It seems like a new ecommerce site pops up every day, especially here in the Middle East. So every month we’ll be profiling one exciting company, interviewing them and sharing their story with you on the Payfort blog.
Our first subject is El Wafeyat, an Egyptian company that allows users to read and post obituaries online and offer their condolences. They were recently accepted by 500 Startups in the US which gave them access to a huge network of advisors, not to mention USD 100,000 in cash.
We caught up with co-founders Nesma El-Far, Omar Hamdalla and Yousef ElSammaa while they were in the US with 500 Startups.
What inspired you to start El Wafeyat?
Yousef: A year and a half ago my friend’s uncle passed away. He and I then worked together to organize traditional tasks like the burial and posting an obituary in a newspaper.
It was incredibly difficult to do, and cost almost USD 5,000. There had to be a better way, especially with the growth of the internet in the region.
El Wafeyat site allows users to post obituaries for a fraction of the cost of a newspaper ad. Those obituaries are hosted on our site and then sent to 8,500 subscribers who read them every day.
Slowly, we are changing user behavior and taking this part of the mourning process online.
How did you secure investment?
Nesma: We met investors at events that connected entrepreneurs and investors. Cairo Angels holds these events twice a year, so we went along and pitched to them. They loved our idea and we soon moved into formal talks.
It was at another similar event that we met 500 Startups, and the rest is history.
Omar: Investors saw that we were approaching a common problem with a new solution. That was the key to our success in raising money.
How have you marketed El Wafeyat? What channels have proven successful?
Nesma: We experimented with traditional marketing, flyers and newspaper inserts, but we found it very expensive and impossible to track. So we’ve abandoned that and now focus entirely on online marketing.
PPC and SEO might be effective for some companies, but no one searches for businesses like ours so there wasn’t search volume for our ads or landing pages. Facebook ads and partnerships on the other hand have worked very well, and that’s been the main driver of growth.
Omar: We’ve also had a lot of success with refer a friend schemes. These were simple and had a high level of engagement.
What do you think will limit growth in the Arab World?
Yousef: Payments is obviously an enormous problem. People are risk averse and don’t like making online payments – we can’t implement cash on delivery with our product so this is our largest concern about the market.
Nesma: Funding is the other major issue. There is plenty of seed money to help you get off the ground, but then there is a gap in bridging funding as you move towards Series A.
It’s very hard to find investors who will put up a large amount of money, and for that reason we see many startups fail.
And what do you think will drive growth?
Yousef: In the US it seems like every single market need has been fulfilled. There’s an app or a website for everything.
But in our region there is still so much to do, and so much to accomplish. There is a demand for people like us to create new products that solve problems.
There’s a lot of room to innovate, grow and succeed.