Given Kuwait’s cosmopolitan taste for fine dining from around the world, it is unsurprising that its most celebrated start-up story has a culinary flavour. It may be two years since the German company Rocket Internet paid $165m for Talabat, the Kuwaiti restaurant delivery app, but the story of its success has given a new generation of entrepreneurs a taste for e-commerce.
TALABAT: While Talabat’s success story drew attention to Kuwait’s start-up scene, the story behind its expansion and sale differs in some key respects from the stereotype of the Californian coder starting from scratch in a garage. Mohammed Jaffar, who sold Talabat in 2015, bought it from its original founder in 2010 for KD800,000 ($2.4m). Jaffar had a degree in economics, a background in corporate banking and an upcoming restaurant when he spotted Talabat’s potential to become a regional winner – the app offers local restaurants a platform to market their dishes to customers who prefer to eat at home rather than dine out. While different than Silicon Valley, this story is more in keeping with Kuwait’s own entrepreneurial ecosystem, in that the ingredients which enabled Talabat to grow so rapidly were Jaffar’s business acumen, his understanding of regional markets and access to family capital.
CARRIAGE: Six years after Jaffar spotted the potential in Talabat, another Kuwaiti entrepreneur was trying to get his own restaurant business off the ground. Abdulla Al Mutawa, having become one of Talabat’s customers, saw a missing ingredient. He noticed that the restaurants advertised on Talabat were required to supply their own delivery drivers and vehicles. To enhance the service, he adopted an idea he saw being offered elsewhere in the world by companies like Deliveroo, and created his own business, Carriage. In March 2017 Carriage ranked 7th in Kuwait among free apps in the Apple store and was the most popular app in the food and drink category. As part of his marketing drive, Al Mutawa is attending “start-up grind” events to share his experiences and ask attendees for their feedback on his service. Carriage was acquired by Delivery Hero for an undisclosed amount in late May.
NUWAIT: Another dimension of the start-up scene is Nuwait, a website that shares business information and success stories. It was established by the National Fund for Small and Medium Enterprise Development, which was created with capital of KD2bn ($6.1bn) in 2013 to finance up to 80% of the capital requirements of enterprise projects submitted by Kuwaiti nationals, capped at KD500,000 ($1.5m) per project. The fund’s aim is to create a healthy ecosystem in which small businesses can start and grow, thus expanding the economy and providing private sector jobs for young citizens.
The Nu8.1 Pitching Edition, an event organised by the National Fund in October 2016, involved eight start-ups pitching their business ideas to a panel of experts and mentors. The ideas included InVision, a virtual-reality-enabled platform for architects and real estate developers; MyU, an application allowing students and teachers to communicate; and MySpot, an app designed to allow residents to rent out their parking spaces. At the time of the event, the National Fund had helped 100 start-ups acquire seed capital and was evaluating another 100 for the next round of funding in sectors such as industry, agriculture, technology and food.
The demonstrated popularity of these pitching events and the success stories shared on the Nuwait site suggest there is a generation of entrepreneurs-in-waiting in Kuwait. The National Fund has recently undergone a change in leadership and is working to establish itself as an agency focused on the development of a holistic entrepreneurial ecosystem as opposed to just a fund which gives out money. Funding is key for small and medium-sized businesses, but access to experienced mentors and training in basic principles of business and management are also vital. All elements are needed to encourage young people to consider a risky, but potentially rewarding career in private sector enterprise over a safe and secure salaried job in the public sector.