Please find below a lengthy and insightful interview that we have conducted with Mr. Ziad Boutros Tannous, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Dependent Lifestyle FZ LLC regarding his UAE (Dubai)-based start-up Dependent.com:
1. What is it exactly that you do and what “Dependent.com” is all about?
Dependent.com, a subsidiary of Dependent Lifestyle FZ LLC, launched in August 2011, is a group buying deals website that offers amazing and hugely discounted daily deals up to 90% savings that caters to all 7 Emirates of the UAE. Unlike other group buying websites, Dependent.com is committed to very strict policies in terms of “No rubbish deals are welcomed on board!” We only have room for the very best quality deals in town ensuring a 100% satisfaction rate for both our buyers and businesses!
2. What stage is “Dependent.com” at?
We got our registration trade license incorporated in UAE on August, 2011 and we are finalizing our online platform so we are planning to launch around Mid May, 2012. So basically we are still a new startup at an early stage that will launch its activities around mid this year 2012.
3. What is “Dependent.com” business model and how does it work?
Dependent is a local e-commerce marketplace that connects merchants to consumers by offering goods and services at a discount. Traditionally, local merchants have tried to reach consumers and generate sales through a variety of methods, including the yellow pages, direct mail, newspaper, radio, television and online advertisements and promotions. By bringing the brick and mortar world of local commerce onto the internet, Dependent is creating a new way for local merchants to attract customers and sell goods and services. We provide consumers with savings and help them discover what to do, eat, see and buy in the places where they live and work.
Each day we email our subscribers discounted offers for goods and services that are targeted by location and personal preferences. Consumers access our deals directly through our websites and mobile applications. Our revenue is the purchase price paid by the customer for Dependent. Our gross profit is the amount of revenue we retain after paying an agreed upon percentage of the purchase price to the featured merchant.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Actually my Managing Partner Mr. Mohamed Ahli, an Emirati entrepreneur was a coworker of mine in the previous Company that I used to work for. Then we decided to build and launch Dependent together. Mr. Amro Zak and Mrs. Nadia Sghairi have joined the team at a later stage in the capacity of field sales executives. We also have on-board an amazing technical team made of a web developer, a web designer, a copy editor, a graphic designer and two customer service agents. We are expecting our team to grow with time progression and based on our company’s performance.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, What will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? in other words What’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
We do have many strong competitors based in the UAE among them group buying deals giants such as Cobone, Groupon and LivingSocial, however what we will offer still provide some sort of a competitive advantage in terms that we will offer our local businesses exclusivity to showcase their main deals without being overshadowed by parallel main deals from other vendors running at the same time as our competitors do.
This will allow a focused experience for both our local buinesses partners and buyers whereby we won’t flood the latter with too many deals at the same time with most if them being insignificant or consist little to no value. Also our commission rate is among the lowest in the industry, to the extent that we almost charge our vendors half the rate of what our competitors are charging them. Last but not least, it all breaks down to the quality of services and products deals that we offer, which are top notch and the best in the industry, our discounted rates are genuine and credible, unfortunately I can’t say the same about some of our competitors who might be manipulating their deals prices in a way to make business and profit sense to them.
6. What is your growth like?
We are yet to launch. Once we do, we shall update you guys on this one.
7. Who are your competitors?
Cobone, Groupon, LivingSocial, NailTheDeal, DealGobbler, YallaBanana, MooSavings, MarhabaDeals and several others.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
The biggest obstacle that we have faced has definitely to do with our online ecommerce platform and mobile applications development and design. It is very time consuming, costly and requires lots of patience and determination in terms of coding and putting everything together. Also we had to endure a lot to pass some very strict standards that has to do with our website security protocols and electronic payment gateways requirements and certification.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Some people might think this is a low barrier kind of startups, and anyone could make their entry into it and excel. Well this can’t be farther from the truth. This needs lots of resources, devotion, commitment, will, passion and determination to be able to get your business where you wanted to be.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
We believe we have put together a great team, full of harmony and synergy, we have a great concept between our hands and UAE market is far from being saturated, there is a massive tendency and incline by people towards taking advantage of daily deals being very cost effective options that makes pure shopping sense to our buyers and pure business sense to our local business vendors.
11. If “Dependent.com” succeeds, what additional areas you might be able to expand into?
Obviously we would like to expand our operations way beyond UAE to include other Arab and Middle Eastern countries.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build “Dependent.com” based on?
Well with Groupon being the fastest growing company in the corporate history, and with UAE being such an active market, we believe our idea and concept will be sustainable and profitable. Again our business model makes perfect sense to everyone involved from shoppers to local business partners.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
We still have yet lots of things to learn and this will only be possible after we experience our company’s performance post-launch however we already learned a lot in terms of building a full scale company from scratch.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Competition will always be our main concern and how to keep on offering a competitive advantage and always be one step ahead of them. Obviously customer service is a very important area that we need to focus lots of attention, care and due diligence on.
15. What’s the benefit for the user?
Through collective buying power, our users got to save big time with discounts ranging from 50% to 90% off on the best things to do, buy, eat and experience in the UAE and its amazing 7 Emirates.
16. How did customers and/or users find out about you?
We have launched a very aggressive internet marketing, Pay Per Click and Search Engine Optimization campaigns and we are very active on our online social network pages such as our Facebook and Twitter pages.
17. Who are your current users? Who are your target users?
Our target users would be basically anyone living in UAE and who possesses and knows how to use a credit card online, we do offer a cash on delivery option as well.
18. Where do new users come from and what makes new users try you?
All our users are based in UAE and they are currently subscribing to our website and following us on Facebook and Twitter while looking forward to our imminent launch and the amazing portfolio of deals that we are working very hard on getting for them.
19. What do your users say about your product and/or service?
So far so good, we will be able to benefit from our users feedback and insights much more once we launch our activities.
20. How are you going to scale?
By keep on doing an outstanding job in promoting our business and expanding at a later stage to other cities in the region.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers keep asking for?
We won’t be able to find out about that unless we launch which is going to be very soon.
22. Are you going to internationalize?
Yes, this would be the first thing to consider once we break-even and start to generate profit over sales revenue.
23. How big do you think you can get?
Well we strongly believe we have all what it takes to become a major player in this particular industry which is the group buying deals industry, so we can get quite big if we knew how to play it right and secure for us a good chunk of the UAE market share.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently have?
For the time being, we are self sufficient, however definitely we will be looking into this once the volume of our operations significantly grow, we would then be in need for more copywriters, graphic designers, customer service agents and such.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable?
We definitely would be looking to partner with investors in the near future to expand and internationalize our operations.
26. Finally, what advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs need to have enough will and determination to go on till the end. Whatever obstacles and barriers they might face along the way, nothing should stop them from realizing their dream business idea or concept. They can reach out to the sky if they put enough passion and commitment into whatever they plan on doing.