Bahraini start-up Inagrab, which helps businesses leverage sales using Big Data, is on a mission to hyper-localise market insight as it eyes expansion into Saudi Arabia and Egypt this year.
For Hussain Haji, the co-founder and chief executive of the start-up, the business was a result of success and failure tasted in four previous ventures across sectors such as food and beverage, a lifestyle app as well as logistics.
For Mr Haji, the entrepreneurial itch first began towards the end of 2012 when, as a new father, he quit his full-time job and decided to start a restaurant business - a venture he had to keep under wraps from his father and father-in-law for sometime.
“[That] restaurant failed miserably. Bahrainis, Arabs in general and South Asians in general, the first 'million-dollar idea' they think of is always a restaurant,” says Mr Haji.
In the years that followed, Mr Haji set up a food and beverage supplier start-up Hanker & Nourish that connected smaller players to restaurants. After that folded, Mr Haji developed and launched a lifestyle application Pikadot, where users could chat, order food and optimise all social media feeds under one umbrella.
"That was quite active. In Bahrain alone we had 12,000 active users, which was pretty good. I had raised around $1.5 million in funding. That was in 2015,” he says.
Following a successful exit, Mr Haji set up Tasleem, a logistics application that helped businesses manage delivery shortages during peak hours.
However, during this time he met Mustafa Marhama, a Bahrain-based digital marketing expert who had ideas for a business focused on leveraging data to observe and position how a product or a service moves in the market.
"I felt it was powerful to understand it. If you’re able to understand it, Big Data, then you’re able to help other businesses grow and that’s where the big money is anyway. It wasn’t just for the money, it was for the interest,” says Mr Haji.
With some funding from Bahrain Development Bank, through its Rowad programme, Inagrab was born a matter of weeks after the duo first discussed their idea.
The business evolved from being a mobile app offering price comparisons to one that captured and trawled for data to collate it in one place and aggregate it. From 150,000 users, the app eventually evolved to a business-to-business platform.
"Inagrab the sales model became a connection for businesses to understand where is the best place for them to sell their products on a global level and how to price their products and how to [position] themselves,” says Mr Haji.
With Inagrab, Mr Haji continues his passion for helping businesses generate efficiencies, this timein the realm of sales. The app, with the help of an AI-enabled bot called Betsy reads and interprets data sourced from international database websites and communicates in simple terms how to take actionable steps based on its results. Inagrab’s clients are largely small and medium sized businesses, “first believers”, as Mr Haji refers to them. But the company is also in talks with governments to help manage their exports with the power of Big Data."There are several governments in the region, which need help with exports and they want to recommend to their local businesses which regions to focus on and they need data and that’s exactly what we provide,” he says.
Discussions are ongoing in Bahrain as well as with the UAE, he adds.
While Inagrab builds its own database on the movement of products gleaned from international databases, Mr Haji quickly realised the need for a more localised offering that encapsulates the region’s idiosyncrasies, such as a dependence on word-of-mouth to accelerate sales.
Three months ago, Inagrab launched the Dalooni app, which has backers such as California-based 500 Startups as well as Bahrain Development Bank, allows local businesses to capture data on product movement as well as enable the creation of regional databases.
Already, Dalooni has managed to generate $25,000 in revenues since launch, says Mr Haji, who declined to talk about total number of users on the app.
"By 2020, we’ll generate $1.2m only from Inagrab and from Dalooni in the next two years, we’ll be way above the $15m to $20m revenue margins,” he says.
Over the next couple of weeks, the app will be launched in the Saudi market, with Egypt on the horizon for around the beginning of the second quarter.
For Mr Haji, the ambition is not only to scale up and become a unicorn from Bahrain but also effect a transformational change in terms of work culture regionally.
"Inagrab five years from now will become a unicorn from this region,” he says.
“[But I also want to be] able to change the culture on how start-ups are supposed to operate in the region, and break the whole idea of how private sector should be,” he added.