A new start-up is aiming to solve the most painful administrative concern that companies in the region face: the management of employee expenses.
Founded in 2021 by entrepreneurs Armin Moradi and Jonathan Lau, Qashio issues charge cards to companies, which are linked to the FinTech's software that automates the management of a company's expenses.
The start-up can issue virtual or physical Qashio cards to employees with limits on spending, frequency of usage and vendors. This allows companies to better control their finances, while reducing costs and saving man-hours.
Transactions made using Qashio’s cards are automatically captured by its software and synced to the company’s accounting system, cutting down the time companies spend on reconciling expenses and receipts, while giving their management a real-time picture on spending.
“The idea to start Qashio came to me a while back,” says Mr Moradi, who is also the chief executive of the FinTech. “I was selling and implementing ERP [enterprise resource planning] solutions and felt there was a gap in the ability of being proactive in controlling expenses and leakages.”
The Middle East's FinTech sector has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 30 per cent. By the end of this year, more than 800 FinTech companies operating in segments, including payments, InsureTech and cyber security, are expected to raise more than $2 billion in venture capital funding, estimates by the Middle East Institute suggest.
The global FinTech market is expected to reach $334bn by 2026, growing at a compound annual rate of more than 25 per cent between 2022 and 2027, according to research consultancy Market Data Forecast.
But it faces challenges. For one, as FinTechs broaden consumers’ access to financial services, reduce costs and increase efficiency, their rapid growth in “systemic importance” is also creating regulatory challenges, the International Monetary Fund said last month.
The biggest challenge Qashio faces is to navigate the regulatory landscape since it is a new product, Mr Moradi says. “But we see the development from the regulators, the partnerships with the banks are accelerating very fast. The willingness to support our business model is growing by the day because it’s clear that what we are doing adds value.”
“In Saudi Arabia, that becomes even more prominent with the vision that they have to go cashless before 2030. And what we are doing is for businesses to be cashless and utilise the cards that are issued on the Qashio platform to execute what you today need petty cash for — just as an example,” Mr Moradi says.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also shown businesses the need to improve their financial operations and modernise old status quo practices, says Mr Moradi, who has been working with FinTechs for almost 15 years.
“The companies we are approaching have been very receptive to Qashio’s solutions as an extremely effective and quick way to start or improve their transformational journeys,” he says.
Qashio already has nearly 100 customers in the UAE. These include Grubtech, Diamond Developers, Carasti, Udrive, and more traditional companies like Modern Vet and Gourmet Gulf. The company also has a few customers in Saudi Arabia but expects to gain more after it goes live there in the fourth quarter, he says.
“Qashio currently operates only in the UAE. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are next on our radar by the end of this year. Further down the line, the company is looking at the rest of GCC, Pakistan and, potentially Jordan, in 2023,” says the 38-year-old Swedish national.
Qashio does not face much competition in the Middle East — a region that Mr Moradi says is fairly untapped — but several global companies, such as the US-based Brex and Ramp, operate similar models.
Many of these FinTechs focused on small and medium enterprises and start-ups because the sector was struggling with several issues in that part of the world, the founder says, noting they are also working with bigger companies now as they face the same problems but on a different scale.
“In the Middle East, you’d find enterprises that struggle with the same challenges — of fragmented operations — probably because of a high turnover of staff or they struggle to start and complete a process as it’s quite complex to set up,” Mr Moradi says.
“We focus more on the mid-size companies — 100 to 1,000 employees. We believe that to be our sweet spot.
“But the way we have designed our solution is such that we have different versions so we can cater to smaller companies as well, with four to five employees up to a 100 employees,” he says, noting the pricing is adjusted for the size of the company.
Qashio’s target market includes a lot of smaller global companies that operate their financials locally, according to Mr Moradi. They are also looking to tap into real estate companies, he adds.
In February, Qashio raised $2.5 million in pre-seed funding that was led by global VC firm MSA Novo and supported by Rally Cap Ventures, Palm Drive Capital, Plug and Play Ventures, as well as regional strategic angels, entrepreneurs and family offices. Executives from Grubtech, Danske Bank, Two Sigma, Xiaomi and top global FinTech companies participated in the round as well, the company said.
The funding will be used to expand the operations team and customer support, evolve the current features and integrations with additional FinTech partners and rewards programmes.
“We currently are not in a need to raise [more] funds but that will quickly change for sure. As we will need to go into other markets, we will need to raise more money to be able to fund our growth,” Mr Moradi says.
Q&A with Armin Moradi, chief executive and co-founder of Qashio
Where do you see the company five years from now?
We believe we will see massive growth and we aim to expand to all of Mena, with a wide portfolio of solutions and features that help with the digital transformation of financial operations for businesses of all sizes.
What’s your biggest learning from launching Qashio?
There is a lot of work to get done. Bring the right people on at the start to help with execution and utilise your network. People are generally very helpful if they believe in what you’re building.
If you had to start over, what would you change?
Focus more on executing rather than planning for perfection.
What advice would you give upcoming entrepreneurs?
Be disciplined and execute systematically and pragmatically. Be prepared to overcome obstacles, and always be humble. Learn from other’s mistakes as this, often, is a shortcut that helps you save a lot of time. Don’t get distracted about everything else that’s going on around, you can’t do everything and be everywhere at once. Set goals and objectives and make sure they get done by hook or by crook.
What skills have you learnt from setting up your business?
Discipline, and perseverance to start with, but also ensure your team you hire early on not only believe in your vision but will also contribute to make it better.
Based: Dubai, UAE
Launch year: 2021
Number of employees: 15
Amount raised: $2.5 million