Egypt’s revolution led to gloomy perspectives for businesses, however one local start up, Mashaweer, has managed to flourish during the country’s economic depression.
Constant protests at Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square have paralyzed the legendarily congested Egyptian streets.
Since the 2011 popular uprising against the 30 year-old regime headed by Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian economy has been plagued by a significant slowdown that has left most companies battered.
Mashaweer, however, seems to be an exception. Mashaweer is a small startup specializing in personalized assistance services that has registered incredible growth since the beginning of the uprising.
Launched in Alexandria in early 2010, Mashaweer has grown from a three-motorcycle operation with a few clients to a company serving 40,000 individual customers and 68 businesses in Alexandria, Cairo and the North Coast.
“The company now processes about 800 orders every day,” says Ahmad Kerdany, managing partner and CFO.
A business to tackle every task
Clients that have little time to run around the blocked streets of Cairo can dial 19988 for a service provider to do their mashaweer, which means errands in Arabic. The call center is staffed by 21 employees and relies on an ERP system that links drivers equipped with a PDA and GPS tracking system to allow for the quick processing of all orders.
Drivers are notified of a job, and then in turn notify customers of accomplished tasks by updating the information on a request form with relevant details. Cost is set according to distance. “We base our service fees on the average taxi fares,” explains Kerdany. “We do everything from grocery shopping to renewing passport and identity cards. We even queue in front of nightclubs or wait in line for patients at a clinic. We can deliver a diamond ring or pick up the latest iPad as a gift.”
Mashaweer has also made deals with the likes of Radio Shack, Mobilis and e-commerce companies, including Dare’n’Deal, Offerna, Souq.com and edfa3ly.com, providing customers of these companies with out of stock items from other branches.
For regular clients with high credit levels, Mashaweer even pays for requested items on credit. The company also offers the advantage of flexibility, as it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Opportunity in adversity
The idea for the service came to founder Mohammad Waheed in 2009, during his wedding festivities. At the time, his bride was overwhelmed with errands, spending hours on end making various wedding preparations around town. With his friends Ahmad Kurdi and Ali Al-Shizli, he invested 30,000 Egyptian pounds ($5,000) in three scooters to create Mashaweer in Alexandria. The young company’s activity was fueled by the revolution in February 2011.
“One of the first advantages was that we were able to negotiate down all of the deals we made at the start of our business from the acquisition of new premises to the improved financing of our motorcycle fleet,” he says.
When the revolution erupted, the rent of the five-story building that headquarters Mashaweer in the Mohandisseen area went down by 50%. Another perk of the uprising was that the company paid one fourth of the 8 million Egyptian pound marketing campaign that allowed it to go national.
However, creating this company was certainly a challenge in such a gloomy business climate. it was difficult to spend money in the market when everyone was actually pulling out.
“My father thought I was crazy to leave my job in Dubai to come back to Egypt,” adds Kerdany.
After tackling Alexandria, Mashaweer then turned its focus to Cairo, with operations beginning in the capital in December 2011. The team grew to include 33 partners and had a capital injection of $2.5 million. With extra capital they added 150 motorcycles, 15 cars and a speedboat to the fleet.
Another challenge faced by the company was training the staff, to which 60% of the budget was allocated. “Trust is at the heart of our operation, because some of the items we transport are quite delicate or expensive. In addition, some of our clients’ requests are sophisticated, so we had to train drivers how to provide specialty items, like ordering sushi at an upscale restaurant or purchasing high tech goods,” points out the CFO.
Today, in Cairo, Mashaweer uses 200 motorcycles and five cars to cover the capital. The company has built a large customer network relying heavily on institutions, which account for up to 55% of the startup’s total business.
Today, Mashaweer has grown into a 400-employee operation. Expansion plans are underway, including a new Beirut branch that has already been launched in the Lebanese capital and one in Dubai early next year, which will take the company regional.
In the midst of unprecedented political turmoil, Mashaweer seems to have won its bet on Egypt. The startup sets a great example for other entrepreneurs to follow suit by investing in their home country, in spite of a challenging environment.