Startup Tawlat Targets UAE'S Frequent Diners-Out: Emirati 'Trep Hamad Ali Al Marri Despite the many online booking platforms in existence, Al Marri says that after undertaking market research, there was a need for Tawlat, as it provides both real-time booking and electronic redemption voucher opportunities with the startup's network of F&B outlets.
You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.
"Tariq Abdelhaq and I started the company together; he's the CEO and I'm the COO. After a while my best friend Thani Al Qasem joined us as well," explains Tawlat co-founder Hamad Ali Al Marri. Despite the many online booking platforms in existence, Al Marri says that after undertaking market research, there was a need for Tawlat, as it provides both real-time booking and electronic redemption voucher opportunities with the startup's network of F&B outlets. "We started by researching similar competitors locally and internationally; also, we spent a great deal of time with diners, restaurant managers and owners to identify if our solution will meet their requirements," Al Marri says. Visiting Tawlat's website indicates that the startup has already onboarded outlets on its platform, each with varying point levels that are later redeemable for dining experiences.
The 10-member team is now targeting dine-in F&B outlets to give Tawlat users more options to book at, and collect points at, and they are in a stage of "constant improvement. Our mobiles apps will be ready by the end of 2015 and in 2016 we will introduce new features." Currently,
in addition to working with his co-founders on Tawlat, Al Marri is also a full-time pilot for a commercial carrier, but he says that he has ample time to devote to his entrepreneurial endeavor. "I do work for a local airline and the job is not demanding as it seems. I do have time on layovers or when I'm off to be involved as much as needed from me. And also, having Tariq as a full-timer to manage the company, and Thani supporting the company is a great help." While Al Marri sees Tawlat as a startup in terms of growth in the market, he doesn't see his business that way in terms of "structure and the milestones we have reached so far," adding that they will be seeking investors in the near future to facilitate the venture's expansion and development.
Still on the subject of capital injections, he says that the country's support for entrepreneurship under the direction of UAE leaders is terrific, but access to funding is still a barrier to entry for would-be founders. "They are doing a great job, but there is always room for improvement. Being an entrepreneur is a hard job, and it has a lot of risks and compromise, and the hardest part is funding your projects. I recommend being more flexible regarding funding options and conditions," says the entrepreneur, echoing the opinions of many founders who are facing the same challenges in terms of capital. And as for those of you considering visiting Tejar Dubai for advice on your business plans, Al Marri has a few words of encouragement: "Simply go for it, they will help you!"
'Trep Talk Q&A
How does Tawlat work?
"Bookings are free to the dining public and can be made any time of the day, any day of the week. There is also an iOS and Android app, so diners can search for and book a table in real-time anywhere they might be. Tawlat is directly linked to the cloud reservation manage- ment system at all of the restaurants that have an available table on tawlat.com. So, when a patron searches for a table, the results reflect real-time availability of that restaurant for that particular time. After a patron makes their reservation, the booking information is communicated directly with the restaurant's electronic booking dashboard providing instant confirmation."
Why did you feel Tawlat was needed in the UAE?
"When it comes to dining out, the average diner eats in restaurants at least four times per month in the UAE, and Tawlat helps its users to save time via a convenient and quick search engine. More importantly, it is also saving them money by enrolling in our free and unique loyalty program. Tawlat offers special offers and promo- tions, which can be booked directly via our platforms."
How do you stay motivated?
"I stay motivated by focusing on the big picture. It's not easy. To be honest, there is a lot of things that will happen that you don't expect and you need to realize them as soon as possible. You need to stay focused and remember why you are doing all this in the first place. Surround yourself with people who are trying to do something similar to keep you going."
What process did you go through with Tejar Dubai?
"I heard about Tejar Dubai from a friend, and she recommended that I should give it a go. They were easy to contact and they showed a great [level of] interest. Within a week I had a meeting with them, and they liked the idea and recommended to be part of their initiative. After a few months of preparing, we had chance to meet the panel of judges to get our final approval. Tejar Dubai helped us finalize our financials and business plan. We were also provided with workshops to help us understand the market and legalities better. Also, they were helpful in introducing and building good connections with other private and government entities to help us reach our goals. It's a great opportunity for me to be part of something that appreciates what we do, and is willing to support us to reach our goals."