An exclusive interview with GrubTech co-founder and CEO on how they plan to transform the restaurant and cloud kitchen sectors in the UAE and Egypt.
GrubTech is a digital platform that aims to revolutionize the way restaruants and cloud kitchens operate in the region. Based in Dubai and having recently expanded into Egypt, the company offers a range of solutions and technologies to smooth out operations and reduce inefficiences across an order cycle.
Here, we sit down with GrubTech’s co-founder and CEO Mohamed Al Fayed to discuss the UAE’s startup ecosystem, access to financing, the challenges of opening a new international office and the attraction of Egypt and Africa as a whole as the continent’s startup scene continues to grow.
Give us a brief overview of GrubTech. What problems are you seeking to solve and how is business going?
Grubtech is an all in one stop for restaurants and cloud kitchens requiring solutions and technology capabilities to streamline their operations to their most efficient state possible. We’re able to take the entire lifecycle of an order, whether it’s an on premises order or digital order, and ensure every single touch point is as automated as humanly possible and that they’re visible to the restauranteur or the cloud kitchen operator, so that they can fine tune their physical operations.
Business is going good. Some of the problems we’re seeking to solve are: The F&B space has historically been laggard at adopting new technologies and obviously, the consumer behavior has drastically shifted over the last 10 years as mobile phone penetrations have increased and convenience factors such as ordering food or groceries from platforms has become the norm and has been cemented during the pandemic. That left a lot of the restaurants and kitchen operators overwhelmed and underprepared for this sudden shift in consumer touchpoints, what we do as Grubtech is ensure that they’re well prepared to capitalize and thrive in this new arena.
How would you describe the startup scene in the UAE at present?
UAE has been a gravitational city for digital talent and new ideas and the legal framework and leadership of the country has been exceptional in ensuring that this ecosystem continues to thrive and attract the best minds around the world. I would state that the startup scene is thriving, growing and maturing at a fast pace, and thanks to the leadership of the country that brings in initiatives and other means, such as golden visas, VC platforms, incubators and accelerators like Hub71 continue to contribute to the growth of the ecosystem.
How is access to finance? What was your experience?
I think this question can be answered in two ways. In the past, in our experience, [GrubTech has] been very well received. Many investors joined our journey from inception to date. What I see in the market today is a rationalization: The playing field and the goalposts have changed drastically as a result of the macroeconomic condition and capital is getting scarcer by the day. VCs and investors are getting more prudent, long gone are the days of big valuations, no path to profitability and poor unit economics. Now the standards are being adhered to aggressively and more sensibly, as far as capital and investments are concerned.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur looking to secure financing and what advice would you give for those working out of the UAE?
Don’t give up. Be prepared to hear “no” a lot. The journey is long and make sure you take care of your mental well-being. The highs and lows of a startup are extreme. It takes a tremendous amount of fortitude to be able to sustain the setbacks and just as how you design your product or attract your set of customers, attracting the right investors with the right terms is a difficult process that requires resilience and determination. So don’t be disheartened. When you hear your first “no” or your 100th, there is light at the end of the tunnel, you just need to persevere and continue the momentum.
For GrubTech, Egypt is an incredible market – densely populated, and it has a strong F&B landscape. We see a tremendous amount of opportunity there by way of technology and technology enablement of the restaurant and cloud kitchen scene. Our product has proven very successful in the GCC and there’s a lot of parallels between areas that we currently service in the Egyptian market. We’re confident about the growth of the economy and the fast growth of digital adoption in the country, and we feel well positioned to capitalize on that.
Are Egypt’s ongoing economic issues of concern to you?
No. Egypt has survived numerous revolutions during the Arab Spring, numerous devaluations of the currency, and still continues to thrive and grow in strong single digits throughout all of this turmoil. We’re taking a long term view on the Egyptian market and we believe that over the long term, Egypt will prevail.
What were the challenges you faced when you opened there?
Having never operated in the Egyptian market before, understanding the regulatory landscape and being able to discern talent from a recruitment perspective, and what we needed, was a challenge. The tax regime of Egypt is quite different than other tax regimes, so getting awareness of the moving parts on that front took some time, but other than that it was no different than opening up a new market.
Do you have any thoughts on the African/North African startup scene?
I think Africa is largely regarded as the last frontier. There’s a young population, high mobile penetration, numerous friction points that would benefit from digital enablement, and I see a lot of VC dollars supporting some brilliant entrepreneurs across the African continent and have conviction that there is going to be a lot of activity over the next decade or so that will make Africa very exciting for everybody involved.
Can you tell me of any particularly interesting opportunities you can see in Africa that might not exist elsewhere?
Africa lacks a lot of infrastructure and there is a large component of the population that are currently unbanked. I see tremendous opportunity in fintech products, particularly when it comes down to financial inclusion and using technology to overcome the hurdle of the lack of infrastructure.
In general, does working in Africa present additional problems to, for example, expanding into Europe or the rest of the GCC?
There are challenges to every new market, not specific to Africa in general. I would advise anybody looking to expand into the African continent to be aware of everything from currency valuations, political regimes, taxation regimes, and legal frameworks, go in with eyes wide open and address your addressable market with a clear USP that resonates as a solution to a problem and that is culturally accepted.
How could governments further support entrepreneurs in creating businesses, either in the UAE, or in Africa?
Continue to be aware of the ever evolving technology landscape with things like blockchain, Metaverse, web 3.0, and ensure that the licensing regime is in lockstep with the technologies’ attractiveness and work toward enablement to allow these technologies to solve local problems. Sandbox licensing, easing of restrictions and having an appetite for experimentation and an awareness of new technology would go a long way in ensuring that they stay relevant and bring and attract the right talent into those geographies.
Are you planning further expansion and where?
Yes, we are always studying different markets, we are quite attracted to the Southeast Asian market. We see similar parallel patterns – young population, high digital penetration, convenience factors like ordering food and groceries from digital platforms and we believe that that will be the next leg of the GrubTech race.