MENA’s Digital News, Week #17

A weekly round up of the top headlines from the digital sector in MENA, covering startups, corporate and the public sector.

This week’s round up is late, I’m catching up on winter in Lebanon and was frankly enjoying the weather a tad too much yesterday to sit in front of a computer.

Investments & Acquisitions

Yawmi, Dubai-based food startup, just closed a seed round from Shorooq Investments https://goo.gl/xKFCxt

Lucidya, Saudi-based arabic social media monitoring platform, raises ~$1M (4M SAR) in Series A funding from BIAC (EN) https://goo.gl/SXWJSH (AR) https://goo.gl/3RyJns

Dubizzle has now been fully acquired by Naspers, $190M was paid for remaining equity. https://goo.gl/V6Kxg8 

Aramex Acquires Saudi TAL for Commerce and Contract Company Ltd (“Saudi TAL”), for approximately $80M https://goo.gl/VygCas 

Modanisa, Turkish modest fashion eCommerce, sells minority stake to Goldman Sachs https://goo.gl/BnU3s6 

Sector News

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking to make equity-free investments of up to $100k in startups using data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) or similar technologies. https://goo.gl/KSLxZ3

Saudi Government issues regulations and permit procedure for personal and commercial drones https://goo.gl/VcAS4S

Chinese consumer electronics and mobile communication company, Oppo, launched in Saudi Arabia, and commits to helping MENA countries foster 5G powered innovation through Qualcomm partnership and AI R&D https://goo.gl/EibLZK

Google Assistant launches Arabic Language Support in Beta https://goo.gl/LTcZDF 

Further Readings

DP World to buy a 71.3% stake in Chile’s Port Service Puertos y Logistica SA https://goo.gl/eHfYPN

Vietnam’s Yeah1 Media Group acquire’s MCN’s ScaleLab, Youtube multi-channel management platform, which has offices in Latin America, Russia, the UK, and the Middle East https://goo.gl/yp3zNC 

ZDNet: Middle East tech: What does 2019 have in store?

Damian Radcliffe reached out before the end of 2018 to contribute to their annual 2019-predictions article on ZDNet.

I’m honored to be featured along amazing regional leaders such as Chris Schroeder, Jawad Abbassi, Sevag Papazian, and Jaime Galviz.

What does 2019 hold for the region, check out the article here.

Long Reads

African Venture Capital 2018 Report – $725.6M Invested In 458 Deals https://goo.gl/4ZZrCS


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The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round [Updated]

The first part below originally posted in the “MENA’s Digital News, Week #11” yesterday, but then things escalated over night and an update was due. 

Original thoughts: 

Did we reach a new battle frontier: king of the mass-commute sector? 

Let’s face it, taxi ride hailing is not for everyone. It’s expensive for the majority of populations to adopt on daily basis, especially in emerging markets. The opportunity is even more alluring when combined with the lack of (or deteriorating state) of public transport in these markets. 

But it all happened too fast: 

Targeting the same demographic: Halan (mentioned above) also just closed Series A round, to provide motorcycles and tuktuks on-demand. 

The shuttle services are of course not unique to MENA, Grab (Singapore) has shuttle service offerings since last December 2017 and recently expanded that service to include school and airport shuttles. Of course it’s truce with Uber in Singapore has helped focus it’s efforts on serving new segments instead of burning cash on competition

Mass commute is a space that ride-hailing companies have tried and failed to crack in the past, so it’ll be interesting to see who will acquire whom first. 


The Update:

After I published the newsletter yesterday, Halan (حالاً) announced at RiseUp Summit that the CTO of Uber was part of their latest Series A round, and will be joining the board of the startup.

Lyft announced it has filed for an IPO (rushing to beat Uber), only to find out that Uber had filed “secretly” on the same day! 

Lyft has been the slow and sturdy of the ride-hailing race in the US, that does however mean that they have yet to expand beyond the North American continent, and that their valuation is also much less that Uber’s; according to Bloomberg: ~$18M-$30M.

This puts even more pressure on Uber to pick up its performance, burn less cash and put their money where their PR is to hit a valuation that can bring returns to the last round of investors (Softbank & co.) at that IPO. The “rumored” valuation has increased two fold in less than a year, which is absurd in millions, let alone in the double-digit billions! 

Valuation earlier in the year was $65B, we’re now hearing of IPO at $130B! 

So, what does Halan’s investment mean? The battlefield is geared up and ready. 


I’m not concerned about Careem’s ability to ride this through. Uber will be aggressive from now till IPO (~March) to gain its valuation, however you cannot operate at that level of aggression forever and avoid bad publicity, especially given the records on Uber’s work environment. 

However, there will be victims in this race. Swvl has a carved vertical and is looking at a different growth trajectory than both giants (Uber has failed Asia and Careem is still conquering broader MENA). It will face the wrath of SEA emerging markets, but there’s plenty of space in there to deliver and grow. It is also not too late or too big to get acquired by the regional giants or global ones. 

Buseet, may be a tempting acquisition for either giants, to help consolidate their fleets and decrease competition. And that’s only looking at the Egyptian market. There are dozens of smaller ride-hailing apps, Ousta, TemTem, Marhaba, Tirhal, etc in neighboring markets that may get snatched up or wither in this grid-lock. 

Or dare I say, the battlefield starts looking so tempting that we see more giants move in? 

What stops Rocket Internet, through Jumia’s massive reach, from expanding EasyTaxi in North Africa, as a stepping stone into more MENA markets?

Or Didi from expanding it’s partnership (and investment) with Careem with a big move into MENA by, I dare say, acquisition? Didi has partnered with Taxify to corner Uber out of markets,  and with the bullish growth of the Chinese tech giants, it’s not a far stretch!

(after the arrest of the Huawei CFO two days ago, I’m sure Xi Jinping would be happy to watch a US company suffer a little)


You can check my post on the Uber-Careem merger rumors here: Can Working Smart & Local Compete With Global Giants Burning Investor Money – Part 2: Careem vs Uber

Also, other opinions of the topic:

Competition heats up for Cairo’s ride-hailing apps [Wamda]
Opinion: Why Uber and Careem should merge [menabytes]

MENA’s Digital News, Week #11

A weekly round up of the top headlines from the digital sector in MENA, covering startups, corporate and public sector news.

Investments & Acquisitions

Halan, Egypt-based on-demand tuktuk & motorcycle service provider, raises Series A funding from Battery Road Digital Holdings and Algerba Ventures https://goo.gl/Kk4qSK 

Buseet, Egypt-based bus booking startup, raises funding from Vision Ventures https://goo.gl/UWHfyf 

Gathern, Saudi-based Airbnb for chalets, raises seed funding from Vision Ventures, Inspire Ventures, 500 Startups, Aquilaria Capital Management Fund, and Deyarat Trading Company https://goo.gl/2hiHbn

Meddy, Qatar-based doctor booking platform, raises money from Egypt’s Modus Capital https://goo.gl/QReTS9

ResMed acquires digital respiratory health company Propeller Health. While both companies are in the US, the investors of Propeller health include Hikma Ventures, Corporate VC for Jordan’s Hikma Pharmaceuticals https://goo.gl/tLZntA

Sector News

Abu Dhabi’s ASGC Construction partners with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Industrial Liaison Program (ILP) for smart city innovation https://goo.gl/wqegRB 

UNICEF is looking to partner with accelerator programs for open-source early stage startups in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia https://goo.gl/nLfeQM 

Altibbi, Digital Health Care platform, has partnered with Telecom Egypt (WE) to launch a nation wide telehealth initiative https://goo.gl/VUeWDH

Tunis issues new “Tunisian Startup Act” law to support startup growth in the country https://goo.gl/oHsiVL 

Hackers/Founders Sudan

First Hackers/Founders event took place in Sudan on December 1st https://goo.gl/TCqyV4

Now the fintech news:

Dubai has developed regulations for security token offerings (STOs) as is evident with Aelf’s (crypto-coin) local partnerships https://goo.gl/543Dth 

Qatar Financial Centre Partnering Up with Europe based B-Hive https://goo.gl/FWcJCt 

Bahrain Economic Development Board Signs MoU with Maharashtra Government (India) to Cooperate in FinTech https://goo.gl/w5cVnq 

African Fintech Ventures Map highlights companies in Morocco, Tunis, Egypt and Somalia https://goo.gl/GfKW1r

Landscape of Fintech Companies in Morocco https://goo.gl/CfwfBT

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round 

Did we reach a new battle frontier: king of the mass-commute sector? 

Let’s face it, taxi ride hailing is not for everyone. It’s expensive for the majority of populations to adopt on daily basis, especially in emerging markets. The opportunity is even more alluring when combined with the lack of (or deteriorating state) of public transport in these markets. 

But it all happened too fast: 

Targeting the same demographic: Halan (mentioned above) also just closed Series A round, to provide motorcycles and tuktuks on-demand. 

The shuttle services are of course not unique to MENA, Grab (Singapore) has shuttle service offerings since last December 2017 and recently expanded that service to include school and airport shuttles. Of course it’s truce with Uber in Singapore has helped focus it’s efforts on serving new segments instead of burning cash on competition

Mass commute is a space that ride-hailing companies have tried and failed to crack in the past, so it’ll be interesting to see who will acquire whom first. 

Further Readings

Softbank’s Vision Fund is hiring an investment team to be based in China’s Shanghai https://goo.gl/4oXeVS and has now raised $98.58B of it’s $100B goal from 14 investors, up from $93.15B from eight investors a year ago https://goo.gl/WJiY3i 

Ajman (UAE) Department of Finance case study using Salesforce https://goo.gl/Q1Gy8f – queue govtech startups that can provide services via API

Addis Ababa has overtaken Dubai as the world’s gateway into Africa, with Ethiopian Airlines now traveling to over 60 destinations on the continent https://goo.gl/HGA81e

Noon.com sponsors Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad Football team, the “biggest sponsorship deal in the history of the club” (AR) https://goo.gl/SkPLJo


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