and health sciences graduate from Ajman University of Science and Technology, had a media career that spanned 12 years. Commenting on their everyday roles, Elamin mentions, "Our three-member team is composed of multicultural, passionate, knowledge-driven and experience-hungry individuals, with a skillset that is rich with science, visual art, technology and finance. All of that has made it easy for each of us to wear multiple hats, which precisely is the formula of every startup. It is the glue that keeps us together. But, overall, Mousalli is more product-focused due to her computer engineering background that puts her in charge of everything related to technology and development. I'm more customer focused, which puts marketing, partnerships and sales in my turf, while Shibib manages sub-projects."

The trio is unanimous on the fact that neither of them wanted to pursue a traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job, explaining: "There's so much to be done outside of those established industries! How many times do we find ourselves stuck in situations with a repetitive nuisance that hasn't been solved? That's where entrepreneurs come in to save the day. Entrepreneurship is the way forward in identifying the gaps in every industry and creating solutions that solve pertinent problems in our daily lives." They add that when one is introduced to the world of entrepreneurship with the freedom to imagine, research, create and watch the creation come alive and improve the quality of life of those around, "the satisfaction of doing your own thing is so rewarding, it's like a bug. Once you've caught it, you can't get rid of it and that's why people go on to become serial entrepreneurs, reliving the experience again and again," they say.

Related: QBIC Is Creating The Next Generation Of Qatari Business Leaders

Commenting on the role that QBIC is playing in their growth, the trio is of the opinion that aside from the intensive coaching sessions, mentorship programs and speaker series that invite successful entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs from around the globe to share their experiences with the incubatees, the QBIC's team itself has forward-thinking people who have had their own entrepreneurial success. "The shared resources at QBIC, (both human and physical), cover a skillset that is very beneficial to startups in the discovery phase. We're free to run our business as we see fit, but they're there whenever needed, and they reach out to make sure we're set and on the right track," says Moussalli. She adds that the government of Qatar is making huge strides to create an ecosystem where entrepreneurship can thrive, with the testimony of the seriousness of their effort being the multiple incubators and initiatives that have launched across the country in recent years. In her view, the next step for the government would be to induce an entrepreneurial mindset into the educational curriculum at the schooling age, adding, "That would be quite encouraging for youngsters to pursue entrepreneurship as a career option."

A QBIC representative with the Feed team.Image credit: Feed.

Both Elamin and Moussalli disagree with the commonly-held view that the US breeds more entrepreneurs since the culture has a differing criteria of rating success, compared to the Arab world or in Asia. Correcting the hypothesis, they stress that on the contrary, the region is filled with huge businesses today that started as small shops in the 1960s and 1970s. "The concept of entrepreneurship is an old one, and the ones who practice it are still described as risk takers today as they were before. When America was dubbed the land of opportunities that saw people migrating there to start businesses and settle as well, it was because the infrastructure there was laid to aid that movement to flourish. But the infrastructure in the Arab and Asian region sets a challenge to entrepreneurs. Up until recently, the logistics behind opening a new company, support from the community or governmental entities, and obtaining affordable office space were some of the biggest hurdles, but they're slowly ebbing away. Then there is the issue of expatriates who, though bringing healthy and vital inputs, can only reside in the Arab countries on work permits with employers, and cannot settle here. This is still an issue to be tackled."

In the trio's opinion, the most prominent challenge was selling a product that still did not exist. Describing what that entailed for the team, Moussalli says, "Until about a month ago, our system was still in the developmental phase. Our sales pitches and meetings were based on prototypes and demo kits. Restaurant owners and decision makers understood the value and welcomed our "idea' but wouldn't sign any legally binding document unless they saw Feed working in action. That is understandable considering that the HoReCa industry is a late technology adopter, especially in the front-end operation. Thankfully, we are now ready with a product, having been able to overcome this challenge very quickly."

Another challenge for Feed was what Elamin categorizes as a "Catch 22' one, and adds, "Consider this: restaurants need the users to fuel our platform, and the users need restaurants to use it in. We were to be caught in an endless loop had we not come up with our beta phase concept. We decided to run a month-long, beta testing, on weekends only, free for restaurants in different locations. Doing this allowed us to gather a decent database of users from different hotspots around Doha, as well as to test our system in real life and showcase it to users and restaurant owners. Finally, and as with any other startup in the world, sustaining ourselves financially was a challenge and what we did along the way was to learn from it and embrace it, which was how it got easier to overcome it. Being put in such a situation teaches you to become resourceful, self-reliant and minimalistic in the best way possible. You learn that not everything needs money, and with extra hard work, you can do wonders with very little."

Related: Turning Digital Dreams Into Reality: Qatar's Digital Incubation Center

Speaking about the future, Elamin informs, "Feed is a scalable module beyond recognition! At this point, we have multiple stakeholders and we are focused on the here and now. Evolving the user experience within and around Feed while perfecting the current module is our main goal. Yet, we do have plans to scale regionally very soon. As for what the future holds, who knows?" Well, we certainly hope for good days ahead for Feed!


Feed co-founders Abi Elamin, Nour Moussalli, and Moe Shibib

Feed co-founders Abi Elamin, Nour Moussalli and Moe Shibib. Image credit: Feed.
In terms of Feed's scope, which category of restaurants have you included in it, and why?

"Feed is focused on making every guest a regular at any restaurant, elevating waiters to dining consultants, evolving human interaction and user experience. We're driven by service excellence. So, our target then become full-service restaurants, which are mostly casual, and fine dining outlets, where the guests are seated, waited on and tended to."

With Qatar having a large number of expats, have you made any effort to make the choice of restaurants representative of the population mix?

"The restaurants we are targeting are based on their type of service, regardless of the audience they cater to. The service in any restaurant is delivered to a human being at the end of the day, which is why our launching platform has both English and Arabic interfaces to cater to users of all nationalities and backgrounds. This way we ensure that the users have a variety of restaurants where the elevated level of service is applied through Feed."

"Feed helps restaurants understand the habits of their customers which enables them to accurately target specific audiences and cater to current needs, while anticipating future trends."

Can you take us through this module of your business?

"Currently, restaurants are able to generate reports that specify what their bestselling item is, but they don't know to whom they are selling it, which is vital in the service industry nowadays. The sales reports we generate will allow them to match this existing information against the demographic distribution of their guests. Restaurants will be able to understand the internal environment of their premises! We can only imagine how this intelligence can help in designing their promotions and updating their menus based on their guests' habits and trends. At this point, we haven't developed this module fully yet since we will need to study the behavior of our system once it has launched. We are looking forward to seeing this in action, as this by far is the most interesting feature we are providing restaurants. So you'll need to stay tuned to know more about this."

Related: To Advance Qatar's Tech Ecosystem, An Investment In Human Capital Is Needed

Aparajita Mukherjee

Senior Journalist, Entrepreneur Qatar

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