“Trouble is an opportunity for you to do your best.”
This quote by the famous American jazz pianist and composer Duke Ellington fits the case of Egyptian entrepreneur Waleed Rashed, founder of Sideup — a Cairo-based technology start-up that helps e-commerce businesses achieve scale and boost revenue with technology.
Set up in 2019, Sideup, formerly known as Voo, expanded its business model after rebranding.
It has since become a one-stop shop offering e-commerce solutions such as online payment gateways, marketing and business advisory services, and integration applications for sectors that includes logistics, shipping and warehousing.
With Sideup, businesses have access to various e-commerce services and technology solutions, and can organize various tasks on one platform. By helping business owners solve challenges around these areas, the company allows them to focus on their core mission.
“The logistics space has many challenges and we are on a mission to solve them … businesses do not have a single place to access multiple courier providers and this led us to create Voo, which was initially a courier marketplace for e- commercial sector,” said Mr Rashed, 39, The National.
“The e-commerce sector is very fragmented for small businesses. You can join a big platform [as a seller] and lose income in fees and commissions, or you can go it alone and struggle to get access to services,” said Mr Rashed.
“We had the first advantage of having a strong courier marketplace business [Voo]including clients who need additional services.”
The company aims to empower micro, small and medium enterprises, especially those selling products and services from remote locations such as villages or rural areas, or on social networking platforms and messaging apps.
“We aim to help entrepreneurs who have potential but don’t have enough resources or access to the infrastructure of large service providers,” said Mr Rashed.
“Even our name comes from the fact that we work with our partners and our customers … to help them easily access any service they need to help their business grow.”
With Sideup, e-commerce business owners simply select what they need, and the start-up’s account managers work with them to ensure “industry-leading service delivery”, said Mr Rashed.
Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world, is relying on technology and its start-up ecosystem to diversify its economy.
Venture capital funding in Egypt more than doubled to $307 million in the first half of 2022 from a year ago, ranking it third in the Middle East and North Africa region, according to start-up data platform Magnitt.
The number of deals in the country grew by 22 percent annually to 78 in the first six months of the year.
The e-commerce market in Egypt has its own challenges as it is emerging. However, Sideup is committed to staying in the sector and providing solutions.
“The e-commerce industry is still uneven in our region, with some challenges yet to be resolved … the big players are taking huge commissions from the margins of small businesses,” said Mr Rashed .
“Our focus will remain on the e-commerce industry, and we will continue to develop solutions to allow small business owners to succeed and thrive.”
Egypt’s e-commerce revenue is expected to grow at an annual rate of more than 18 percent to $15.76 billion in 2027, up from $6.85 billion this year, according to Statista.
In the e-commerce market, the number of Egyptian users is expected to increase to 84 million by 2027, with the average revenue per user set to reach $122.90.
Mr Rashed, who founded the company with his own funds, said it gave him the freedom to experiment with his own “disruptive ideas which eventually helped build a core stable business”.
Earlier this month, Sideup raised $1.2 million in funding to fuel plans to expand into Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy.
Various global and regional investors participated in the funding round, including Launch Africa VC, 500 Global, Riyadh Angels, Alex Angels, Al Tuwaijri Fund and Saudi angel investor Faisal Al Abdulsalam, the start-up said.
The company said it will use the new capital raised in Egypt to strengthen its current position there and also invest in expansion and hiring new talent in Saudi Arabia.
“Our expansion began with our entry into Saudi Arabia, where we are acquiring, onboarding customers and partnering with new service providers,” Mr Rashed said.
“In the next 12 months, we expect to enter at least two new markets in the MEA region.”
As part of its plans to strengthen its presence in Saudi Arabia, Sideup will relocate its headquarters to Riyadh.
“Saudi Arabia is very similar to Egypt in many ways and gives us the opportunity to build on our experience from our home market. The kingdom is also startup friendly, with a huge market opportunity.”
“Being in Saudi Arabia also gives us access to new markets in the GCC, as well as the rest of Africa. The changes we’ve seen here are truly incredible and we’re excited to shape the future of Sideup from here,” said Mr Rashed.
Mr Rashed said the company is self-sustaining and he has no plans to raise additional capital anytime soon.
“We don’t want to chase valuations or unnecessary rounds of funding, especially when we can build a financially sustainable business on our own. Success will follow us on its own because our foundation is solid and right the basics,” he said.
“For now, we have no intention for new capital. We are cash-flow positive and growing at 30 percent per month. It gives us enough runway to grow efficiently.”
Currently, Sideup serves more than 2,000 e-commerce businesses. It achieved over $500,000 in total merchandise volume in one month.
Its platform also allows traders to gain access to new markets in 45 countries. It has partnered with industry leaders such as e-commerce platforms Zid, Zammit and Wuilt, payment services businesses Paytab, Cowpay and Paymob and logistics providers Aramex, J&T and iMile.
However, there are no plans to exit the business at the moment.
“For now, we are only focused on the building. We are very early in our journey and the e-commerce ecosystem of MEA has a lot of untapped potential,” said Mr Rashed.
Despite achieving success in the first few years of its inception, Sideup also faced its own share of challenges.
“We started our operations in Egypt, where for example, we had challenges with addresses and delivery … that’s why each of our customers has an account manager who makes sure they can be sure of a smooth delivery process .”
“Also, the region wants to have cash on delivery, and we offer this facility. We pay our customers within 24 hours, to ensure that each of them has a constant cash flow.”
Currently, Sideup has an 85 percent first-attempt delivery rate, which is a new standard for the industry, he says.
Q&A: Waleed Rashed, the founder and chief executive of Sideup
Where do you see yourself 10 years down the line?
We hope to have made a significant impact on the region’s e-commerce ecosystem by continuing to develop solutions that are important to entrepreneurs.
Are you a risk-taker or a cautious trader?
I’m a risk taker, with a certain amount of caution. I used to be a banker and left that industry because I was fascinated by solving logistical challenges. Now, we’re solving challenges for an even bigger industry — e-commerce.
If you could change one thing in your entrepreneurial journey, what would it be?
I don’t think there is anything I would want to change. Everything happens at the right time and it is important that we stay focused on our customers and our mission.
Are you on a hiring spree?
We continue to hire in both markets (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) in line with our business needs. In Saudi Arabia, we plan to hire people to fill 10 positions next month.
What is your vision for the company?
We want to be a one-stop platform for anyone running an e-commerce business.
How has Covid-19 affected your business?
Covid-19 was an eye-opener for us and as people move to e-commerce, it is clear that our platform can open up many opportunities for them.
What is your mantra for success?
I previously worked in banking in the UAE and Qatar, before returning to Egypt to set up my own venture. I don’t have a background in technology, but I realize that with the right team, anything is possible in the start-up ecosystem.
Updated: December 26, 2022, 4:30 AM