Generation Start-up: How Egypt's Sideup is supporting the region's e-commerce ecosystem

Company is moving its headquarters to Saudi Arabia as it pursues plans to expand across the region

Sideup founder Waleed Rashed says his company aims to empower micro, small and medium businesses. Photo: Sideup
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“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.”

This quote by famous American jazz pianist and composer Duke Ellington fits well in the case of Egyptian entrepreneur Waleed Rashed, founder of Sideup — a Cairo-based technology start-up that helps e-commerce businesses to achieve scale and boost revenue using technology.

Set up in 2019, Sideup, previously known as Voo, expanded its business model after rebranding.

It has since morphed into a one-stop shop that offers e-commerce solutions such as online payment gateways, marketing and business advisory services, and integration applications for sectors that include logistics, shipping and warehousing.

With Sideup, businesses have access to various e-commerce services and technology solutions, and can organise different tasks on a single platform. By helping business owners to solve challenges around these areas, the company allows them to focus on their core mission.

“The logistics space has a lot of challenges and we are on a mission to solve them … businesses don’t have a single place to access multiple courier providers and it led us to create Voo, which was initially a courier marketplace for the e-commerce sector,” Mr Rashed, 39, tells The National.

“The e-commerce sector is extremely fragmented for small businesses. You could either join a big platform [as a seller] and lose revenue to fees and commissions, or you could go alone and struggle to get access to services,” Mr Rashed says.

“We had the initial advantage of having a strong courier marketplace business [Voo], with clients who needed additional services.”

The company aims to empower micro, small and medium businesses, especially those selling products and services from remote locations such as villages or rural areas, or over social networking platforms and messaging apps.

“We intend to help entrepreneurs who have the potential but do not have enough resources or access to the infrastructure of large service providers,” Mr Rashed says.

“Even our name comes from the fact that we work side-by-side with our partners and our customers … to help them easily access whatever service they need to help their business grow up.”

With Sideup, e-commerce business owners simply need to choose what they need, and the start-up’s account managers work with them to ensure “industry-leading service delivery”, says Mr Rashed.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, is banking on technology and its start-up ecosystem to diversify its economy.

Venture capital funding in Egypt more than doubled to $307 million in the first half of 2022 from a year earlier, ranking it third in the Middle East and North Africa region, according to start-up data platform Magnitt.

The number of deals in the country grew by 22 per cent annually to 78 during the first six months of the year.

The e-commerce market in Egypt comes with its own challenges as it is booming. However, Sideup is committed to sticking to the sector and providing solutions.

“The e-commerce industry is still very uneven in our region, with a number of challenges yet to be solved … large players take off huge commissions from the margins of small businesses,” Mr Rashed says.

“Our focus will remain on the e-commerce industry, and we will continue to build solutions to allow small business owners to succeed and thrive.”

Sideup founder Waleed Rashed, seated, fourth from left, with team members. Photo: Sideup

Egyptian e-commerce revenue is expected to grow at an annual rate of more than 18 per cent to $15.76 billion by 2027, from $6.85 billion this year, according to Statista.

In the e-commerce market, the number of Egyptian users is expected to jump to 84 million by 2027, with the average revenue per user set to reach $122.90.

Mr Rashed, who founded the company using his own funds, says it gave him the freedom to experiment with his own “disruptive ideas that eventually helped to build a fundamentally strong business”.

Earlier this month, Sideup raised $1.2 million in funding to drive plans to expand into Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy.

Various global and regional investors took part in the funding round, including Launch Africa VC, 500 Global, Riyadh Angels, Alex Angels, Al Tuwaijri Fund and Saudi angel investor Faisal Al Abdulsalam, the start-up says.

Currently, Sideup serves more than 2,000 e-commerce businesses. Photo: Sideup

The company says it will use the new capital raised in Egypt to strengthen its existing position there and also invest in expanding and hiring new talent in Saudi Arabia.

“Our expansion has started with our entry into Saudi Arabia, where we are hiring, onboarding customers and partnering with new service providers,” Mr Rashed says.

“Over the next 12 months, we expect to enter at least two new markets in the MEA region.”

As part of its plans to boost its presence in Saudi Arabia, Sideup will relocate its headquarters to Riyadh.

“Saudi Arabia is quite similar to Egypt in many ways and gives us an opportunity to build on our experience from our home market. The kingdom is also start-up friendly, with a large market opportunity.”

“Being in Saudi Arabia also gives us access to new markets in the GCC, as well as the rest of Africa. The changes we have seen here are truly incredible and we are excited to be building the future of Sideup from here,” Mr Rashed says.

Mr Rashed says the company is self-sustaining and he has no plans to raise additional capital soon.

“We don’t want to chase valuations or unnecessary funding rounds, especially when we can build a financially sustainable business on our own. Success will follow us on its own as our foundation is rock-solid and basics are correct,” he says.

“At the moment we don’t have any intentions for fresh capital. We are cash-flow positive and are growing at 30 per cent monthly. This gives us sufficient runway to grow efficiently.”

Currently, Sideup serves more than 2,000 e-commerce businesses. It has achieved more than $500,000 in gross merchandise volume a month.

Its platform also allows merchants to gain access to new markets across 45 countries. It has entered into partnerships with industry leaders such as e-commerce platforms Zid, Zammit and Wuilt, payment services businesses Paytab, Cowpay and Paymob and logistics providers Aramex, J&T and iMile.

We are still very early in our journey and the MEA e-commerce ecosystem has a lot of untapped potential
Waleed Rashed, founder and chief executive of Sideup

However, there are no plans to exit the business at the moment.

“Right now, we are only focused on building. We are still very early in our journey and the MEA e-commerce ecosystem has a lot of untapped potential,” Mr Rashed says.

Despite attaining success in the first few of years of its inception, Sideup has also faced its own share of challenges.

“We started our operations in Egypt, where for example, we have challenges around addresses and deliveries … that is why each of our customers have an account manager who ensures that they can be assured of a smooth delivery process.”

“Also, the region likes to have cash on delivery, and we are offering this facility. We pay our customers within 24 hours, to ensure that each of them has continued cash flow.”

Currently, Sideup has an 85 per cent delivery rate on the first attempt, which is a new standard for the industry, he says.

Mr Rashed said Sideup is helping e-commerce entrepreneurs who do not have enough resources. Photo: Sideup

Q&A: Waleed Rashed, Sideup’s founder and chief executive

Where do you see yourself 10 years down the line?

We hope to have made a huge impact in the region’s e-commerce ecosystem by continuing to build solutions that matter to entrepreneurs.

Are you a risk-taker or a cautious entrepreneur?

I am a risk taker, with a certain amount of cautiousness. Previously I was a banker and left that industry because I was fascinated with solving logistics challenges. Today, we are solving challenges for an even larger industry — e-commerce.

If you could change one thing in your entrepreneurial journey, what would it be?

I don’t think there will be anything that I would like to change. Everything happens at the right time and it is important that we stay focused on our customers and our mission.

Are you on a hiring spree?

We are continuing to hire in both markets (Egypt and Saudi Arabia) in-line with our business needs. In Saudi Arabia, we plan to hire people to fill 10 positions over the next month.

A delivery worker rides his motorbike in Cairo. Egyptian e-commerce market revenue is expected to reach $15.76 billion by 2027. AFP

What is your vision for the company?

We want to be a one-stop platform for anyone running an e-commerce business.

How has Covid-19 affected your business?

Covid-19 was an eye-opener for us and as people shifted more to e-commerce, it was evident that our platform could open numerous opportunities for them.

What is your mantra for success?

I previously worked in banking in the UAE and Qatar, before returning to Egypt to set up my own venture. I don’t have a technology background, but I have realised that with the right team, anything is possible in the start-up ecosystem.


Company: Sideup
Started: 2019
Founder: Waleed Rashed
Based: Cairo, Egypt
Industry: technology, e-commerce
Funds raised so far: $1.2 million
Investors: Launch Africa VC, 500 Global, Riyadh Angels, Alex Angels, Al Tuwaijri Fund and Saudi angel investor Faisal Al Abdulsalam

Updated: December 26, 2022, 4:30 AM

Company: Sideup
Started: 2019
Founder: Waleed Rashed
Based: Cairo, Egypt
Industry: technology, e-commerce
Funds raised so far: $1.2 million
Investors: Launch Africa VC, 500 Global, Riyadh Angels, Alex Angels, Al Tuwaijri Fund and Saudi angel investor Faisal Al Abdulsalam