“Don’t settle for good when you can get the best” is the mantra of Chirenj Chandran and Anser Abdul Latheef, two UAE-based expatriates who aim to change the car ownership experience for consumers in the UAE and the broader Middle East and North Africa region – one car service at a time.
Both Mr Chandran and Mr Latheef have a wealth of experience in the automotive industry. Mr Chandran led his family’s 40-year-old chain of automotive garages before he met Mr Latheef, who at the time was managing automotive parts distribution across the GCC for his family's business of 35 years.
The duo knew the car servicing industry inside out and shared the conviction that the fragmented nature of car ownership and maintenance in the UAE had to change.
Buying a car in this country is easy but maintaining it on a regular basis is a whole different story, according to the business partners.
Once a car is bought, motorists have to spend considerable time and money to find a decent mechanic to carry out repairs. Tyres or wheel alignment-related problems mean customers have to visit other servicing centres dealing only with those issues.
In addition, car owners still have to find a service station to get their cars washed just to get rid of all the unwanted grease and grime accumulated during repairs.
“Frankly, I found it ridiculous,” Mr Chandran says. “As a car garage owner, I never saw any customer walking into my garage smiling.”
The duo met in December 2018 and within two months had laid out a blueprint. Following that, MySyara was registered as a commercial entity and the platform went live in May 2019. However, the partners continued to develop the technology powering the app and changed its interface four times within the first year of operations.
“We were launching a car ownership app, it was for car-savvy people, tech lovers, who wanted the right user experience [when using the app],” Mr Chandran, who is also chief executive of MySyara, says.
Currently, MySyara provides services including doorstep mechanics, periodical maintenance, car detailing, emergency repairs, window tinting and eco-friendly waterless carwash services. Once car owners book a service through the platform, all they have to do is to handover the keys of the vehicle as free pick-ups and drop-offs are part of the package. Servicing is done at MySyara's partner garages that maintain major car dealership-level of service quality, says Mr Latheef, MySyara's chief strategy officer.
The start-up's target customer base includes car owners whose vehicles have clocked more than 65,000 kilometres and who do not have dealership service contracts and struggle to find easy, cost-effective and reliable car servicing options in the country.
“What we are selling is not price, we are selling peace of mind. This is the confidence we invoke,” Mr Chandran says.
The idea has caught on and MySyara's revenue has jumped five times in the first half of this year, Mr Latheef says, adding “we have very comfortable metrics now”.
The co-founders pooled together $300,000 from their own pockets to start the business and raised about $650,000 in seed funding at the end of last year.
MySyara is comfortable today with the capital it has to maintain its growth as existing investors added another $400,000 to the company’s coffers in August, pushing the total amount raised so far to $1.1 million, Mr Latheef says.
But securing funds hasn't been easy for the start-up, the founders say.
“The first pitch we ever did was the worst pitch of our lives,” Mr Chandran says.
Those days are behind them and they now have enough experience as well as a proven business model to take to the investors.
High-net-worth individual investors from the GCC have largely backed the funding MySyara has received so far. The company is now looking to broaden its investor pool and is in talks with large institutions and venture capital companies for a Series A growth financing round of between $5m to $10m.
“We are currently comfortable but we are looking for more funds, Mr Latheef says. “The latest round [in August] was a bridge to the Series-A [funding].”
A large chunk of the funds raised so far will be dedicated to further strengthening MySyara’s research and development, which is all done in-house at the company's headquarters in Dubai. Another part of financing is going to the company’s expansion in India as the “market there opens up after Covid-19”, Mr Latheef says.
However, expansion in the Mena region, including markets in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar, is a priority.
The regional expansion will start with Saudi Arabia, the biggest Arab economy, in the fourth quarter of this year, the partners say.
“There are micro trends that are also supporting” the move to Saudi Arabia as car ownership is “even more fragmented there [than the UAE]”, Mr Chandran says.
“India is the fourth-largest [automotive] market [globally] so scale wise, it will be our biggest market. However, in the region, ticket-size wise, we will be spending a lot in Saudi Arabia,” Mr Latheef adds.
Last month, the automotive start-up also acquired a major car parts distributor in the UAE for $2.6m as it looks to integrate supply chain solutions with its servicing operations. The venture has launched MySyara Supply, which aims to speed up delivery of automotive parts to garages that usually struggle to get required inventory to finish repairs on time.
The move also sets foundations for the venture to expand into parts for electric and hybrid vehicles as their numbers in the region rise steadily, the founders say.
Q&A with Anser Abdul Latheef, co-founder and chief strategy officer at MySyara
Who is your role model?
There are a lot of role models around us ... but one of my more famous role models is Alibaba's Jack Ma. One thing that he said during an interview always stuck with me. He said to make sure that your team is within 15 minutes from your office, so that they are happy when they get in and happier when they leave.
The other person is Tony Hsieh, former chief executive of online shoe and clothing company Zappos, whose book Delivering Happiness is best read by anyone starting their entrepreneurship journey.
What was the biggest lesson you have learnt in launching this venture?
For us, I guess it was to be mindful of how to spend the money and how we build a team. Very often, the pressure to succeed hampers the ability to get feedback. We had to continuously adjust our mindset to keep accepting smarter ideas in the room. The other thing that we have learned is that there shouldn’t be a personal bias in a business plan: every strategy can be redrawn from the scratch. I think our obsession about being self-aware and having a growth mindset has really helped us as founders.
If you had a chance to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, not a lot of things. It has been an amazing run so far and I can't complain about much. That said, we like to follow the motto of "fail fast and learn faster". The one thing we might consider doing differently is building our application and technology platform for a much longer period and make it better suited to the market in the very beginning.
What is your next big dream?
To launch something in the FinTech space, where we can democratise and provide ease of access to credit for small and micro businesses. Chirenj and I are two entrepreneurs from a second generation of family businesses struggling with the very same problem. We need more entrepreneurs to create more jobs and for that we need more equitable distribution of capital for smart ideas and good execution.
How has the pandemic impacted your business?
It was positive. We were worried in April last year when Covid-19 lockdowns came into effect. Keep in mind, we were bootstrapped all the way to December last year and had no access to external credit. However, when Covid-19 struck, it provided us with a platform to test our resilience. We managed to huddle around as a team and went through this entire journey as a challenge ... we doubled our revenue in May last year after the lockdowns eased. Of course, the e-commerce adoption among consumers across all industries and even towards something as traditional as car services helped. This trend has aided in massive growth for us month-on-month since the pandemic.
Where do you see the company in the next five years?
We see MySyara as the best company to work for in the region in the next five years. We want to make car ownership as easy for consumers as possible. With better use of capital, we want to help establish more entrepreneurs within the MySyara ecosystem. We also see ourselves expanding to different regions such as the Middle East, Africa and many parts of South-East Asia.
Company name: MySyara
Founder: Anser Abdul Latheef, Chirenj Chandran
Countries of operations: The UAE and India
Sector: AutoTech, retail
Initial investment: $650,000
Investment so far: $1.1m
Funding stage: Series-A, looking to raise up to $10m
Investors: Angel investors, high net-worth individuals