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The Right Approach To Growth As A Startup The founders of Dubai-based A2Z Arabia reveal a base fuel for their business expansion strategy.

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When my partner, Syed Sarfraz and I first conceived the A2Zarabia.com idea many moons ago, we were not prepared for the reception that we received from the market. The fact that we had hit some incredible numbers in terms of unique visits and page engagement was a boon to us, and we felt that it was all down to the preparation and research done beforehand. In our first quarter of operations, we had already hit 1.5 million unique visitors, which was quite a feat for a startup just getting its legs. We had done our research to address a gap in the market, we believed in our brand, and we focused on the brass tacks – there were a lot of late nights, hard work and dedication to launching our brand and ensuring its success from the get-go.

Looking at the numbers, there are many reasons to be in the tech sector, and more importantly in the e-commerce space in the region. According to Payfort, online payment transactions could reach $69 billion per annum by 2020. This is led by the sector's strong growth in the UAE and Saudi Arabia at 24% and 40% respectively. Combining e-commerce with service – a sector which accounts for more than 70% of the GDP in Dubai – we recognized a growth potential for our business since it would also address the needs of the consumer.

In terms of the industry evolution itself, we have witnessed a shift in the dynamics of consumer behavior in the MENA region over the past five years. The consumer leapfrog into a digitalized revolution is exponential, and a multitude of new facets are changing the way that consumers interact online. We are living in a real-time world, where customers want a seamless user experience with fewer clicks. According to Ericsson a one-click experience, excellent customer service and proactivity are among the top five drivers of brand satisfaction for consumers.

Related: Healthy Growth: Kcal Healthy Fast Food Gets Started On Its Middle East Expansion

In the five years between the purchase of our domain name until our launch in 2016, we took the time to study the evolution of the consumer, the UAE market, since it was our first target market, and the evolution of the online space which has taken incredible leaps. What we gauged from the region's service platforms was a gap in the user experience, there were a number of sites offering classifieds, properties, jobs, cars, deals and events – but not on one platform – hence a disconnect for the consumer whose needs require the presence of all these on one simple platform, with simplicity being at the crux of their requirements.

This was a wide gap that we could begin to address with the A2Zarabia.com platform. Our research, in tandem with international best practice standards, demonstrated the market relevance of building a website offering which would provide an omni channel experience for our consumers and attract visitors to our site. Hence, we set about becoming an online place where visitors would be able to go and address all their pivot needs on one simple digital platform with an easy to navigate UX. Creating a one-stop-shop approach enabled us to serve our customers better, and save them time by ensuring that all their requirements are met on our website.

A report by McKinsey states that 70% of agile companies rank in the top quartile of organizational health. Over the last six months, our operation has grown to over 40 employees and we are expanding in terms of company size and innovation every day. Our current offering is sound and we are interacting well with our visitors and our clients. Having said that, being in the technology industry requires us to be incredibly agile. Therefore, our flexible platform architecture and design enable us to offer our customers innovative new offerings as the market requires them. As we continue to evolve, we are looking at adding more value for our customers – in addition to our deals vertical, we will be starting with a dedicated shopping vertical to address the e-commerce potential of the UAE market further. This is still in the pipeline and it is something that we hope to achieve soon.

In terms of keeping pace with the industry evolution, some of the top upcoming trends that will feed into our customer-first strategy, which should be the mainstay of all e-commerce platforms, are chat bots. Chatbots are being introduced to the market by industry leaders, such as Facebook and Google Allo, specifically to assist with shopping, booking and customer service. Until this trend becomes the norm, which is not too far into the future, mobile continues to remain the number one value proposition for customers when it comes to online interactions. This, in tandem with personalization and customization owning to big data is predicted to be the differentiating factor for consumers on various e-commerce platforms.

Keeping these trends in mind, we remain positive in our evolution and expansion strategy. Now that we have established operations in the UAE and built a great team, we are definitely looking forward to expanding in the GCC region, starting with Saudi Arabia, and thereafter the remaining Gulf states. In addition to this, we also have plans in the pipeline to expand further in the region to North Africa.

As digital experts, one thing is certain – we don't have the luxury of sitting still in this dynamic business and expansion plans are under way. Our aim for A2Zarabia.com is to be a household name, a one-stop shop for all our visitors, and more importantly, a trusted brand that delivers quality service to every single customer.

Related: A Blueprint For The Evolution Of The SME Sector In The Middle East

Parvez Ahmed

Co-Founder and Chairman of A2Z Arabia

Parvez Ahmed is the co-founder and Chairman of A2Z Arabia, prior to which he was the Director of Sales – Datamena & Broadcasting at Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company – du. Ahmed obtained a bachelor of computer science and engineering degree from the University of Madras in 2002, and a master’s of business administration from the National Louis University.  

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