Phone-charging inspiration from a near business-deal disaster

ChargeUp kiosks allow users to power up their phones securely in public places.

Hisham Bakir was inspired to set up ChargeUp kiosks, which allow users to power up their phones securely in public places, after almost missing out on a business deal because of a dead phone battery. Sarah Dea / The National
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Hisham Bakir is the managing partner of Gulf Crossings, which provides fire barrier coatings to the oil, gas and construction industries. During his return to Dubai from a business trip in Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese-Canadian, and a UAE resident since 1992, almost missed out on a multimillion-dollar deal because he was caught without a charger when his phone battery died.

He then made it his mission to find a solution to his phone-charging dilemma. The result: ChargeUp kiosks that allow users to power up their phones securely in public places.

Here, he reveals more about the initiative.

Tell me about the phone drama. What happened?

I have a very large project in Saudi Arabia and my clients needed an immediate response on an issue before I left. I was at the airport in Riyadh and my chargers were in my suitcase. The airport was under construction; I was willing to buy a new phone and I couldn’t even do that. It was a very important call I had to make and when this happened it destroyed me.

Did you lose the deal?

Luckily, they were patient enough with me that I could make it back to Dubai to make the call but I decided to do something about it. At most of these public outlets they don't allow you to plug in your device [and leave it to charge]. I wanted something that would be secure so that you didn't have to stand next to it; you have other things to do; it's just not practical. Now with all the new phones, a battery life is less and less because of all the apps working in the background. Plus we've become so dependent on our mobile phones.

What did you do?

I started researching practical solutions. There is this company out of France that had a very beautiful unit, state of the art, with all the benefits like wireless and a platform for advertising. It’s the only product on the market where you can use the display pad to enter a four-digit code, charge your phone, lock it up and walk away. I flew to Lyon to see the factory. I wanted it for the region, which would require a large production once it hit the market. We anticipated it was going to be very well accepted. I wasn’t about to put my reputation on the line unless I saw their production capacity, their research and development, their structure. You can charge multiple devices in every locker as long as they are different brands. It charges iPads and tablets. There are five lockers in each unit and then it has a 19-inch LED screen at the top and this is where you can shoot your advertising through.

What happens if I forget my locker code?

There is an access code to retrieve and open the lockers. We have a number that you can call beside the touch screen; if ChargeUp personnel are not on site, we can do it remotely by asking a few security questions. One of the benefits of the kiosks is that we can do all things remotely; this includes service and maintenance, uploading ads on the LED screens, opening the lockers, putting a time limit on the charging and gathering [user] data.

Advertising — is that how you make your money?

The revenue comes in from the advertising. We are in the leasing market – we lease them or we rent them and we sell them. But the revenue is generated by advertising on the screen as well as the branding of the kiosk.

When did the first units arrive here?

The [phone] problem happened in June. I went to Lyon in September. My first machine arrived in October and my first shipment arrived in November. We wanted the perfect launch pad [which was] the 10th Dubai International Film Festival. You have a very high number of delegates who stay in several hotels around town that come to the film festival; you have reporters, you have volunteers, security people on their phones all the time. It was extremely well received. In seven days, with five units, we had over 3,000 [people charge their phone].

How much does a unit cost to rent?

It depends. We have a structured rate card depending on the duration [of the lease] and number of units.

What’s happened since the film festival?

It’s been tremendous. We are having a hard time keeping up with inquiries. We are in the Dubai Mall. We have an arrangement with them and we have three units there that are on a trial period for them to decide how may they actually require based on the response they get from the public.