Everyone knows the classic tale of the startup: find a marketplace opportunity, come up with a novel solution or product, shape the business offering, get funded, and (hopefully) succeed. But what if that startup idea is so simple, it seems too good to be true? Often, the best ideas for a business are straightforward and obvious. So simple, in fact, that the assumption is, “Surely this already exists?”
For serial entrepreneur and startup founder Pali Banwait, the secret to his success turned out to be: never assume. Rather, look for evidence and do the appropriate research. The British entrepreneur, who already had one startup under his belt in the UK, spotted the proverbial gap when he and his wife decided to make the move to the UAE for a better quality of life, year-round sun and increased access to capital.
“As entrepreneurs, we [co-founder Anas Ibrahim and he] started thinking about business opportunities. My business partner was on a flight back to Dubai and he read an article in the in-flight magazine that compared Amazon with Noon [Saudi-founded online marketplace] and a light bulb went off in his head and we just thought that there seems to be so much growth in B2C e-commerce, but what about B2B e-commerce – like a more agile Alibaba?
“And we thought, ‘Surely someone has already done something like that, there must be plenty of places to make bulk purchases.’ But that evening I got on my laptop and kept digging and digging and there didn’t seem to be any players on the market.”
Marketplace opportunities with legs
As part of his research, Banwait went to several different emirates, walked the byways of the souks, spoke to traders at street level and businesspeople at C-level, Facetiming with more than 200 businesspeople – and he found the same thing over and over: traders and B2B businesses were not moving at the same pace toward digitalisation in the region as the B2C market is.
Fast forward a year later and WeMENA, the online portal Banwait and his co-founders created to plug that B2B marketplace hole, is doing a roaring trade, connecting SMEs and traders with marketplaces, new products and suppliers that they’d otherwise struggle to find themselves.
Through WeMENA (available on the web or as an app via the Play store or Apple stores), suppliers meet more traders and vice versa, lowering the cost of products and ultimately, boosting the economy from the bottom up.
The real game-changer for the wholesale website and its founders, says Banwait, was his startup being chosen to join Hub71, Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem, which connects startups with accelerators such as Techstars and Gothams, investors, as well as helping to reduce business costs and facilitating collaboration with its strategic partners such as Mastercard, Abu Dhabi Investment Office and Microsoft.
“When it came time to register our company, we were in Dubai at the time, but we thought a connection with Abu Dhabi would be really beneficial because it’s so business friendly,” Banwait explains, “so when we registered the company with Abu Dhabi Global Market, we heard about Hub71 and some of their success stories, so we thought let’s throw our hat in the ring – and we got accepted in the last batch this past September.
He continues: “With Covid-19, we haven’t yet been able to fully take advantage of everything Hub71 and the physical space has to offer, but the PR benefits and the boost to brand awareness through them is just great. It’s already helped with investor interest and angel investors getting in touch, wanting to quiz us on the business and start having talks. It’s really helped with credibility in the region and people taking WeMENA more seriously – even vendors and suppliers. It’s been great.”
Hub71 is now accepting applications from startups worldwide. Head to https://www.hub71.com/application to see if you qualify for the Hub71 Incentive Program.