Hamza Abdurrahman is the founder of halaKIWI, “the happy hour app for food” offering off-peak discounts of 30 to 50 per cent. Now in its second year, the app has nearly 100 restaurant partners, including Doner & Gyros, Charleys, Prax’s, Wok Boyz and Kcal, and users complete around 6,000 transactions a month. Born in Pune, India, Mr Abdurrahman, 26, grew up in Jeddah and Dubai. He moved back to Dubai in 2016 after studying mechanical engineering at university, working briefly as a service team manager for a car dealer before entering the start-up world.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
My dad is an engineer. He works at Total, the oil company. My mum was a doctor, but she stopped working after we were born. In my family, we’ve been well off. We’re doing fine for ourselves. But there is a thing in Indian culture, we tend to spend less, even if we have the money. Our philosophy has always been to look at what we need and get what we need, and then minimise everything that we really don’t need, which includes branded clothes, branded cars and other things like that.
You never know what’s going to happen to you in terms of job security, so you want to save and live modestly. We are very unmaterialistic, we don’t subscribe to consumerism. I think it’s a good thing – to be less reliant on the latest iPhone, the latest this, the latest that. I had nice things growing up, but we weren’t chasing the next big thing all the time – which I feel is a very Dubai thing. In Dubai, every one of my friends, they had the latest iPhone, they had the latest Android [phone]; when the PS3 came out, they’d throw out their PS2s the same day.
What led you to start halaKIWI?
A friend of mine at university had a business of connecting tutors to students, and I was a tutor over there, and I actually made quite a lot of money on that app. That is what got me thinking, maybe I should work in the tech business. I decided to move into the food business, when one night I was coming back from football training really late at night and the staff at the cafeteria were taking trays of food and throwing it away. So I thought, something needs to be done about that. Then the idea came to create a real-time application that allows people to sell food on demand. The tool that we have can be used to sell excess food and it can be used to increase sales at off-peak hours. That was the entire premise of the app, but we found out in the market that the one that makes the most sense are off-peak hours, because people in Dubai don’t want to eat extra, leftover food.
When we started, the off-peak hours were only 2pm to 8pm, after lunch and before dinner. But now there are some restaurants that don’t get any lunch traffic, so those guys put their hours at 11am to 7pm or 11am to 6pm. Some restaurants are open until 3am and they give discounts from 12am to 3am. We charge the restaurant commissions. Right now it’s free for the users, but we’re going to move to a freemium model for consumers.
Are you able to make enough money off the business?
We are making just enough money to stay afloat, thanks to in5 [an incubator in Dubai Internet City that supports entrepreneurs]. They subsidise those costs; our licence is very cheap, visa’s also pretty cheap. With those costs kept under Dh25,000 a year, the other running costs we manage. We have a tech team in India. They’re basically an agency that does applications for many companies.
How is your money mindset affected by your stage in life?
I think because so early in life I decided to get on to the entrepreneurial path and, contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurship does not give you a lot of money immediately — it takes time before you get the money, especially because I’m in a b-to-b-to-c game, which is a volume game. So, as of right now, my mindset has been I want to invest back into my company and make it grow.
My expenditure is basically what I need to spend on and then entertainment. Entertainment takes a hit, because I’m spending nights at the office sometimes. And, because I have the flexibility, I like to start my day late and end the day late, so I come to the office by 10:30am to 11am and then I leave at 10pm. So it’s 12 hours at the office and after that not a lot of time left to do other things.
Who deals with the business finances?
That’s me. The business is literally three people. The other two are hired and I’m the only founder. Honestly, I hate finances, I hate Excel sheets. I was working with finance freelancers who used to handle the accounting for me, and I used to ask them a lot of questions. Through that, I learnt a lot — and some YouTube videos. Eventually, after four, five months, I realised I don’t need to work with them and I just started doing it on my own.
Did you think you would become an entrepreneur?
Never, never, not in a million years. I wanted to be a journalist, I ended up doing engineering — I was really confused. Entrepreneurship seemed to be the easiest path for me, the path that made the most sense and that I had an actual plan for. And things were moving forward quickest. I got the in5 admittance really quick, restaurants showed a lot of interest, the app was getting made.
Do you have any financial regrets?
In the beginning of halaKIWI, I started out by making an app and I think that was the biggest mistake I made because making a website would have been much easier to market and much cheaper. An app costs at least five times as much as a good website costs, and then the upkeep of an app is much higher. An app is what you build to eventually, but I should have made a website first.
What types of investments are you interested in?
Stocks is the way for me to go, if I had the money to invest. As a millennial, we've lived across a time when real estate has not been the most promising thing — 2008 everything crashed; now again the market is bad for real estate. Somehow when I think real estate, I don’t think stable investment. When you look at companies and how well they’re performing over time — companies such as Yum Brands, that owns Pizza Hut, KFC and a lot of fast food franchises — they’ve been having year-on-year massive growth for the past 20 years.
What is different about your outlook as a millennial?
You see people overnight become extremely successful, whether because they posted a silly video online or because they made the right investment at the right time or started a company at the right time. I’m sure that happened in the previous generation as well, where some people get lucky and they make the best out of it. But being on social media makes you realise how prevalent that is. I think you need to be very open to opportunities that may arise, but at the same time you also need to have a little bit of planning as a backup.
Do you think about retirement?
What I want is financial freedom. I want either my business or my investments to become such that I’m earning at least Dh50,000 a month to cover all my needs. Right now I’m always in the mode of ‘OK, what should I do next? What can I do better?’ I’m not in a restful phase, so to speak. And retirement? No, I don’t think about retirement.