In urban slang, the word “homie” refers to a person’s best friend – somebody they know they can always count on.
And it is under this premise that Emirati entrepreneur Abdulla Al Kamda founded Dubai-based Homie, a super-app cashback platform that aims to become a user’s “best friend” and help them to save money amid the continuing global cost-of-living crisis.
“I wanted it to be fun and friendly. And, at the same time, I want it to be everyone's best friend where they are covered and my company helps them to save money,” says Mr Al Kamda, who is also Homie’s chief executive.
“At the end of the day, our homie is our best friend and they take care of you. And I want to take care of my customers, wherever they are.”
Cashback apps are growing in popularity globally as consumers find ways to save money on purchases amid the financial effect of higher interest rates and inflation on household budgets.
The global inflation issue has also highlighted the importance of financial literacy skills, such as how to budget and save, to protect against rising prices, job losses, salary reductions and other financial shocks, experts say.
The International Monetary Fund projects that global inflation will fall to 6.8 per cent this year and 5.2 per cent in 2024. However, the IMF estimates are still well above central banks’ preferred target of 2 per cent inflation.
The global cashback apps market was valued at $3.3 billion in 2022 and is expected to nearly double to $6.14 billion by 2031, according to analysis by Growth Market Reports.
Cashback apps offer users ways of earning cash or reward points – typically a small percentage of the price of a purchase, such as groceries, dining out, travel, hospitality and other lifestyle costs.
This compares with cashback credit cards that offer an average of 1 per cent to 6 per cent to banking customers on their purchases. In the UAE, many cashback credit cards also come with discounts on dining and movies, as well as access to certain airport lounges.
“Cashback is pretty simple right now … because when I tell you cashback, you're going to expect 2 per cent to 4 per cent, which is what we are used to from banks,” Mr Al Kamda says.
“I have built a platform that has a minimum of almost 20 per cent cashback, which is something unbelievable, and we can go up to 50 per cent cashback.”
Homie is designed to become an “ecosystem” of cash and offers more than regular loyalty programmes as it turns consumers' spending habits into earning habits, Mr Al Kamda says.
“I really do believe that our platform is the only platform that fights inflation,” he adds.
“It’s cash down, which you can withdraw back to your bank account – it's got to be the first platform on Earth that pays the customer back to their bank accounts.”
Users will be able to subscribe to Homie for Dh30 ($8.15) a month and it will “pay for itself within just two transactions” through a variety of categories that include dining, retail, lifestyle and hotels.
Mr Al Kamda bootstrapped Homie for an undisclosed sum with his own savings and started working on the platform in 2021. The app is currently in beta-testing mode and will be launched later this month.
Instead of tapping into investors, Mr Al Kamda says he would rather risk his own money at this stage of the start-up’s journey.
“I could have done the traditional stuff by getting investors’ money, but I believe that if I'm not willing to risk my own money, I shouldn't risk other people's money,” he says.
“Money is not the end goal for me; the end goal is to create a solution that's going to help people. Once I prove myself in the market, I believe that the investors will be comfortable enough.”
After launching Homie in the UAE, Mr Al Kamda will set his sights on expanding the app to Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, as well as other parts of the world, such as the US.
“We do plan to go global because it’s not only the people in the UAE who deserve to save money, but people all over the world,” he says.
“We’re not only helping people save money, but we’re working on a solution to help people make money … how to convert this cashback to make you even more profits.”
Q&A with Abdulla Al Kamda, founder and chief executive of Homie
What other successful start-up do you wish you had started?
Honestly, I'm deeply invested in and proud of what we're doing with Homie. While there are countless inspiring start-ups out there, I wouldn't trade our journey for another. Every venture has its unique story, and I'm excited about the one we're writing with Homie.
Who is your role model?
Muhammad Ali is indeed a towering figure, not just in the world of sports, but also as a global icon for resilience, courage and conviction in standing up for one's beliefs. His willingness to face the greatest adversities, both inside and outside the boxing ring, is a testament to his character.
Ali's opposition to the Vietnam War, which cost him some of his prime years as a boxer, stands as a powerful reminder that some things in life carry a value higher than personal gain or even one's career.
He stood up for humanity, for justice and for his principles, even when it was against the tide. His famous quote, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth,” resonates deeply with me.
In building and leading Homie, I draw inspiration from Ali's fearless advocacy, his unyielding perseverance and his dedication to greater causes.
What new skills have you learnt since launching your start-up?
I've been on a continuous learning journey. One of the most crucial skills I've honed is adaptability. In the ever-evolving landscape of start-ups, change is the only constant. This means pivoting when needed, embracing new strategies and being open to feedback.
Flexibility goes hand in hand with adaptability. There are countless times when things didn’t go as planned, and being flexible allowed us to recalibrate and move forward without losing momentum.
Being solution-orientated has become second nature. Challenges are inevitable, but instead of dwelling on problems, I've learnt to focus on finding solutions. This approach not only keeps the team motivated but also drives innovation.
Lastly, determination and standing by your vision, or what I like to call “tunnel vision”, have been indispensable. While it's essential to be adaptable, it's equally crucial to stay committed to the core vision of the business. There were numerous naysayers and hurdles along the way, but the unwavering belief in our mission kept us going.
All these skills combined have not only shaped me as a leader but have also played a pivotal role in the growth and success of Homie.
Where do you want to be in five years?
In five years, we envision Homie breaking barriers beyond the regional market and establishing a significant presence globally. Our ambition is not just to expand for the sake of growth, but to replicate the success as a UAE export by truly understanding and serving the unique needs of customers in various markets.
Global expansion entails adapting our business model to diverse cultures, economies and consumer behaviours while maintaining the core values that make Homie special. We plan to invest in local talent, technology and sustainable practices that resonate with global audiences.
Furthermore, we're keen on forging strategic partnerships and exploring innovative solutions, ensuring that as we grow, we continue to provide exceptional value and service. This is not just about Homie becoming a worldwide name, but also about amplifying the positive impact we can have on communities, economies and individuals around the world.
If you could do it all differently, what would you change?
Embarking on the journey with Homie has indeed been a monumental learning process. When I reflect on everything, while it's tempting to consider the “what-ifs”, I firmly believe that the path we've taken, with all its challenges and triumphs, has been essential to our growth and identity as a company.