American polymath Benjamin Franklin once said: “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”
For Shraddha Barot and Ayshwarya Chari, this became their inspiration to start 1115Inc, a Dubai-based start-up that provides consultancy services to small- and medium-sized businesses.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which upended many businesses and shook the global economy, proved an opportunity for the two to establish their venture.
“The pandemic was the ideal time for us to launch 1115Inc … and thankfully, ever since the launch, we have been busy working at almost peak capacity, validating our assessment of the huge market potential for our business model,” Ms Barot says.
Founded in October 2020, 1115Inc offers services such as market research, technology consultancy, project management, branding, and funding and investment advice to family offices and small- and medium-sized enterprises.
The start-up is flexible and allows clients to outsource services at an hourly basis or can sign a yearly retainer contract.
“1115Inc was a business born during the pandemic, driven by the needs of the pandemic,” Ms Chari says.
“We realised SMEs often do not have the access to the kind of consulting expertise provided by the bigger firms.
"So, we decided to combine our skill sets in e-commerce and marketing to offer an affordable, end-to-end service starting from the digital business strategy all the way to managing the technology, setting operational processes and supporting with marketing.”
The consulting services industry has been registering strong growth as the economies reopen and companies chart their post-pandemic strategy.
The GCC consulting market recorded its fastest growth in seven years in 2021, rising almost 18 per cent to exceed $3 billion for the first time on the back of economic transformation efforts in the region, according to a recent report by Source Global Research.
Saudi Arabia’s consulting market — the largest in the GCC — grew faster than the overall market in 2021, rising almost 19 per cent to $1.8bn. Meanwhile, the UAE's consulting market grew 17 per cent to $736 million, according to the report's findings.
Clients usually come to 1115Inc with a seed idea or after they have already launched their digital business. They would then need the support of an experienced team to scale or manage projects.
The start-up does a technology audit and then takes over. In some cases, clients already have existing physical business but might wish to take operations online.
“We are producing solutions for recurring challenges in the e-commerce and digital business space that many SMEs and home-grown family businesses struggle to resolve,” Ms Barot says.
“Many of our clients have come to us in a dire situation where they have already invested a lot of capital in hiring the wrong tech teams, but we managed to find a way to make sure they got at least a MVP [minimum viable product] business out of that investment and move on to hiring more efficient teams.”
1115Inc currently serves more than 20 regional clients across the industries since its inception. Their clients come from various industries such as fast-moving consumer goods, pharmaceuticals/MedTech, luxury, beauty, fashion, furniture, and baby and child products.
“Our clients hire us to manage their internal or outsourced tech teams, scout for suitable development companies or let us handle it from scratch … we are very flexible and intentionally SME friendly, to ensure our clients don’t have to go through the challenges we have been through in our initial days,” Ms Chari says.
The founders met in 2019 through the Female Fusion network — one of the largest networking platforms for professional women. At that time, Ms Barot was looking to hire an e-commerce consultant, but her plans were shelved due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, we felt we have great synergies with both our backgrounds in technology, e-commerce, branding and marketing … [and] decided to start 1115Inc with an intention to bridge the gap by functioning as virtual CTOs [chief technology officers] and CMOs [chief marketing officers] for e-businesses in the region,” Ms Barot says.
Talking about the industry pain-points that they are solving, the founders say they have seen clients being sold the wrong technology platform or that the tech team they hired were not as skilled as they pretended to be, leading to a loss in time, money and opportunity.
“We noticed that the world of e-commerce or anything technology is daunting. Generally, the global brands avoid these expensive mistakes as they have access to large consulting firms who act as project managers … however, there is no one advising the SMEs or family offices on their journey to digitisation,” Ms Chari adds.
1115Inc plans to become one of the top Dubai consultancies helping global businesses, its founders say. However, it is not open for an exit at the moment.
“As per our company goals, we haven’t thought of an exit strategy yet … we feel winning big customers and financing only raises the bar … now, we are only focused on execution and not on an exit. We don’t let [the] outsize ambition get in the way of a great outcome,” says Ms Barot.
“We see a lot potential and there is no intention to exit. We are here for a long inning and want the world to identify us as a ‘made in the UAE’ consultancy serving global clients,” Ms Chari says.
The founders plan to expand operations in the coming years and aim to establish an office in India to manage their day-to-day client operations in terms of technical or any other marketing support they would require.
“As we speak, big plans are already on move. 1115Inc is getting a lot of inquiries from regional businesses and we are looking towards expanding our operations across the GCC region by the end of this year,” says Ms Barot.
The self-funded 1115Inc, which has been profitable since its start, will not be raising funds for now. The founders pooled $100,000 to start the business.
“We are totally self-funded and started the business with our personal savings and thanks to securing big projects even before the company formation papers were in process,” Ms Chari says.
“Our start-up capital has been close to Dh1 million ($272,257) through which we also invested in a branding division under 1115Inc and also planning to set up our investment academy.”
“We are profitable from day one … we keep our expenses conservative and aim to grow organically without debts or external loans,” says Ms Barot.
The company’s investment priorities include developing core technology and marketing strategies.
“Our priority is a decent amount of valuable investment with profitable returns,” she adds.
“We are not looking to raise funds from outside … to manage expenses, we have set aside a percentage from every retainer for the company’s capital and growth to use in the near future.”
Q&A with Shraddha Barot and Ayshwarya Chari, 1115Inc’s co-founders
Who is your role model?
Ms Barot: My dad and my husband … they both started with nothing and really built themselves with zero resources. Also, my mum who studied in a non-English school and later became an English teacher. Even during her most tough moment, she continues to have compassion and sympathy.
Ms Chari: My parents are my biggest role models. From my dad, who was a judge, I learnt ethics and how to do the right thing. My mother is the personification of grit and determination for me. Getting her law degree after she had two small kids and then going on to practice law in a boys club and growing to become a judge, I have never had to look outside of home for inspiration.
Why did you choose the name 1115Inc?
Ms Barot: It sums to number eight which stands for infinity and infinite possibilities of online business. We both are numbers driven … and this really appealed to us.
What is your vision for the company?
Ms Chari: We both aim to take 1115Inc to new heights in terms of a company valuation. We hope to be one of the leading e-commerce consultancies in the region and to operate globally very soon.
What successful start-ups do you wish you could have started and why?
Ms Barot and Ms Chari: FinTech is very close to our hearts so we would say Tabby, Spotti … while we love the unicorn stories, we are partial to the everyday start-ups that are changing lives.
What new skills have you learnt in the process of launching your start-up?
Ms Barot: In any business, agility is everything. Our clients’ requirements change overnight as their business evolves or a crisis can occur so it’s important to remain flexible and adapting quickly to the business requirements.
How has Covid-19 affected your business?
Ms Barot: In the post-Covid world, there is a definite shift in mindsets towards online business. The contagion drove home the fact to business owners that having an online presence isn't optional anymore. Now, it’s essential. This is a key factor that has spurred investments by the smaller investors into the sector accelerating its adoption.
What is your mantra for success?
Ms Barot and Ms Chari: We value ethics, integrity and reputation over profits. We believe expertise means nothing if it can’t be transferred.
Are you a risk-taker or a cautious entrepreneur?
Ms Chari: We both are cautious entrepreneurs. We evaluate the market condition and business sentiment before taking any major decision.
Are you on a hiring spree?
Ms Barot: As a company, we are proudly an all-female leadership team and hire women regardless of their personal journeys. Our recent hire is a new mother who has just returned to work after a few years of maternity break.
Company name: 1115Inc
Started: October 2020
Founders: Shraddha Barot and Ayshwarya Chari
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: technology, consulting
Investors: self-funded $100,000