We recently caught up with Muhammad Chbib, co-founder and CEO of Tajawal, for our latest Entrepreneur of the Month post. Muhammad is an internationally experienced manager, who served several successful startup organizations in Europe and the MENA since the late 1990’s and joined McKinsey & Company in 2004 where he worked on large-scale transformation projects with Fortune 500 companies in Europe and the Middle East. In 2011 he moved to Dubai to take the entrepreneurial plunge with Sukar.com which he exited successfully to souq.com in 2012.
Muhammad Chbib is the Head of Al Tayyar Group’s Online Business Unit and the Founder & CEO of tajawal, Al Tayyar Group’s technology lab in the online travel space.
Muhammad is German of Syrian descent with a passion for entrepreneurship. Proud father and husband with a passion for entrepreneurship and coaching young aspiring leaders. A passionate and energetic individual who is fluent in Arabic, German, English and French.
Check out the full interview below to learn what inspired him to start a locally focused travel service and how they leveraged their knowledge of the market to succeed.
What was the inspiration for Tajawal?
The Middle East is home to the best airlines in the world and travelling to near and far away destinations is an essential part of the lifestyle for people from the region and those residing here. So we thought, how come there is no locally developed online travel agency to cater to the discerning needs of these people? We were inspired by a lack of relevant local offerings and took it upon us to fill that gap with a product that is not only on par with its international competitors, but goes beyond with tailor-made offers and dedicated products.
What problem are you solving?
We understand our customers and their needs: from family-friendly destinations that offer halal cuisine, to private beaches and villas for our privacy-conscious travellers, we aim to be more than just a flight and hotel comparison website, but a travel partner for the Middle East. We know that security is a major concern for travellers in this part of the world, so we incorporated travel insurance and state-of-the-art payment options into our website offering. We know our travellers and their preferred destinations, travel seasons etc. and we cater to those with offers and promotions to make their travel not only convenient but also affordable.
How does it work?
Tajawal was built as the answer to all your travel requirements, presenting users with a convenient booking experience for thousands of flight connections and more than 1 million hotels all around the world. We know how to make travel exciting and accessible, offering price comparisons, discounts and special deals for your trips to near and far away destinations. Enter your departure and destination airport as well as your travel dates and voila, we present you with a price comparison filtered from thousands of connections. Looking for a hotel? Simply enter your destination and travel dates and get the best hotel deals presented to you. The whole booking process takes all of a few minutes, especially if you are a registered Tajawal user. Both our website and app were designed with ease of use in mind, to offer our users the most convenient way to book their next trip, and hopefully all the ones to follow.
What is your target market?
Currently, our main target market is the MENA region, with a focus on the GCC; however, since we offer flights all over the world and hotels in any possible destination, we are not limited to the region, we just have a special fondness for it. We do tailor our offering to every individual country of operation though, making sure countries like KSA and UAE are each individually presented with relevant offers. The tajawal customer itself could be anyone from a Saudi family man, booking a trip for himself and his kids, to a European expat in Dubai, looking to book his summer vacation. Our target audience is diverse, but there is one thing they all have in common – travel is an integral part of their lifestyle.
What differentiates you from other competitors in the region?
Tajawal can easily take on international competitors in terms of technology and user experience / product offering. In fact, we have some cutting-edge technology no one else can present.
We see ourselves as a technology company that could easily be residing in Silicon Valley, London, or Berlin and compete successfully on the highest levels. And we are very proud that we finally have brought “world class tech” to the MENA region.
How much time did it take you from conceptualization of ‘your venture’ to actually launching it in the market?
The initial discussions on the Al Tayyar Group level started in March/April 2015. The decision to kick-start the project was taken towards end of April 2015. We have started working on the technology in August 2015 and went live with the platform’s beta version in early December 2015. Since then, the website and its mobile version, as well as the app have gone through a number of updates, to make sure we keep improving our product. Integrating customer feedback, as well as new offerings such as travel insurance, we are constantly working on the best version of tajawal.
Are there any obstacles that are impacting Tajawal?
We are impacted by travel trends, the overall economy, typical start-up ailments and of course, political and natural developments in certain destinations. Every company faces obstacles and tajawal is no different. We try and overcome any obstacle in our way with strategic thinking and planning as far ahead as possible. In fact, we really enjoy addressing issues our consumers face in order to make their travel lives easier.
What role has social media played in growing your business?
Social media has become a standard communication channel for any Marketing department. It is a crucial part of our business, especially since we are in the travel industry. Travelling is a way of life and to most people, connected to excitement, unique experiences and memories. Therefore, travel is emotional. No better way to connect with our target audience on an emotional level than social media. We utilize our social media profiles to engage with our travellers, finding out customer insights along the way, all the while promoting our services and product offering. Social media has always been and will most probably continue to grow as a key area of focus when it comes to growing our business.
What sort of support and feedback are you looking for from the community?
Any feedback is good. Whether it is about our products, our level of service or the usability of our website. Any insight we can get of how users are interacting with us and how they feel about their experience is invaluable knowledge we can use to make tajawal even better.
What advice would you give to new start-ups in the region?
Find your niche and build on it. Develop something that has a uniqueness factor, something that is better than anything you have seen in the region so far. Even if budgets are limited, spend on people. The right talent can make or break your business, so make sure you find a few gems that will carry your business from idea to success story.
Interested in learning more about Tajawal? Or maybe have a particular question for Muhammad? Make sure you leave a comment below or even better reach out to Muhammad on LinkedIn. And if you’re looking for more great entrepreneur stories be sure to check out another interesting one here.