There are three billion people globally with no listed address, says tech entrepreneur Idriss Al Rifai. When you’re trying to receive a package, that can be a problem.
The issue is particularly acute in the UAE, but Al Rifai, Dubai-based CEO of Fetchr, thinks his company have hit on a solution – and it’s in your pocket.
Fetchr is a GPS-based delivery service utilizing your smartphone’s – sometimes unnerving – ability to track your every move. In theory that means you can have an item delivered directly to you, wherever you are.
The company has already been called “the next desert unicorn” by Forbes, implying the Middle Eastern startup is potentially worth $1 billion or more. Investors clearly agree. In May the company announced $41 million in Series B financing – “the biggest … in the history of the Middle East” claims Al Rifai – with money coming from both the region and Silicon Valley.
Fetchr’s concept has proved so successful because, despite Dubai’s rapid development, formalized postal addresses are not as extensive as you’d imagine.
“In the United States and in Europe you’re used to having a mailbox,” says Al Rifai. “There are no mailboxes here. There are no mailmen.”
The usual delivery process sounded painful, suggests Fetchr co-founder and creative director Joy Ajlouny. “You get a phone call and you have somebody, usually with a language barrier, asking ‘Where do you live?’ And you literally say ‘Make a left at the grocery store, make a right at this statue.’”
GPS circumvents this problem. It’s a solution well suited to the region: according to one report from April, the UAE has the highest level of smartphone penetration in the world.
Like Uber, the app integrates with Google Maps and uses an algorithm to match couriers with pick up and drop off points. The basic service asks users to choose a time slot, with the option to deposit a package with a receptionist or in a safe space. On top of that, the company’s new initiative Fetchr Now will pick up your package in under 45 minutes and deliver immediately.
In keeping with a regional trend, the company offers “cash on delivery,” still the preferred payment method for e-commerce in the UAE, the company claims.
Fetchr was born in 2012, when Al Rifai and Ajlouny met in California. They started developing the software in Dubai with three employees and two desks.
“We started off with five packages,” Ajlouny recalls. “It’s those moments that you really have to cherish and remember… we’re always humbled by where we started.”
Fetchr’s personnel has since swelled to 1,500, growing by 100% in the last four months alone. The company’s plan is to work towards ubiquity.
“In this region of the world, everything is about luxury,” says Ajlouny, “triple diamond and gold and platinum and exclusivity. We wanted to bring a little taste of Silicon Valley, which is accessibility.
“We wanted to be the brand that everybody could relate to.”
Fetchr currently operates in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, but they’re looking beyond the region. Al Rifai refers to Africa, where Nigerian company Africa Courier Express is already operating in Lagos and Abuja with a similar mobile-based model.
“If you look at most of the e-commerce companies now in the Middle East and Africa, it’s 80% mobile, which is higher than what you have in the US or in Europe,” he explains. “They are leap-frogging into technology.”
Ajlouny admits that beyond tech evangelicals, there might be more work to convince others to jump on board. “Changing behavior is a process,” she says, “it’s not going to happen overnight.”
“We feel like we’re only scratching the surface,” says Al Rifai of Fetchr’s $41 million injection. “We could go maybe 50 times bigger than we are today… We just achieve(d) 2%. Are you happy that you achieved 2%? No, we’re not.”
“We’re more humbled,” adds Ajlouny. “Are we excited? Yes.”