The tech scene in the Middle East was essentially at ground zero just a decade ago. Regressive policies, red tape and a lack of infrastructure all made it remarkably difficult to start a tech company in the region. But that didn’t stop some enterprising people from launching their businesses here.
While a lot of these startups struggled to survive, some have gone on to make a mark on an international scale. Here’s a look at the journey of the most successful startups in the Middle East.
Yamli:Although Yamli has only gone through one investment round in which it raised $125,000, its Lebanese founders Habib Haddad and Imad Jureidini have revolutionized Arabic content and online searches. In addition to converting English text into Arabic, Yamli also functions as a search engine and a service that largely facilitates Arabic typing on the go. Yamli currently processes about 150 million words per month, for a total of 3.5 billion words and has been licensed by huge players like Yahoo. While the founders struggled to garner traction at first, they have entirely revolutionized transliteration and caused companies like Google and Microsoft to launch similar services to meet the large market demand.
Fetchr: Founders Idriss Al Rifai and Joy Ajlouny met at a tech conference in San Francisco in 2014 and started discussing the problems they were having with logistics for their startup employers. That’s how Fetchr, a GPS merchandise delivery app was born. The app covers U.A.E, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and has recently raised $11 million in a series A round. It’s one of the few Arab startups funded by a top U.S. VC.
LaundryBox: Al Zarooni Emirates Investments and MENA Venture Investments pitched in $5 million to fund this on demand service for laundry, based in MENA. The founders both left their banking jobs to redesign the laundry services available in the Middle East. The company was ranked 3rd most promising startup in MENA by Forbes.
Careem: Careem is Dubai’s answer to Uber and Ola. Careem was launched in 2012 by Mudassir Sheikha and Magnus Olsson as a small luxury car service exclusively for Dubai’s elite. The app is part of the nascent sharing economy in the Middle East and now serves 14 different cities in ME and Asia, including Beirut, Cairo, Doha, Dammam, Karachi and Lahore. The startup grew 30% compounded monthly and recently raised $10 million in seed funding.
Souq.com:Souq.com’s CEO Ronaldo Mouchawar hadlot of ideas on how to build a successful startup. Mouchawar started pitching to investors in Dubai back in 2006, when almost no one in the Middle East was paying attention to startups and tech. Hundreds of retailers in Dubai turned down his offer to list their products on his new e-commerce site. Today, the site is one of the largest e-commerce firms in the region, with big brands such as Dell, Pampers, Boss, and Nespresso on the site. A recent $275 million funding round has made this the first unicorn in the Middle East.
There are a lot of new and interesting successful startups in the Middle East that are raising capital and expanding overseas. Surely, it is easy to say that when most of these startups started a few years back, the ecosystem was much less saturated. However, with an improving business environment and a more tech-driven investment culture, we can trust that young entrepreneurs in the region would be inspired by these successes and build startups of their own.