We are well into February so that must mean it’s time to profile another entrepreneur from the Arab World. This time we’ve headed to the Kingdom to chat to Hussein Attar the CEO of Sawerly.
Our conversation revolved around raising money and how to succeed in the Saudi market.
What inspired you to start Sawerly?
The company came out of the Startup Weekend in Jeddah where my co-founder Mohammed pitched the idea of a photography search engine. My own idea never left the initial stages so we joined up to complete the competition. Ultimately, we didn’t win but received a great deal of positive feedback that convinced us to spend more time on the project and eventually join Flat6Labs.
Finding a photographer is a huge problem in KSA and people tend to rely on referrals. We also noticed a lot of people searching for photographers and videographers on forums and eventually getting frustrated and giving up. To address this we developed a bidding system where users can post their requirements and photographers and videographers can pitch for the project. We now have over 500 photographers and have booked over 300 photos shoots.
We are only in Saudi now but we hope to open up into new markets. As we do so we’ll look for specific problems that we can solve. For instance, in KSA there is a big demand for photos with local models and we’re investigating providing a stock photo service.
How did you secure investment for Sawerly?
Our strategy was to attend as many startup competitions and events as possible because even if you don’t win they are great for networking. We went to Arabnet, the MENA Angels Investors Conference, the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Region Competition, the Summit Congress in Turkey and Get in the Ring.
We eventually struck up a relationship with QB.co who we met at an Oqal event. They were the kind of investors we were looking for and gave us the right kind of technical support.
What advice would you give to startups following this route?
If you are going to attend events like Oqal and SIRB you need to have an MVP (minimum viable product) and be able to answer some tough questions with real numbers.
If you can’t come up with well-structured answers you should wait until you can before attending.
What are the keys to succeeding in Saudi Arabia?
If you are trying to start a tech company the first thing is to get a team and a co-founder that will really help you and where each one will fill the others weaknesses.
You also need to recognize that not everything that works in other countries works in Saudi. Some people look at a US company and want to do an Arabic version – they assume that Saudi customers are the same as the ones in America, which is of course not the case.
Testing is crucial, otherwise you might invest in a product and find out no one is going to use it.
What do you think will affect the growth of ecommerce in Saudi Arabia?
We face some major challenges. Payment is always a problem and cash on delivery creates many risks and I wish people would choose to pay in a more trustworthy way. We also don’t have proper mailing addresses here so it can be very expensive to ship a product.
But there are some very positive developments. Instagram is giving companies the chance to promote new products that people are sharing and buying. We are also seeing the growth of a community of ecommerce companies that will help support growth in the future.
Check out Sawerly and be sure follow @HusseinAttar. And if you have any questions hit him up on Twitter or in the comments below! Also be sure to check out past Entrepreneurs of the Month featuring Nabbesh from the UAE and El Wafeyat from Egypt.