By Muzaffar Rizvi
Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) American-Palestinian Joy Ajlouny is an example of one of the inspiring women in business in the UAE. Her quickly expanding startup “Fetcher”, is a delivery service which uses an app to bypass the need for a customer’s physical address. Instead it uses the customers’ global positioning system to coordinate a delivery location.
Fetchr, a start-up which has revolutionized the local shipping and logistics industry, is set to expand its presence in the region after gaining popularity in the UAE.
The Dubai-based start-up, formed by French-Iraqi Idriss Al Rifai and American-Palestinian Joy Ajlouny in June 2015, has rolled out its service in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and aims at covering other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in the near future.
“We are going to be expanding quickly and aggressively in the rest of the GCC in the next few months,” Ajlouny told Khaleej Times.
She said the easy-to-use app bypasses the need for a physical address by using customers’ global positioning system coordinates as a delivery location. The app allows the customer to use his cellphone number as address and delivers packages to the desired location.
“We have a patent for using a smartphone’s GPS location as an address. No more annoying phone calls asking where you live, landmarks and directions. Similar to Uber, a tape tells our drivers where you are and you can track the package. No waiting around — we work around your schedule, which is how it should be. We want to make shipping as much fun as shopping,” she explained.
Ajlouny said individuals can also benefit from the Fetchr app. “It’s not just for businesses. Say you need your Emirates ID picked up, or you need to send a cheque to your landlord — with the Fetchr app, you can do all that. A driver will come to wherever you are or wherever you need us to go, pick something up and take it where it needs to go.
“We can even pay for something and bring it back to you. Having the app comes very handy — we all forget things and need someone to get something for us. It’s also affordable — any delivery in the UAE is at a flat cost of Dh30,” she said.
Why choose Dubai?
Ajlouny said with a proliferation of e-commerce companies looking for reliable delivery solutions in Dubai, it was the natural place to establish the base of a first-of-its-kind business in the Middle East.
“The response has been phenomenal so far. We’ve succeeded in creating a consumer-facing brand with a strong backbone in operational logistics. We are always improving on every element of the business. We have recently launched our new app on Android and iOS. The new update is live in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE,” Ajlouny said.
The emirate has a penetration rate of 81 per cent and 110 per cent for smartphones and SIM cards, respectively. Meanwhile, retail is a $425 billion industry, with e-commerce accounting for only one per cent as opposed to nine to 33 per cent in developed countries such as the US and UK.
“Over the past year, we have delivered hundreds of thousands of packages and seen over 700 per cent growth in the past six months. It’s been a great ride,” she said.
Future growth plans
Ajlouny said the company plans to use the majority of its funding for expansion in the Middle East and beyond, using a mix of its own fleet and outsourced drivers.
“We are in the process of setting up international logistics partners who will enable international delivery via the app. We have existing partnerships with inbound freight and cargo businesses.
“We are also building our outsourced driver network which will enable faster delivery on demand. In January 2016, we launched a social selling tool called ‘Sellr by Fetchr’. The tool enables people to sell their goods directly on social media with cash on delivery,” she said.
To a question about raising funds, she said the company has interest from local and international venture capital funds.
“As we expand into new markets, the business has hit some exciting milestones. A new round of funding will most likely happen within the next few months,” she said. “We are constantly improving our product and value proposition.”
About challenges faced by the start-up in its first year of operation, she said logistics operations are inherently challenging. “We’re using our technology to overcome as many of these challenges as possible. It’s only the beginning and we have so much more to achieve.”
Ajlouny encouraged women to come forward and launch some kind of a start-up business to mark their presence in a male-dominated society. “On a personal note, since moving to Dubai, it has been interesting to see reactions to a strong female co-founder of a technology start-up. Socially, I have become extremely frustrated with what I call the Kim Kardashian generation.
“I want our women to recognize themselves as strong, smart and capable. We need to start valuing substance over appearance. Why do we idolize modified faces, pouting lips and revealing clothing? Why don’t we idolize women who dare to make a difference in the world and are pioneers? I’m proud to be an Arab female business founder and encourage other women to do similar things,” Ajlouny concluded.
Returned parcels triggered the idea
Before Fetchr, Joy Ajlouny founded an e-commerce website called Bonfaire, which sold new brands by fashion designers.
“We were gaining in popularity and part of my marketing strategy was to reach the Middle East as I knew the region was filled with highly fashion-driven women looking for undiscovered brands. I also believed it would be highly profitable. My strategy paid off as we successfully marketed to the Middle East and started to get an unbelievable number of orders,” said Ajlouny.
But most shipments returned to the US with a note saying the address could not be found. “I thought there must be some mistake on the delivery company’s part. But upon further investigation, I discovered there were no addresses in the Middle East,” she said.
“Coming from the US, this baffled me! So, I started to look into how businesses were delivering packages. The answer surprised me — it happened through a series of annoying calls asking for directions through landmarks. As a company offering exclusive products from curated designers, I hated that this was part of our customers’ experience with our brand.
“I knew there had to be a better way. I wanted to solve this problem, being an Arab myself. Thus, Fetchr was born,” Ajlouny said.
Joy Ajlouny is a serial entrepreneur whose first start-up in Silicon Valley, Bonfaire, was acquired by Moda Operandi. She has a wealth of expertise in e-commerce, retail and fashion.
While only 2.7 per cent of venture capital funding has been raised by women, Joy has successfully raised funds for two companies from some of the most prestigious Silicon Valley venture capital firms. In addition to New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Fetchr is also backed by Delta Partners, Dhabi Holdings, Roland Berger and 500 Startups.