Startups from Arabnet 2012: Souqalmal.com

souqalmal logo

souqalmal logoDid you know that there are over 50 banks in the UAE? I was surprised to find that out myself during a conversation I had with Ambareen Musa founder and CEO of Souqalmal. It is actually one of the main reasons why she started her startup over a year and half ago.

Ambareen is a very ambitious and intense mother of a 10 month old,  she’s not entirely new to the startup scene according to her she comes from a family of entrepreneurs.  Also at age 21 she started an online business called Rentfast that showcased rental apartments in Australia for students, it was eventually sold but she didn’t disclose the amount only stating “it was negligible – I was young at the time.”

Things have changed since then, now she has years of experience under her belt working for big names in the past such as GE Money in the UK, Bain & Company, Mastercard in Dubai as well as an MBA from Insead.

As an expat in the UAE Ambareen had a difficult time trying to figure out which credit card or bank to deal with when she first came, “When I tried to get a credit card it was a nightmare, I felt pressured by the salesman and wasn’t sure how much of what he was saying was true” she explained.

So Ambareen took it on herself to develop an unbiased platform that is looking to create a community that helps each other out, and that is why souqalmal was essentially born. Souqalmal intends to provide all the information people require about financial products in the UAE. It does not provide the products just compares them “We need to make sure that we can speak to the consumer. What would I need to get a mortgage? Or what things I need to know – making sure the customer gets the correct information. Because changing a credit card or a mortgage is very difficult once you have one.” stated Ambareen. Adding that she is hoping that this will “create a big push towards transparency in the UAE and the region, which is lacking in the banking industry here.”

Thanks to the 50+ banks in the UAE there are over 500 products “which is why the opportunity is great here, how on earth would you be able to choose from all those products?” said Ambareen very enthusiastically. Souqalmal now covers 90 – 95% of financial products in the UAE including 150 Credit cards online “We target your search to give you what you want” Stated the founder. Ambareen also spoke of her plans to expand onto neighboring countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia along with a new interface within the coming 6 weeks, she is looking to introduce new features that will be based on rich content including consumer ratings, feedback and looking to highlight the most reviewed products on the new website. She is also keen on adding a calculator that will allow consumers to do the math before applying for any specific product.

Things have been quickly progressing since the beta version of the website was launched on 12 June 2011, especially after the Arabnet Digital Summit 2012 “Arabnet gave us a lot of exposure – huge to investors and clients, it validated the company and gave it a stamp of approval”. Even banks have been showing their interest lately, they see the value added from the platform in terms of gathering consumer feedback and having access to a niche market.

Ambareen managed to keep the website up and running by personally funding it for six months however she is currently in talks with investors and is hopeful of getting funding and moving along with her expansion plans as soon as possible. She wouldn’t say the amount she was looking for but said that it would be for growing the team and investing in raising awareness and development.

So how does Souqalmal make money? As mentioned the vision is to create an unbiased platform and that is achieved by their revenue generation model. Souqalmal only gets paid when the user clicks to find out more information and is re-directed to the bank’s website. (Obviously they are not sent to the bank’s homepage, the users are directed to a specific page about the product). Which is good for consumers because it eliminates the feeling of being pressured from the salesman looking to get his commission.

“To open a business is incredibly simple, it took me two hours to setup a company, there’s a big community for entrepreneurs – Opportunity is mind blowing” Ambareen Musa.

Moving on we discussed what challenges she faced during the whole process of starting her company, and if she faced any issues specifically because she was a woman in a male dominant field. To my surprise her biggest challenge was finding a developer (which is not really what I imagined), everything else was relatively easy according to her. “Challenge was not being about woman, in the online tech world it was difficult for me to figure out who to pay for development or designs. Also communications was difficult because I don’t speak Arabic.” She explained further “Contrary to popular belief it was actually easier for me, people respect strong women in Dubai, our lives here are much easier than elsewhere. Especially in Dubai a large number of entrepreneurs are Women.” I happen to agree with the last part because I work with a lot of new startups in Dubai and the majority of them are founded and managed by determined woman, so something is definitely going on here.

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Having worked with top digital agencies in the MENA region for the past several of years I'm now looking now to venture on my own with small side projects in online, social and mobile. Things I like include: gaming, sports, technology, social media, start ups, funny things and reading about new bright ideas.