What impact is the COVID-19 outbreak having on your daily operations?
Abdulla Al-Fadhala We cannot ignore the impact the pandemic has had on all businesses, including start-ups. However, the positive thing is that any start-up can adjust quickly. So, for example, we reduced our marketing spending. We were extremely transparent with the real estate agents who were onboard; all of them were on free trials. We still had to spend a certain amount, but few people were looking for housing at the beginning of the pandemic. Post-pandemic, around October-November 2020, we decided it was time to increase our marketing spending again. We have seen a good adjustment in terms of the fees we are generating. It is undeniable that digital-based businesses have had an edge when competing in our local market, and the pandemic has not dealt as big a blow to digitally-based businesses.
Ahmed Al Sumaiti Beyond the obvious safety measures, we provide essential services and not luxury services, so since it is high season, we see the same volumes as 2019. The orders started picking up in March, and in April we are seeing the exact same behavior. Al Faytri's services have not been impacted by the outbreak. In terms of the retail segment, we had a plan to sell spare parts, but the delivery was impacted. Our plan was for a kickoff on April 1 since this is when the season starts, and everything was moving according to plan until the COVID-19 crisis happened. We had a shipment stuck in India and there are delays in deliveries from China, so our retail operations have been severely impacted, meaning we are delaying the opening of the shop.
Do you have any plans to enhance the digitalization of your company to better serve and connect with your customers?
AAF We believe we have been doing a good job in terms of focusing on the rental market. However, we have heard from other real estate brokers that they are willing to list their commercial and residential properties for sale with us. This is something we will have in our next development stage, which will hopefully kick off in February 2021 or so. We will expand our services to have every single category—rental, sale, and commercial properties. At the moment, we are just in the residential rental market segment.
AAS We are thinking of having tutorials in different languages so our teams learn extra Al Faytri measures that we would like them to implement when they enter our clients' homes. We are, therefore, digitalizing our training system. We implemented an automation system by which transactions go through a web-based system where customers sign electronically. All receipts come as a PDF through WhatsApp, and customers sign on their smartphones. In addition, orders are assigned to a team through the system; they do the work and the electronic receipt goes to the organizer and the customer at the same time to ensure that all orders are tracked accordingly.
What is your assessment of the infrastructure Qatar has in place to help develop new start-ups?
AAF When we first presented our idea to QSTP's Incubation Center, it was extremely supportive in terms of kicking off the project. QSTP also has a great program—its Product Development Fund. If a start-up has a prototype, and it has tested the market, it is willing to provide funding for that start-up. hapondo is ready to kick off its second product development phase, and we have completed the scope of work for that. QSTP's Product Development Fund will fund 50% of the cost. QSTP has been extremely supportive of hapondo, though it is only one of the many tools available in the country.
AAS The government and QDB allow new companies to benefit from infrastructure and programs that would cost large sums of money anywhere else in the world. We have a shortage of funds in Qatar and need to circulate the funds available inside the country, so the government makes sure it reaches small, medium, and large companies and that no one is left behind. We just have to better market those opportunities. It is improving, and people are starting to talk more about entrepreneurship and starting a business; however, we still need to do better, for example by using social media, blogs, and digital marketing strategies.