Generation start-up: Cafu sets out to transform the region's fuel delivery service

With a decade spent in the oil and gas industry, entrepreneur Rashid Al Ghurair wants to innovate the energy sector


Cafu Chief Executive Rashid Al Ghurair.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Section:  BZ

Rashid Al Ghurair has been an "oil and gas man" for 12 years but he loves everything to do with technology as well.

The entrepreneur, who comes from one of the most prominent business families of Dubai, has set out to transform the sector, with his Dh100 million start-up.

Sitting and waiting in long queues at petrol stations to get your car filled will be a thing of the past if Cafu, the fuel-booking start-up, achieves the kind of success Mr Al Ghurair expects it will.

It is a solution for big businesses looking to minimise opportunity cost and people who value their time, he says.

“It is a sector I’m very aware of and understand inside out,” says Mr Al Ghurair.

“I actually enjoy anything to do with technology because I believe it is the way to go into the future.”

Cafu is the region’s first fuel-booking application aimed at making refuelling cars more convenient, reliable and accessible process.

Clients can order the delivery of Super 98 and Special 95, the two grades of fuel available at local petrol stations.

The app provides both petrol and diesel delivery for all types of vehicles to its corporate clients, no matter what the size of their fleet. The delivery premium for a person and businesses varies, depending on the nature of contract, Mr Al Ghurair says.

In 2017, Mr Al Ghurair was looking at FinTech taking over the financial industry by storm, and he thought: “Why haven’t people looked at innovating the energy sector?”

He started conceptualising Cafu December that year and 11 months later, the start-up was launched.

The idea of Cafu was not alien to him and it seemed a logical step forward from what he had been doing in the energy sector for so many years. Of course, this time with a twist of technology.

An investment of Dh100m, 80 trucks and 200 pilots later, Cafu is in full swing, he says.

On an average, people spend up to 30 minutes during peak hours, waiting for their turn to get the cars filled up, according to statistics provided by Cafu.

Imagine the cost of opportunity and loss of productive time for one of Cafu’s client who has a fleet of 2,000 vehicles, Mr Al Ghurair says.

A graduate of Suffolk University in Boston, Mr Al Ghurair is the founder and chief executive of Mena Energy, a privately-owned energy trading and shipping house that has expanded rapidly since its launch in 2009 in Dubai.

However, Cafu is the main preoccupation for Mr Al Ghurair, who wants to transform the fuel delivery system for consumers and corporations.

“This is a business that has been done in the same way for the last 100 years and we are going after changing the model of the fuel station,” he says.

On the consumer side, Cafu’s target segment is the middle-aged population, which is time-conscious and more open to change. The uptake of the Cafu app among consumers has been “exponential”, one-third of clients are businesses and response to Cafu services in that segment has also been excellent.

Mr Al Ghurair declined to give a number for the customers it services.

“Businesses value their time much differently than a single consumer would do, and our teams approach new companies every day. There are companies that are approaching us and inquiring how Cafu can help them,” he says.

The start-up, which is sourcing its fuel supply from one of the national oil companies in the UAE, is based in Dubai and has expanded to the emirates of Ajman and Sharjah.

Cafu has plans to set up more operations in other parts of the country. With also an ambition to reach further afield, Mr Al Ghurair next wants to expand to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman by 2020 or 2021.

The start-up is completely self-funded and Mr Al Ghurair plans to continue financing it for the next two years.

“We expect by that time the whole service will be much more stabilised, the concept will be accepted and stable, and after that we will look at different options of funding,” he says.

He is yet to set financial targets for Cafu and says to be break-even is not a priority at the moment. "Our target is to introduce the service to the people, and obviously, scaling up into other territories is a way of introducing it," he says.

Mr Al Ghurair plans to add more services to the fuel-booking platform and wants his start-up to morph into the next level of technology when use of electric vehicles gains traction in the regional markets.

“Being an oil and gas man, I study the latest reports on car fuels. By 2040, most studies estimate that electric vehicles will be taking 40 per cent of the total cars globally, and that is something we are looking at very keenly,” he says.

The adoption rate of electric vehicles in the Arabian Gulf, however, has not been great and when “the market moves in that direction we will have to innovate Cafu service to charge electric vehicles”, says Mr Al Ghurair.