Why the Middle East Startup Ecosystem needs a reboot
It won’t be wrong to say that the word “startup” is synonymous with “technology”. Food-Tech (Food space). Ed-Tech (Education domain). Fin-Tech (Financial products). Agri-Tech (Agriculture). Health-Tech (Healthcare). Clean-Tech (Environment concerned). And so on. And so forth. As you can see, it doesn’t matter which startup sector we talk about, technology is the bedrock of every single one of them. But let me tell you, these are not the only sectors which are making waves through technology. The sectors you’d have least thought of, are also using the power of technology to come up with better and more sophisticated offerings. Beauty/Fashion sector has also gotten on the technology bandwagon and has made huge strides in the past couple of years. Now, you might be thinking, how and in what ways can the beauty/fashion sector help us with the use of technology, but that question has become obsolete now. The beauty/fashion-tech startups have taken the world literally by storm, not only in the innovative ways they’re using technology but also with respect to the funding this sector has attracted. Global startups like Glossier and Memebox have seen tremendous traction and are rigorously expanding in terms of both new markets and newer products. Having said that, even the Middle East and specifically Kuwaiti beauty/fashion market is growing steadily and is not too far behind, when it comes to startups catering to this domain.a The salon and beauty services industry in the Middle East is pegged at more than $20 billion and according to a report by Euromonitor International, Middle East was the fastest growing beauty market, in 2014. The beauty/fashion market of Kuwait is flourishing and the sector has seen a respectable number of players, competing for what could be a multi-million-dollar industry in the near future. Let’s take a look at the players in contention of being the next big thing from the “Hollywood of the Gulf”. Nalbes A one-stop shop for men, women and kids – Nalbes is one of the dominant players of Kuwait, in the beauty/fashion domain. Started in January of 2017 by two Kuwaiti entrepreneurs – Abdulaziz Alanzi and Bader Alanzi, the fashion and lifestyle marketplace was incorporated with an aim to be the number one designers and lifestyle platform, in the entire GCC. The startup sells everything from clothing to accessories to home décor and even gift items. What is pretty unique about Nalbes is that, in its only first 8 months of operation, the website-only platform received a million-dollar round of funding - $1.5 million, in Series A. And this is after their $200,000 seed round, the founders had raised even before starting operations. A second round of funding in just one year not only showcases the promise that the startup has, but also the potential of the entire beauty/fashion domain of Kuwait. The founders are well in the know of other big-name players operating in the same region but still believe that beauty/fashion is an untapped market and there’s a lot of room for growth. Although Nalbes has its roots in Kuwait, it ships all over the GCC region, and has clear objectives to scale newer markets, in not too far a future. Bookr Launched in the December of 2015 by Zaina Al Bader, Bookr is a beauty salon and spa booking app – available for both iOS and Android. An MIT graduate, Al Bader conceived the idea of Bookr with an aim to allow users to search for beauty salons and be able to book appointments, directly from the app. The intention behind was to cut the hassles that arise from multiple and manual visits to spas and salons, every time a person needs grooming services. Bookr is a subscription-based service and uses the straightforward method of charging a nominal fee from salons, each month, for using their software. What’s more interesting is that every time you use the app to book an appointment, you’ll earn points, in the form of rewards, which can be translated to free beauty services, in the future. Bookr saw good response from the local community and in its only first one and a half year of operation, it managed to onboard 50+ salons and spas, with more than 10,000 monthly active users. Later in 2017, with an aim towards global expansion, Al Bader launched the app in the biggest market in GCC – Saudi Arabia. And as expected, the response has been great. By the end of 2017, the service had already amassed 40,000+ monthly users, even after the presence of some home-grown and fierce competitors in the kingdom. The app plans to enhance its offerings by adding more salons and more payment options in addition to the scope of easier and higher points accumulation and redemption. Boutiqaat With the goal of becoming the largest online cosmetics and beauty products distributor in GCC and Middle-East, Boutiqaat is the most famous beauty startup, in Kuwait today. Started in 2015 by Mr. Abdul Wahab, Boutiqaat is a virtual makeup showroom of more than 300 brands, where celebrities from all over the world, share the beauty products they use with their audience on their virtual boutiques. The idea was born out of the necessity to provide women with not just a full-fledged cosmetics website but an easier way to find suitable skincare products, according to the nature of their skin, based upon the recommendations of celebrities and field experts. It’s a different kind of a feeling when the celebrities you’ve been following for years, themselves recommend you the products they prefer to use. This not only advocates the authenticity of the products but also serves the needs of the people with very different skin characteristics. Apart from skin care products and celebrities’ boutiques, the website also lists accessories (eyewear and phone cases) and perfumes and routinely launches new products to entice its ever-growing database of users. It also has an A-Z listing of all the famous brands – in and outside of Middle-East, for you to be brand specific while buying. Today, more than 500 employees serve the needs of the customers of the online shopping website, which has internet and fashion celebrities like Ascia AKF, Yalda Golsharifi, The Real Fouz and Dalalid, on board. Anotah Anotah was established way back in 1998 to act as an all-things women platform, when it came to apparels and accessories (which was included at a later point in time). Although the brand later expanded to kids’ categories as well, the initial motive of providing inspiring collections tailored to the unique taste of the modern generation has, to this day, been maintained. What makes Anotah different is that through its long-standing history, it has now become a name synonymous with creativity and authenticity. The lifestyle brand transforms latest trends into accessible fashion, and they do this via their diversified portfolio of offerings. Even though Anotah’s eye-catching collections are inspired from designers all around the world, the apparels are designed in-house to maintain the elegancy and authenticity of its products. From a single store in Kuwait, Anotah has already forayed into Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. (There are more than 20 stores in just Saudi Arabia!!) Courtesy of the way the iconic fashion retailer has managed to create a name for itself among women, teenagers and children alike, it’s now also recognized on the international fashion scene. Although Kuwait has been lately seeing a lot of buzz in the beauty/fashion scene, with new startups emerging every now and then, the aforementioned four are the most prominent ones. And these startups have not only lifted Kuwait’s beauty/fashion industry to great heights, they’ve even provided a level playing field to the up and coming players. The future prospects do seem interesting.