The Case for Digital Startups
Online Business in Middle East
In September, Shelter Dubai hosted a panel discussion with regional experts in online business in the Middle East. What follows is a report on the conversation that unfolded.
Why online? Why Now?
To kick off the panel discussion, event moderator Danish Farhan, CEO and founder of Xische, questioned the panelist about the current boom in online business in the Middle East.
Michael Mansour, Group Director of Development and Platform Technologies for Microsoft in the Middle East, attributed the rise in Internet use among UAE residents to “the increase availability of internet-enabled phones, giving large swaths of the population access to the Internet by default,” Mansour said.
Akram Assaf, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Bayt.com, encouraged entrepreneurs to take advantage of the groundwork that has already been laid by web pioneers. “The pipes have been built. Start thinking about what can be put through those pipes, and how it can be monetized.” Assaf said.
Hot Topic: Social Media
As the discussion turned to social media and marketing, the panelists began to reveal some of the challenges and opportunities presented by the breakthrough technology.
“In two years, our advertising budget changed from being 90% spent on print advertising to 90% spent on digital ads,” said Narain Jashanmal, CEO of Voila Dubai.
Omar Kassim, Founder of JadoPado was quick to point out that social media is a requisite, not an option. “Every business is online,” Kassim said, “because someone [online] is talking about you.”
One challenge left unresolved by the discussion was consumer confidence in buying online. Customers in the Middle East are wary of online credit card transactions. The technology has not reached the level of ease and security as in Western markets and instances of fraud are not uncommon.
Further complicating the online purchasing process is the decidedly unclear postal system in the region. Lacking standardized street addresses, customers are asked to give their location using physical landmarks and neighborhood or building names.
Mr. Kassim shared a story of one customer who listed his location as simply “Al Barsha.” (Al Barsha is a sprawling neighborhood, encompassing apartment towers, villas, schools and the Mall of the Emirates).
To read the full report from Shelter, including an overview of online business trends in the region, click here: The Case for Digital Start-Ups.