Through the pages of the magazine, we’ve often featured businesses that are undergoing fast expansion, enjoying unbeatable growth or breaking barriers to achieve new heights of success. This month we met up with a business that has not only managed to tick all these boxes but is continuing to set the pulse of regional digital space. In an exclusive interview with Editor Rushika Bhatia, Ronaldo Mouchawar of Souq.com – shares his audacious expansion plans and his vision to dominate the e-commerce industry…
How did Souq.com come about? What was the inspiration behind the idea?
The idea was to empower people to trade online. We saw that a lot of work was being done all across the world in the e-commerce space. For instance, you had Alibaba.com in China and the likes of Amazon and eBay in the USA, but there wasn’t anything similar within this region. So, we thought it was imperative to spearhead an online platform that helped us grow our capabilities in this region. That’s when we got inspired to create Souq.com.
What were critical factors that helped you take the leap from an e-commerce start-up to the region’s leading online marketplace?
Firstly, when Maktoob was acquired by Yahoo, it gave the team and everyone around us confidence in the Arab internet and set the impetus for Souq.com. During the initial years, we had a tremendous focus on understanding our consumers and their needs. Furthermore, we put in a lot of effort in building a dynamic team. This helped us make the transition into becoming what we are today.
How do you ensure that operations are streamlined especially with such fast-paced growth?
As you grow, of course you have bigger challenges to face; now you have to manage the scale of operations, a bigger customer base, more countries, increased orders, and so on. The key factor is to maintain a skilful team; I strongly believe that my team is what makes this company work. You have to empower your team and ensure that they are having fun when tackling challenges. Another critical success factor is that we operate locally within markets which enables us to better understand the needs of the different stakeholders.
Souq.com is renowned for its sophisticated supply chain system. How do you manage an efficient supply chain?
When it comes to business and people management, you require entrepreneurship skills, but when it comes to supply chain management, you also need to have technical expertise, industry knowledge and best practices.
In your expert opinion, what should be the next step in the development of the Souq.com proposition?
I think a lot positive things are happening around us and these will impact us in a good way. Firstly, we see that the Arab consumer is now well connected online – especially when it comes to mobile; smartphone penetration is very high. This has led to buying on mobile to significantly rise. To summarise, more people are now online which is great for Souq.com.
Secondly, with all the services we have built, consumer confidence has risen in buying online. When we started Souq.com, people were very skeptical about online purchasing – they would often find that the product didn’t match the specs mentioned, the delivery was delayed or the payment wasn’t secure. Today, the consumers are confident to make purchases on our online platform and this is reflected in the increasing numbers of visitors to our site.
Thirdly, as we scale across different countries, our merchants find setting up shop on Souq.com very valuable – they are able to list their products where it’s accessible to millions of people.
These are three critical trends that we’ve identified and we are looking to capitalise on them in the months to come.
What would you say is your core mission with Souq.com?
Our key mission is to continue to empower people to trade online. This creates a wealth of opportunities; for instance, it creates a lot of job openings. Souq.com is synonymous to empowerment – whether it’s our employees, the wider supplier community or even the industry itself.
What were the biggest challenges you had to face during your journey as an entrepreneur? What were some of the lessons learnt?
For us, raising capital was definitely a major challenge – initially investors weren’t very receptive to the idea of supporting an e-commerce venture. Then there were other hurdles like shipping and online payment but our team’s sheer hard work and perseverance helped overcome them.
I also realised that it very important to have a good mentor, who can potentially help you in avoiding a few mistakes. In addition, it is critical to have a sellable business plan. Of course, you have to be extremely dedicated and persistent when it comes to starting a new business. I didn’t work on Souq.com as a part-time job; I was working as an employee and I decided to quit when I started my own business, and it required a lot of personal sacrifices.
What are your thoughts on this region’s internet space?
I think the internet is a great tool for this region. I believe this space is hungry for entrepreneurs to innovate. The reality also is that this space is so exciting – working with an e-commerce platform means you have no boundaries or limitations, you are accessible globally. I would also say that for me personally, being an entrepreneur – especially in the digital space – has been extremely rewarding. I would strongly encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to consider starting an e-commerce business.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I would say:
- Ensure that you are working with a good co-founder
- Make sure you are surrounded with positive mentors
- Sell your story – not just internally, but to investors as well
- Embrace your mistakes and learn from them
Rushika Bhatia Editor
Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.