“Out of adversity comes opportunity” … this famous saying by American polymath Benjamin Franklin fits well in the context of Covid-19.
The pandemic, which upended businesses and shook the global economy, also presented an opportunity for many entrepreneurs to pivot business strategies, boost services, enhance products and address various bottlenecks that industries are facing.
For Ahmad Ramahi, Mohammad Abu Kwaik and Nasser Almaawi, founders of Riyadh-based crowdsourced delivery start-up WeDeliver, this is an opportunity to solve pandemic-induced supply chain barriers, expand the customer base and enter new territories with their innovative offerings.
“Covid impacted our business very favourably … because the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders increased the demand for deliveries as customers were not able to or they were not willing to go out to purchase items,” Mr Ramahi, 33, who worked as operations manager at ride-hailing company Careem before starting WeDeliver, tells The National.
“Working at Careem was an inspiring journey. It helped me to see how fast-growing start-ups operate … I learned a lot about a sharing economy, so I left my job to start my own entrepreneurial journey equipped with my experience in asset-light operations.”
WeDeliver connects businesses with delivery needs to individual drivers. It uses technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to link businesses that have parcels to be delivered with freelance drivers though a mobile app.
“We realised at early stages the need for reliable, cost effective last-mile delivery for businesses in our region. The demand for such services increased manifold during and after the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mr Ramahi says.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to an increased demand for last-mile deliveries as businesses digitise to keep up with changing consumer habits.
The global last-mile delivery market is likely to grow at a compound annual rate of almost 9 per cent to reach more than $66 billion in 2026 from $39.6bn last year, according to a report by Bengaluru, India-based market research company Valuates Reports.
Key factors driving the growth of the last-mile industry include the rapid integration of technologies into existing systems, surge in demand for fast and reliable delivery, increase in internet penetration and proliferation of e-commerce industry.
Founded in October 2018, WeDeliver fulfilled the first delivery through its network of drivers in January 2019. Since then, there has been no looking back for the company, Mr Ramahi says.
Currently, it fulfils more than 1,700 shipments a day on average through its network of over 1,000 freelancers. It aims to double the daily shipment numbers before the end of this year.
The start-up says it has tripled revenue in the past four months and achieved double-digit growth every month since launch.
“WeDeliver serves hundreds of businesses of all sizes every day. We have maintained a double-digit month-to-month [shipment] growth since we started … and we tripled our numbers in the April to June period on a quarterly basis,” Mr Ramahi says.
WeDeliver does not employ drivers or own warehouses. It also reduces the overall delivery costs by using crowdsourced freelance drivers and under-utilised warehouses for storage.
Founders started the company with their own money, but angel investors also joined at an early stage (within a few months of inception) with $110,000, according to Mr Ramahi.
After raising $2.4 million in a pre-seed funding round in July, the company is now looking to raise fresh funds.
“Raising money is crucial for every start-up to keep surviving in the very competitive market and to maintain high growth rates … new investment will support our product development, acquiring talents and expansion plans,” Mr Ramahi says.
“WeDeliver is planning to open a new investment round soon, aiming to raise multiple [of] millions of dollars to support product development and further expansion plans.”
The start-up, whose pre-seed funding round was oversubscribed, is eager to partner with “strategic institutional and individual investors” who can add value beyond capital and support its expansion plans.
Its current investors include Vest Investment, Palestine telecoms group Paltel, Salasel Alimdad Logistics, the Mutasami family fund, Arcom Technologies and a group of Saudi angel investors.
With the injection of new funds, WeDeliver aims to expand its team from 22 to 30 by the end of next month.
“Building the right team is one of the most important factors in any start-up’s success. We were working with limited resources … [but] now with new funds, we are opening new vacancies to fill some gaps in the company, but still we will need a larger budget until we have a more mature organisational structure,” Mr Ramahi says.
Using the WeDeliver application, businesses can request a driver and have their package delivered anywhere in the kingdom. It also offers all parties in the delivery process real-time tracking updates to keep up with the status and location of the items.
The company plans to expand outside Saudi Arabia in the next few months.
WeDeliver is developing a “promising franchise model” that the company will start piloting from the first quarter of next year, according to Mr Ramahi.
“We will expand into 10 new cities in three countries … new markets are not finalised yet, as we are still doing market research … but Jordan operations are set to be launched by the end of the fourth quarter this year,” he says.
WeDeliver, which aims to be profitable soon, is not open for an exit. Its founders intend to expand operations across continents in the coming years.
“We are not cash positive yet due to our investment in building the product and business expansion … the operations are profitable in some cities, and we forecast to be profitable in most of our territories of operation by the second quarter of next year,” Mr Ramahi says.
“Getting acquired is not a goal for us at this stage, I believe it can be a result of hard work and great results. If a good opportunity comes, then we will consider it for sure,” he adds.
Q&A: WeDeliver’s co-founder and chief executive Ahmed Ramahi
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I see WeDeliver as a global leading player in the last-mile delivery space, operating in every country across five continents. It will emerge as the first choice for an on-demand delivery service for all customers.
What gives you confidence as you compete in one of the most competitive industries?
The logistics industry is huge and still booming, but it still depends on heavy assets … that is why we see a great opportunity for our innovative tech-driven asset-light operational model that is already disrupting the last-mile industry.
Are you a risk-taker or a cautious entrepreneur?
Risk-taker for sure. I always believe in my entrepreneurial instincts and prefer to go by them. Outcomes have been very satisfactory.
If you could change one thing in your entrepreneurial journey, what would it be?
Some previous hiring decisions were not right. Although I realised that at an early stage, but I kept giving chances. Unfortunately, it had a bad impact on the company. But we have recognised the flaws and have improved our talent acquisition process over the years.
What is your vision for the following 10 years?
WeDeliver is striving to be the on-demand delivery brand of choice.
I strongly believe that WeDeliver has the opportunity to be the first deca-corn in the region (start-up with valuation of over $10bn). This is because we are working in an industry with a huge market size and we can provide scalable solutions that will eventually allow us to have a foot in new markets outside our region.
What are the core values of WeDeliver?
Creating new jobs and supporting the community are core parts of our values. Following our principles, we aim to create more than 5,000 jobs by the end of 2022, both full-time and part-time. Our success mantra is to be agile and building a network of dependable partners.
What new skills have you learnt in the process of launching your start-up?
My communication skills have improved for sure, as I am dealing with many stakeholders simultaneously, on a daily basis. They include my colleagues, customers, captains, investors and potential partners. For me, every day is a new learning experience.
Company name: WeDeliver
Started: October 2018
Founders: Ahmed Ramahi, Mohammad Abu Kwaik and Nasser Almaawi
Based: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Industry: Logistics, last-mile delivery
Capital raised since inception: Over $2.5m
Investors: Vest Investment, Palestine telecoms group Paltel, Salasel Alimdad Logistics, the Mutasami family fund, Arcom Technologies and a group of Saudi angel investors