Amid rising concerns about climate change, a Dubai-based start-up aims to expand its gadget repair business across the region but with a focus on sustainability.
Fixerman has converted a large-sized van into a mobile phone repair service centre, which is fully powered by solar energy. It repairs mobile phones, laptops and tablets at its customer’s doorstep.
“The whole service part is completely done on solar power inside the van. The equipment that is used in repairing gadgets run on solar power with solar panels fixed on top of the vehicle,” says Jassim Bangara, founder and chief executive of Fixerman.
“We're actually making a statement … let's try to achieve carbon neutrality in a way we can and it is extremely important in today’s world.”
The UAE aims to become carbon neutral by 2050, while other countries in the region including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, aim to reach the target by 2060.
A chartered accountant by profession, Mr Bangara started the company in 2016 after noticing a gap in the phone repair services “which, didn't quite completely cater to the requirement of the tech-savvy market that we have in the UAE”, he says.
There are nine million people in UAE but there are 17.1 million mobile subscriptions, so “we use our phones a lot ... there are people with two and sometimes even three phones”.
However, to cater to them, the country had only stores in the malls – inconvenient for those with busy schedules – or those "in the disorganised sector, where you don't really necessarily have that quality control when you give your device to them”, Mr Bangara says.
“We have a different kind of services. One is I will come to you, and we fix the device in front of the customer. However, some devices require a deeper level of repair, and for those customers, we have pickup and drop-off services with our fixer hawks. They go around the city, picking up devices from customers, dropping into our studio, we fix it, and then we drop it back.
“There’s a third kind of service where customers actually visit our studio," Mr Bangara says. "It’s an open kitchen concept with jazz music playing on in the background while we repair the device.”
Customers can contact Fixerman by a toll-free number or through social media channels such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook.
Mr Bangara is bullish about the growth of the company as mobile phone usage booms after Covid-19 as consumers switch to online payments, shopping and entertainment.
More than 60 per cent of residents recently polled by payments company Visa in the UAE reported an increase in the usage of mobile payments.
“The market is huge, and our dependency on the phones is only increasing. On average, we look at the phone 58 times a day and its usage is increasing as the number of apps goes up,” he says.
Fixerman recently opened its mobile service centre in India and aims to expand across the Middle East as the internet penetration and mobile phone usage continues to grow spurred by the pandemic.
“We have very aggressive plans for the future,” Mr Bangara says. “We want to spread our reach to the Middle East and we are going to start with the GCC countries initially and then we will look at other countries after that. We also have expansion plans in India where we've recently started the first solar powered smart repair centre in Kerala.”
The company, however, has competition from authorised service providers to centres located in Karama, Al Qusais or Satwa, Mr Bangara says. But Fixerman is highly rated by the customers “in the way that we are doing things”.
Revenue jumped 300 per cent in 2019, while the company recorded an 85 per cent growth last year as demand rises. Fixerman expects double-digit growth in revenue in 2021, Mr Bangara says.
“We are very optimistic about what we can do and we are investing in the technologies to enable us to do more devices.”
The company served more than 20,000 customers in the last four years and it employs 22 people. It is planning to raise more funds for expansion. Mr Bangara did not elaborate on those plans.
"We've been self-funded so far ... very shortly we will be going out into the market to raise funding."
Launch year: 2016
Number of employees: more than 20
Q&A with Jassim Bangara, founder of Fixerman
What successful start-ups do you wish you could have started?
To me, a successful start-up is one where an idea has been curated to meet the local needs and simultaneously able to disrupt the existing operating model. Two very good examples are Careem in the UAE and Byju’s, an online education platform in India. Both were able to efficiently craft their services to the local needs and achieved tremendous growth as a result. I see the success of these start-ups and use it as an inspiration in our journey. There are many lessons to be learnt from their successes and the objective is to learn from their respective paths.
What is your vision for the company?
We are very ambitious and want to be the best service centre in the wider region. We want to fix as many devices as possible and want maximum number of people to benefit from the services we provide. Mobile phones are at the heart of the digital ecosystem we all live in, and Fixerman is positioning itself to be a go to place for all your tech needs. To date, we have fixed more than 20,000 devices and we are planning to increase that. We want to do this by being a responsible member of society and that is why we hope to make an impact in the e-waste space as well. To date, we have collected more than 2,000 kilograms of e-waste. We intend to increase this significantly, too.
Where do you see yourself and the company in the next five years?
The pandemic taught us a lot of valuable lessons. We used the time to reflect and invest in ourselves. We intend to launch a flurry of activities and services over the next few quarters. This will include repairing gaming consoles, installation of smart homes and other value-added services. We hope to scale up our operations geographically.
What new skills have you learnt in the process of starting the company?
Starting a new company requires you to roll up your sleeves and step in wherever there is a gap. In my previous job, I used to recommend solutions to entities to solve their challenges. Now I am seeing first hand the challenges of execution and this has enabled me and the entire team to pick up skills along the way that are required to run a successful business. From speaking to customers at roadshows to preparing financial forecasts to digital content strategy, the learning has been rich and profound.
Who is your role model in the business world?
I admire Mudassir Sheikha of Careem as a role model. He is also an ex-consultant who went on to start a company to solve a problem he encountered. I admire the grit with which Careem has been led and the evolution of its services over the years. Jeff Bezos is another individual whose journey I greatly admire. He quit his career in the banking industry to build something he believed in.