MENA’s Digital News, Week #13

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

Investments & Acquisitions

Ajeer, Saudi based handy services app, raises $540k (2M SAR) https://goo.gl/UnnWk3 

Saudi based Maharah Human Resources Company acquires stake in Bloovo, UAE-based algorithm-based online recruitment platform https://goo.gl/WRw17h

Expensya

Expensya, Tunisian SaaS for expense management, raises $4.5M from French investors ISAI and Seventure Partners https://goo.gl/wGSsG7 

Quiqup, London-based last-mile delivery, raises £5M to expand into the GCC https://goo.gl/BWDRTp 

French refreshments leader Pernod Ricard will invest in African online retailer Jumia.com https://goo.gl/5Y4kQc

Kuwait’s Agility in talks with banks to raise ~$800M https://goo.gl/9q8b83

Sector News

Investor News

BIAC x VentureSouq teams

The Business Incubators and Accelerators Company (BIAC), a KACST subsidiary, has joined forces with VentureSouq (VSQ) to launch a new investment services vertical within BIAC that is designed to bridge the funding gaps for startups in Saudi https://goo.gl/LE4Fpk 

UAE’s Ministry of Finance launched Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund (MBRIF) Accelerator. MBRIF has been active since 2016 https://goo.gl/BvQmgq 

Egypt’s Commercial International Bank launches CVentures, a corporate venture capital (CVC) to invest in finTech startups in the Middle East & Africa https://goo.gl/Y89oSy 

Saudi Aramco signed an agreement with Saudi Information Technology Company to form a joint venture that will invest in tech companies https://goo.gl/GA8Tv2 

Service Launches and Expansions

Zain launches Amazon Prime Video in Kuwait https://goo.gl/oAhuyE 

Careem launches a new food delivery service; revamped from the Roundmenu acquisition in February https://goo.gl/TiK2As 

Aramex launches a CrowdShipping Solution, Aramex Fleet, in Saudi https://goo.gl/zJHGEQ 

WaystoCap, Morocco-based B2B eCmmerce, expands operations into Burkina Faso and Togo https://goo.gl/se463T

Souq.com opens new fulfillment center in Dubai https://goo.gl/41uZxv 

Adform, global adtech company, opens Dubai office https://goo.gl/fjbx6m

Fintech and Crypto

Monami, UAE fintech startup, launches Know Your Customer (KYC) verification solutions https://goo.gl/zeDwCf

UAE’s Network International, announced it will integrate Google Pay into it’s payment network https://goo.gl/g9g6Ee

Emirates NBD Now Supports Fitbit Pay and Garmin Pay https://goo.gl/2E5AGC 

FundedByMe granted approval to start operating in Dubai and will become the United Arab Emirates first DFSA regulated and DIFC incorporated Equity Crowdfunding Platform https://goo.gl/fxAf73 

UAE Exchange, to launch cross-border remittance to Asia via Ripple https://goo.gl/RGPHSb 

Locus Chain, Singapore, to will launch a Digital Asset Exchange Platform in Dubai https://goo.gl/MmhGyQ

VeChain Tech, Chinese Blockchain-as-a-service provider, launches in MENA via BIOS Middle East, a managed cloud solutions provider https://goo.gl/ptMLKq

The Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has issued the draft rules on Crypto-asset Platform Operators (CPO) for consultation https://goo.gl/GGoegX

Further Readings

Schengen Nationals can now travel to Saudi Arabia with an eVisa https://goo.gl/gmJ638

UAE diplomats explore investment and partnership opportunities in Utah, USA https://goo.gl/UmwDQK and Vietnam https://goo.gl/HSVXMX

High-speed rail planned between Fujairah, UAE and Mumbai, India to exchange water, oil and passengers https://goo.gl/eS839z

UAE’s Shuaa Capital, financial services group, acquires Kuwait’s Amwal International Investment Company (Amwal) https://goo.gl/MAja5b

Egypt’s Central Bank Vice Governor states that Egyptian banks have issued 12M digital wallets to date https://goo.gl/Vd89v3 

Long Reads

Chinese travelers to GCC will increase 81% by 2022 says Arabian Travel Market’s “GCC Source Market: China” Report https://goo.gl/4GCH4h
The report can be found here: https://goo.gl/nAK37e and if you’re in the hospitality and travel space, I recommend you check out other reports by Colliers International as well https://goo.gl/E2w92w

What came first: piracy or intellectual property? 

I have a bone to pick with the copyright holders (music publishers, book publishers, movie studios, you name it!) in regards to their constant cry about content piracy in emerging markets. 

Lack of services and antiquated copyright laws in emerging markets is the problem, not piracy.

I got into eBooks a few years ago while living in Lebanon, and with no access to a US/EU issued credit card, I was stuck with the whatever iOS had to spare of eBooks to Lebanon (and MENA as whole) which is: the Bible, the Quran, Anna Karenina, and a few Shakespeares. Quite dismal. I could not pay for eBooks or acquire them in any legal way.

Kindle’s, MENA stores didn’t (and still don’t) carry the endless selections available to users in the US/EU. Using a VPN and an international credit card is also not a guarantee; I have had friends’ revoked their books that they have paid for because of continuous access to Kindle through a Lebanese IP.

Book 2 of Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You Trilogy is not available in MENA, but books 1 & 3 are… go figure.

Audible.com; even though I have a paid premium subscription, I currently can’t listen to the second book of a trilogy, but can listen to the first and the third (go figure!). Among other books that are just simply not there.

You cannot not serve a market (or sometimes blatantly ignore it) and expect people to sit around and wait for a miracle. If the content is there and inaccessible – those that can and want will find a way of acquiring, those that want and cant will find someone whom can acquire it for them, even for some extra cash. 

Instead of publishing article after article about “rise of piracy” and “piracy in emerging markets”, maybe hiring some market managers that care a tad bit about the markets they serve more than their pay checks, and have the sympathy (or relationship) to the local markets that allow them to develop the right market strategies, would be a better course of action.

Better prices, access and service may be your saving grace, because frankly, if you don’t care about your consumers, why should they care that you’re not making money in return?

To make things worse, EU’s tightening regulations on copyrighted material is simply suffocating the internet culture. (Yes, Article 13 doesn’t exactly “ban memes” but it’s vague enough that conglomerates can abuse it for censorship). Read more on Article 13 & 11 on Wired.

*rant over*

Have a blessed festive week


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MENA’s Digital News, Week #12

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

Investments & Acquisitions

Tabeeby, Kuwait based social health network, raises $770k from Ground One Ventures, a UK-based VC https://goo.gl/4RwJSU 

Wasla, Egypt-based mobile internet provider, raises $180k in pre-seed led by a Cairo-based Private Investment Banker Omar Barakat https://goo.gl/qC8KY5 

Nawah Scientific, Egypt based scientific research startup, raises $1M in pre-Series A funding from Endure Capital, 500 Startups, Averroes Ventures and Egypt Ventures https://goo.gl/qXxvyf 

Little Thinking Minds, Jordan based edtech startup, raises $1.26M led by Algebra Ventures https://goo.gl/1QhhW4

Expensya, Tunisian SaaS for expense management, raises $4.5M from French investors ISAI and Seventure Partners https://goo.gl/wGSsG7

Agility, Kuwait warehousing and logistics leader, to invest $100M in Shipa Freight, Dubai based freight forwarding platform https://goo.gl/tcbbEq 

Badr, Egypt based data solution startup, acquired by Incorta, US analytics company https://goo.gl/5t8wba 

Vezeeta, Egytian healthtech startup, raises investment from IFC https://goo.gl/zniJ5Z

Rise Up Cairo

RiseUp, Egypt’s leading tech and entrepreneurship conference, raises seed funding led by Endure Capital, as well as Enara Capital, 500 Startups, and Kamelizer https://goo.gl/rXNrfc 

Sawari Ventures raise $35M as part of its $70M fund to invest in Egypt, Tunisia, & Morocco https://goo.gl/dLrUsW 

Mubadala and SoftBank invest in ParkJockey, American parking startup, at valuation over $1B https://goo.gl/cLd6eN 

Tokopedia, Indonesian eCommerce, raises $1.1B led by Softbank’s Vision Fund and Alibaba https://goo.gl/aVN15v 

Sector News

Egyptian Minister announced plans to launch a Digital Library in collaboration with the UAE and Saudi, 26 international publishing houses have already signed https://goo.gl/vPc3te 

OSN appoints new CEO, Patrick Tillieux, who served as chairman and board member https://goo.gl/of8qcN 

SAGIA issues investment license to ArabNet (EN) https://goo.gl/eErjFd (AR) https://goo.gl/7tNKQN

Business Incubators and Accelerators Company (BIAC), collaborate with VentureSouq (VSQ) to launch a new investment services vertical within BIAC targeted towards Saudi startups https://goo.gl/LE4Fpk

MENA based investors: Mindshift Capital and Global Ventures, and Flat6Labs, commit to The Billion Dollar Fund for Women, to increase investment in women led startups https://goo.gl/pnEsUX 

UAE regulators will expand their recognition of investment fund licenses https://goo.gl/fRhvam

US-Libya Space Camp Scholarship Program open and accepting applications https://goo.gl/Htsif4

Wamda launches “Wamda X” fellowship program that offers grants and co-working in Dubai Design District https://goo.gl/N8dBdt

Now the fintech news:

Two new fintech accelerators announce their launch at RiseUp Summit:
Ahli Bank launched their Corporate Fintech Accelerator in Amman, Jordan
Startupbootcamp, in partnership with Pride Capital, launched Fintech Cairo, Egypt https://goo.gl/2SoC4b 

Egypt’s Enara Capital and Falak start-up accelerator sign MoU to establish new clean technology investment fund https://goo.gl/RSdATi 

Beam Wallet announces plans to expand services into Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan in the next 6 month https://goo.gl/kmS9kE 

UAE Exchange, to launch cross-border remittance to Asia via Ripple https://goo.gl/RGPHSb

EmiratesNBD’s Liv., has signed a service agreement with Australian payments fintech Verrency (They launched in 2016 and have raised $7.5M to date) ( https://goo.gl/AHmVjh  EmiratesNBD also announced plans to expand digital services into Egyptian market https://goo.gl/ES857R 

Network International has partnered with China’s Alipay to provide mobile payment service to Chinese shoppers https://goo.gl/pJ8m8B

Almoayed Technologies, first company to graduate from Bahrain’s Regulatory Sandbox https://goo.gl/8Uc3J8

It’s more than a decentralized financial market

The biggest fear that crypto-currency sparks in governments (and world leaders) is a potential radical shift in world order. Financial institutes, world trade agreements, fiat currencies, markets, regulators, and a plethora of institutions whose sole purpose is to maintain centuries of “order”.

The trade war between the US and China, renewed sanction on Iran, and looming financial bubbles have shown that maybe the centuries old dynamics are due for disruption.

Governments around the world are beginning to rethink the financial strong hold that the US and EU have on trade, and alternate paths (crypto- or not) and weighing the risks involved.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have announced that they’ll be using (their uniquely developed) crypto-currency for cross-border settlements.

The UAE also signed with India on currency swap agreement, amounting to 2B AED (35B INR), allowing the governments to settle directly in INR, strengthening the Rupee. As part of agreement travelers can use INR for purchases in the UAE without having to convert to AED (a first for the country)

India and Iran signed another a pact, based on which, Iran will accept payments for oil purchased by India in INR.

Russia and China have been settling bilateral trade in the yuan and ruble in sectors such as agriculture and machinery, and looking to expand that to new sectors as well.

Regardless of whether countries decide to build crypto infrastructures for the trade, or their respective local fiat currencies, a global shift is upon us. It will empower financial technology providers and open the door for more innovators. Maybe a chance for a true financial revolution, in lieu of the fourth industrial one.

Further Readings

Middle East Group suspected of series of hacks against telecoms, embassies and oil companies https://goo.gl/NM1gkh 

London based Private Equity Firm, Actis, is bid to take over more than $2B of assets from Abraaj Group https://goo.gl/mc8dpe 

Abraaj Credit Fund to Be Taken Over by Kuwait’s NBK Capital https://goo.gl/shHc9k

Sharp drop in Nvidia’s stock price impacts Softbank’s Vision Fund portfolio valuation https://goo.gl/PVdUuc 

High-speed rail planned between Fujairah, UAE and Mumbai, India to exchange water, oil and passengers https://goo.gl/eS839z

Long Reads

“The Egyptian Startup Manifesto” launched at RiseUp Summit, read more about it here: https://goo.gl/oQ4z9P

ArabNet Business Intelligence launches report: “Corporate Artificial Intelligence Adoption Strategies and Implementation 2018″ by DSOA’s D-tec and NYUAD’s startAD https://goo.gl/kSLPth

According to the UN’s “B1C E-Commerce Index 2018” report, Morocco is 5th Most Ready for eCommerce in Africa, https://goo.gl/jKuJbc


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Can Working Smart & Local Compete With Global Giants Burning Investor Money – Part 2: Careem vs Uber

Part 1: Anghami vs Spotify got a lot of rounds + an update was added at the end based on online discussions post-publishing

Now for Battle Royale of the season: 

Careem vs Uber 

I remember Mudassir and Magnus taking a booth at ArabNet back in early 2013. Standing diligently selling their service to business professionals: to introduce a better booking and billing experience for corporate car trips that matches that of airlines and hotels; and hustling to get media coverage and exposure. Fast forward just 5 years and Careem has exploded in size and offering probably beyond the founder’s imagination at that moment in time. 

There’s quite a lot that a $67B valuation (Uber) can buy you that a $2B (Careem) valuation can only dream of, however the hustle is strong:

Untappable markets and delays in adaptability: Careem’s valuation has steadily risen over the past five years, while they have ventured into some of the region’s most difficult markets: Palestine, Sudan (embargoed for US companies), Morocco and the ongoing attempt to enter Oman. Their services grew from “cash” (which Uber introduced much later), and “pre-bookings” (Careem’s MVP), to include phone bookings (much needed in emerging markets reliant on feature phones), car seats, motorcycles, last-mile delivery, and even road-side assistance services! 

The strength of Careem has always been in localizing services, so while getting a Careem motorcycle may be a dream-come-true in Lebanon and Pakistan, it’s an unlikely feature in Riyadh and Dubai. All the while, Uber has kept up its offerings with Careem’s at each turn, sometimes even years later, like business accounts, which were a core feature of Careem since day one. 

Response to crisis: A frequent backlash for Uber regionally has been lack of swift response to disaster, where local teams may have not had the autonomy or the swiftness to curtail surge pricing, for e.g. when the Torch Tower went ablaze in Marina, Dubai. Careem’s team immediately cancelled all fares for travelers out of the location. While this is something Uber has acted on much more ethically in the US and EU, the responses in emerging markets have been slow to improve.  

[Careem offers free rides for customers to Al Aqsa Mosque every Friday, during the holy month of Ramadan]

Verticals:

  • Food Delivery – UberEats (Uber’s current prized baby valued at $20B) has launched in Dubai, Riyadh and Jeddah so far in MENA, a long way from market dominance. Careem has acquired Roundmenu to expand it’s offering in that space, with no further comment on the topic since February
  • Payments – Careem has been aggressively hiring CareemPay MD’s in multiple GCC cities, and announced plans to launch the service as early as 2019. Cracking payments (especially P2P) in MENA is the grand race that telecom operators, phone manufacturers and governments have yet to win. Careem’s cross border power has a chance at winning this race at a scale that no regional telecom or gov entity can. 
  • Mass Commute – Public transport infrastructure in Europe and a few US cities may be enviable, however in the emerging market prairies of Egypt, India, Lebanon, Oman and most African countries, it’s an… aspirational dream. But tackling mass transport is a messy business; riders are not necessarily using the smartest phones, and most likely unbanked. Can a developed market company get on the ground to crack this? Careem has no bus service, yet, but has acquired Commut, a Pakistan bus-shuttle service, in September as a first venture into the space. Swvl, Egypt based bus-shuttle service, also announced today a “8 figure investment” to expand their services to East Asia and setup their Germany technology center.

Technology: I agree, whether Careem, Anghami or most other regional services, the final customer experience is sub to that of global products. However I’m not sure the startups are to take the load for this one, technical talent is beyond scarce in MENA, to the extent that Careem (and recently Swvl) have technical teams based in Germany to help fill this gap! Given the size of funding rounds in the region and the cost analysis, it’s a grand move to grow against the odds. 

Giving Back: While an international tech company will rarely if ever invest in regional tech talent, queue FAGM offices in MENA that are stacked with sales guys and barely if any developers (yes you!), regional startups are likely to be the first to jump on the opportunity. Not only Careem, but Bayt.com, Souq.com, and Hungerstation, to name just a few, forgive me if I have forgotten, have been quite supportive of all developer activities I have conducted in the past. 

Uber, and FAGM companies, I have to say, has been very supportive of entrepreneurs in MENA from a exposure and sponsorship perspective, but, the challenge in the region is neither. We Need Better Technical Talent Yesterday! and with no technical talent in their regional offices big-tech can only help so much.   A small shoutout here to Consensys who even though very new in MENA, started off cultivating a developer community around them immediately. (the blockchain will be led from Asia, but that’s for a different post)

Acquisitions: Uber has been stingy in acquisitions for-market-growth everywhere in the world, their general strategy is to acquire tech companies (or scooters). While that’s a fair strategy, it’s a tough one to play out in emerging markets as Rocket Internet or Zomato can tell you. 
Meanwhile Careem, has made multiple acquisitions and promised to do more. 

“The Acquisition” in Question

Embattled Uber and the year-after-year conversation of its “massive blow” to Careem’s business, and the endless rumors of a looming acquisition. 

The running rumor that Uber is in advanced talks with Careem for an acquisition has been ramping up week by week, and for a good many reasons:

The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) is now an investor, directly and through Softbank Vision Fund, in both Careem and Uber, given its bleeding Q3 numbers in lead up to the anticipated IPO in 2019. It would be really tough for late stage investors to make their returns unless Uber makes a massive splash in it’s public offering; their current target is $120B. The continuous competitive price slashing is not to their benefit.

Uber has already bowed down from China and LATAM to curb it’s losses in preparation for the IPO, but the shared investors may be giving them some extra leverage in negotiation with Careem

I saw Mudassir last week at BoostMENA, and according to him, talks with Uber are there, but not at a stage more advanced than conversations with other global leaders like Didi and Ola. So, that’s the founder’s story. 

News is that Careem may also be raising a new round from Chinese investors

An acquisition to Uber may not a bad thing. However, my and the ecosystem’s prayer is: may it not be shorted like the Amazon-Souq deal.


We are at the tip of the iceberg of what a company like Careem or Uber can provide to the global market with such phenomenal reach; and it will be far beyond ride hailing. These technologies are already impact the future of economies, industries and people’s lives. 

I’m in awe of the unifying power technology has had on the MENA region, but in even greater gratefulness to be alive at a time where connecting people has allowed emerging market leaders to challenge the dominance of the long held status quo. 

Can we get scooters like the cool kids now?

Yes, I’m a Careem fan. I use all regional services until they break; that’s my rule. I have had challenges at times with the service, but most have been fixed along the way. No emerging market can surpass one of Silicon Valley’s most coveted-still-private babies without the support of it’s wider ecosystem, so Careem along.