By Rohit Nair
Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Samantha’s spent 11 of her 30-something (you never reveal your age, do you?) years in Dubai, studying and then working for several titles as a fashion editor and journalist. And as someone in her position knows very well, you simply cannot have a bad hair day.
Appearance is everything and you have to look the part before you can play the part. “There’s so much emphasis on appearance in Dubai, especially for women, that there’s always pressure to look your absolute best. It’s not just for me, or anyone in my position, but even lawyers, PR, property and real estate. You have to always look immaculate,” she says.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to do at home and, sometimes, you need to go to a salon, but if you’ve tried booking an appointment, you’ll immediately see why BEEM is going to be your lifesaver.
“Today, it takes you at least half an hour to schedule an appointment. Salon attendants don’t answer the phone, and when they do, they still mess up. In my opinion, it’s one of the worst-managed, in terms of customer service,” she says. “My friends were always saying, ‘I’m having a beauty emergency! I’m having a beauty emergency!’ and that’s where the idea for BEEM comes from — BEauty EMergency,” Samantha explains.
“I knew that there had to be an easier way to go to the salon. There are so many women here; surely, there must be a system.”
But it turned out there wasn’t and Samantha knew that something had to be done about that. “More so,” she adds, “because I knew that if I didn’t do it, a bunch of snotty businessmen would come along and I would get an email from some PR announcing the launch of some app for women made by men. I wouldn’t have that.” So, Samantha quit her job and decided to work on BEEM as a start-up. With no technical expertise. And practically all the money she had, which wasn’t much. “I don’t have rich uncles,” she says laughing.
It wasn’t easy, especially for a woman in a sea of men, who dominate the app development market.
“This one time, at a conference for entrepreneurs, some guy thought I was one of the hostesses! It hasn’t been a pleasant experience,” she says. “I basically had to teach myself — I was poring over tech magazines just to educate myself on the semantics and the lingo so I wouldn’t look like a complete fool when I spoke to my technical team and I could explain to them what exactly I wanted,” she says. “You can’t be a founder of a company and not know what you’re working with. So I learnt, and it was really difficult, but I pushed through it.”
BEEM started 14 months ago and went live just this past September. Already, it has over 600 downloads, which doesn’t read like much, but for a start-up, that’s big.
“I was very adamant on making the app a certain way and we did a lot of research before we even started — we studied a lot of female-driven user interfaces to find out what kind of responsiveness they have, whether they tap or swipe and, if they swipe, how they swipe; we took everything into account to make BEEM simple for women to use.”
All you ladies have to do is pick what treatments you want, with your available time slots, and BEEM locates salons close to you to book appointments. Also, in case you’re wondering, BEEM only works with the “best of the best” in Dubai — the tried and tested. “My goal, from day one, was to work with only the best salons in Dubai, the ones I’ve personally gone to and used.
They only use the best products, have good customer service and well-trained staff,” Samantha says. “We even created a four-minute window in which the salon has to reply to a request to ensure quick service. If they don’t reply within that window to an appointment request, they lose the customer and we divert the request automatically to another salon.”
Right now, BEEM has about 28 locations and Samantha also has plans to take BEEM to Abu Dhabi. “We also offer home services through our salon partners for that added level of discretion.” For Samantha, that’s the best part about the app — the discretion. “There are things you don’t want to announce over the phone, not to anyone. BEEM gives you that privacy. I don’t need to convince women that they need this app. They need it and they know they do,” she says.
“BEEM is my trailblazer,” she replies, when asked what it means to her. “It’s a tool for intelligent women, designed specifically for them, without being patronising or dumbing things down, to help them maintain a lifestyle that this city demands of them, and do it in a smart way. BEEM’s my baby and I’m proud of it.”
BEEM (Available on iOS); Free
Founder: Samantha Hamilton-Rushforth
What does it do?: Helps you book your beauty salon appointments effortlessly
When Armenian expats, Rafael Harutyunyan, 25, and Ashot Mnatsakanyan,27,moved to Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago to continue their studies at Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, they had, no doubt, some difficulty networking and meeting new people.
“The idea of Jeltee was born from our own personal frustration with matchmaking and social apps. We were not happy with the way people, including ourselves, interacted on the apps and websites that were popular at the time. You connect to someone online, but instead of pursuing a real face-to-face meeting (which is what you signed up for in the first place), you get caught up in an awkward, futile online conversation which may last for ages and usually lead to nothing worthwhile,” says Ashot.
At this point, you might think that these guys are just copying Tinder’s MO, but Ashot and Rafael — who now run Jeltee out of their BROgrammers company office in Abu Dhabi — are quick to make the distinction.
“Our mission with Jeltee was to create a platform that would not only connect people, but also encourage them to meet in person to experience something real and exciting,” says Rafael. And Jeltee itself? That comes from the Hindi word jaldi, meaning quick or hurry up — fitting for a place where everything has to be jaldi jaldi.
“We wanted to revitalise real world social interactions, especially after we noticed how much time people spend communicating online, forgetting about the awesomeness of a real encounter. They often get stuck in the virtual world and sometimes feel awkward to meet in real life,” says Rafael.
“In real life, you see people around you; you don’t know their names, but you feel a connection, and when those interests are mutual, you start a short conversation, after which you decide to hang out again.” Jeltee basically does this, without the awkwardness.
If you’re 18 and above, you sign up and then look for matches. Jeltee doesn’t share users’ names or other information, so chances for online stalking and privacy issues are in check. Once you’ve found someone who shares similar interests, and a match is made, you have 24 hours to break the ice, after which the app deletes your chat. This way, people are forced to meet up in person, especially if they want to remain friends. Inappropriate behaviour is quickly nipped by a daily profile moderation system and reports of abuse are taken seriously. “This is a very important part of our work as we strive to keep our platform clean and free of spam or any form of inappropriate behaviour.”
Ashot adds, “We do not mind people exchanging numbers and communicating on other messaging apps such as Whatsapp. However, our goal is to set the right mood and context for a meet before they do that. Of course, many of our users also exchange phone numbers as they want to be in touch, in case they change their mind or want to cancel their meet up for some reason.” Jeltee is also collaborating with venues in the UAE for users to meet, partnering with local restaurants and other hangouts, so you’ll always have the right place for meet ups.
The app has already arranged 100,000 matches of which 10,000 resulted in meet ups, and has over 30,000 active users. “Once more venues sign up with better offers and activities, we believe this number will increase substantially, making Jeltee a unique, social venue and event discovery platform,” adds Ashot.
Jeltee (Available on iOS, Android and WP); Free
Founders: Rafael Harutyunyan and Ashot Mnatsakanyan
What does it do?: Help you make new friends, particularly those you share interests with
Husband and wife Morrad and Sharene just welcomed their sixth child (it’s a girl, in case you’re wondering) but they seem strangely more excited about their homegrown app, when we meet with them in i5, Dubai Internet City.
Both from backgrounds with diverse expertise, from working in retail to the restaurant industry, Morrad and Sharene thought up Melltoo after a frustrating time trying to buy a second-hand car, on, you guessed it, Dubizzle.
“I found a car for a really good price, and the guy seemed nice enough. told me no accidents etc. When I did a little digging, I found that the car had been in a major accident. That’s when we had the idea for Melltoo — why don’t we give buyers and sellers a way to connect right away, through chat, especially if you’re overseas or just strapped for time? You can get more pictures, ask more questions and even get location details better than the traditional classifieds model of simply posting your number or e-mail,” explains Morrad.
“We’re in a rat race here and we don’t have time to deal with uncommitted buyers; they may come, they may not, they may buy, they might not, they may change their mind…” adds Sharene.
The app started out as a way to mitigate these problems for people in Dubai. Now, just about two years old, Melltoo — which is French slang for busybody — has evolved into a sophisticated marketplace, helping people all over the UAE buy and sell things much more efficiently than even some of their big-name competitors.
“We’re not a classifieds,” says Morrad. “We’re so much more. When you post an ad on any other classifieds site, their job ends. When you post on Melltoo, our job begins,” he says. “We will promote your ad on social media — even on Dubizzle! — and we will help you find the right buyers.”
Once you find what you’re looking for, or someone finds your ad, they can chat with you about any questions they have — or haggle, because that’s how we do things here — and people can leave comments on your products.
“This automatically weeds out the bad sellers and keeps the good ones because people can see the comments you leave; they act like reviews,” adds Morrad. Then, you click ‘Buy’, enter your card details and Melltoo takes care of the rest. “We will come pick it up from the seller, box it and deliver it to the buyer for a very small charge — much less than local delivery companies — and the delivery is within a day. If the buyer is not satisfied with the product, they can return it and they will not be charged,” says Morrad.
This is particularly useful, if, for example, you buy a second-hand washing machine or a sofa and only have a small Yaris, making transporting your purchase practically impossible. “Plus, you don’t waste time commuting back and forth trying to meet the sellers,” says Sharene.
Perhaps the best thing about Melltoo is that used goods get a second life. They get recycled and reused. “There’s so much waste here. Even the charitable efforts designed to redistribute goods is not 100 per cent effective — a lot of it ends up in the landfill. Using Melltoo, you can give your second-hand goods a second life,” says Morrad. Melltoo is also a great platform for local artisans and craftspeople who want a cheap way to showcase homemade products, especially with the delivery option.
“We want to help local entrepreneurs as much as possible because we’re entrepreneurs ourselves and we know the struggles involved in starting your business.”
So the next time you’re looking for a new pre-loved dress or a couch for your apartment, or just some old books, check out Melltoo and save yourself the hassles of typical classifieds ads.
Melltoo (Available on iOS and Android); Free
Founders: Sharene Lee and Morrad Irsane
What does it do?: Help you buy and sell second-hand goods (including delivery), giving them a second life
MyHubber’s small office in Deira houses a small team of dedicated geeks trying to do something hugely ambitious. “The possibilities for MyHubber are limitless,” says founder and CEO Omran Yousef, as he goes over every last detail of the app he has just commissioned to go live.
It took the team more than two years to develop; most of that time spent just in R&D trying to figure out which needs the app could serve.
“We found that there were many things lacking in the way things are done currently. Things like loyalty points for example — how many people actually know what their loyalty points are, without scanning them at a store? And what if you’re a freelancer looking for some work? How many people have had tremendous success on platforms like Monster or Freelancer.com?” he prods.
Shopping from sites like souq.com or awok.com is another problem he singles out, especially when it comes to people having bad experiences purchasing products in the grey. “I’m not criticising these apps or services,” he offers in defence, “but we saw a lot of gaps and we wanted to fix that with MyHubber.”
So what is MyHubber? It is a fully integrated platform for everything you could possibly imagine doing on your phone. It’s your chat and social hub, it’s your shopping guide, it’s your classifieds and also your job listings. Plus, it’s got a loyalty programme that’s deeply integrated into the ecosystem and a mobile wallet that’s coming soon. “We wanted to create something that had everything people wanted in one place,” says Omran.
MyHubber works similar to Whatsapp in that it connects to your phonebook . The homescreen shows you each function of the app as a ‘hub’ at the bottom — these are the core functions. Within HubLife, which is the social side of the app, you can add other MyHubber users called ‘pals’, create ‘gangs’ (groups), share pictures, videos and ‘OMG!’ or ‘Eww’ (like or dislike) others’ posts. “We have also built in the functionality to continue your chats on a PC, if your phone battery dies, as everything is saved on the cloud,” adds Omran.
The shopping hub is quite comprehensive and employs some very MyHubbster-y features. “If you’re near a retailer, you’ll be notified of the deals they’re offering and the app will navigate you to that store using the latest iBeacon technology. Once you purchase something, just scan a code and you’ll receive loyalty points that can be used towards talk time on Etisalat or Du, transferred to your ‘pals’, or even used for airline miles,” says Omran. There’s also a weekly draw for a car, as an incentive to make purchases through MyHubber. The same system works for online shopping too, all through the app — and the payments are secure and encrypted. The app will automatically keep track of your loyalty points and Omran hopes that with more merchants signing up to use MyHubber on their end, customers will get more features.
MyHubber sets out to be Facebook, Whatsapp, Dubizzle, souq.com, LinkedIn, bayt.com etc, all rolled into one. But would you be able to give up those apps? The only way to find out is to download MyHubber and give it a try yourself.
MyHubber (Available on iOS and Android); Free
Founders: Omran Yousef and HH Saeed Bin Obaid Almaktoum
What does it do?: Fully integrated social hub, with classifieds, job postings, shopping and much more
‘Awesome’. That’s Careem’s co-founder, Magnus’s, absolute favourite word. “I’m awesome,” is what he says when I ask how he is. It’s also what he envisions Careem becoming: an awesome organisation that inspires others to be more — you guessed it — awesome!
The Swedish computer science graduate got his first job with McKinsey & Company and went to Bahrain nine years ago on what was supposed to be a two-month assignment. “I never left the Middle East,” he says, “because I fell in love three times: I fell in love with the professional environment and the fast growth in the region; I fell in love with the culture and the warmth of the people (much warmer than Nordic people); and I fell in love with my wife,” he says laughing. During his time at McKinsey, he also met his lifelong friend and the co-founder of Careem, Mudassir Sheikha. “We were the two nerds in suits.”
When he was 29, around 4-5 years ago, Magnus had an aneurism in his brain that nearly killed him. He says he was blessed to have the best surgeons who saved him from being a ticking time bomb. “Once I was Magnus 2.0, so to say, I had a complete change of perspective,” says the Swede. “I realised life is too short and that whatever I do, I’m going to be fine. Most people survive: for some people, that can be putting food on the table, and for some survival is buying another Lamborghini. But it’s still survival. I didn’t want to live to survive,” he says.
So he got together with Mudassir, who also had an epiphany, although a lot less dramatic, with the intention to build something, with two criteria: it had to be big (create a big impact) and meaningful.
The idea came from the company Magnus and Mudassir had just quit: McKinsey. “‘Why not transportation?’ It’s a complete disaster for business travellers like us’, they told us,” says Magnus. Flights and hotel transfers are pretty good, but ground transport was just terrible.
“For example, you land at a conference in Cairo, but you still call your friend — one guy you know — who’ll come pick you up from the airport or take you to your hotel because you don’t want to be late or get lost, and then there’s the hygiene of the car, not being on time, not having change, not accepting credit cards, etc. It was frustrating,” adds Magnus.
Careem is a car-ful play on the Arabic word Kareem, meaning generous. “We wanted to be generous to our customers, captains and the call centre. We didn’t want to be at the level of other companies, we wanted to be awesome.” Careem started very humbly — just a webpage where you could request a pick up, specify a drop off location and a time. “That would come to us as an email.
Can you believe that? And then we would call to check if any of our captains were available,” he says. Careem calls their drivers captains, by the way, but more on that below. “The other thing we wanted to ensure was that even if we couldn’t offer a ride, we should have awesome customer service that simply blows people away, because in this region, customer service is somewhere between horrible and non-existent. It goes for pretty much everyone, banks, utilities.” he says.
So how does it work?
Sign up is simple enough, and you get to see the rates for the five different categories of vehicles Careem operates from your specified pick up location. Unlike Uber, you can choose to pay by cash on completion. Plus they’ve got neat little things like an airport guarantee to ensure you get to the airport on time, always. Captains — Careem’s drivers — get trained by Careem staff to be more than just drivers, the onus on customer service. “We all know that drivers are treated quite badly, especially in this region. But they’re just like us — they’ve come here to earn a living, support families, etc.
Some people even treat them like their not human beings. It’s terrible. We want to help them, up scale them, invest in them and change their mindset from just getting people from A to B to a whole customer service mindset of quality, repeat service, loyalty, ratings, etc. Our aspiration is to simplify and improve the lives of people and we want to build an awesome” — there’s that word again — “organisation that inspires.” Careem also empowers those who work with them by giving them stock options, which is rare for companies here.
Today Careem operates from Morocco in the west to Lahore in the east, in a total of 22 cities. “It’s not about a cool brand or a sexy website,” says Magnus, stating that the app and the website could be look a lot better. “It’s about reliability and customer service,” he says. “To me, Careem is a vehicle to simplify and improve the lives of people and to inspire to build an awesome organisation. It’s so much more than transportation.”
Careem (Available on iOS, Android and WP); Free
Founders: Magnus Olsson and Mudassir Sheikha
What does it do?: Helps you get around town hassle-free and awesomely