Tell us about yourself and how you started your professional journey.
Originally from Mauritius, I moved to Australia to pursue my undergraduate degree in business. Even before I embarked on my corporate career, I was already smitten by the idea of becoming an entrepreneur. At the age of 21, I launched my first online business – an online property portal catering to international students in Australia.
Thereafter, I relocated to London in 2004 to work for GE Money where I held various roles in marketing, financial literacy, customer advocacy and e-commerce. The next move brought me to the UAE in 2008 where I worked as a consultant in financial services for Bain & Company Middle East. My last stint in the corporate world was at MasterCard Middle East and Africa, and two years later, I founded Souqalmal.com in 2012.
What are some of the most significant challenges you faced in your professional career?
Building Souqalmal.com from the ground up without a co-founder made the start-up journey not only more challenging, but very lonely at times. Starting a business is hard, and a co-founder can help take some of the stress off your plate and help you see things from a different angle.
Fundraising was another aspect of the business which proved challenging in the beginning. As a new entrepreneur, I underestimated the funding process and the time required for it.
Talent is another huge challenge in the region. A sense of ownership and a go-getter attitude are not easy qualities to find – we have struggled in finding these types of people especially in a country where living expenses are high.
What do you consider to be your biggest milestone/achievement?
The journey that started with founding Souqalmal.com five years back to taking it to where it is today, has been a phenomenal one. Over the last two years Souqalmal.com has been named ‘Online Business of the Year’ at 2015 Gulf Capital SME Awards – MEED, ranked among ‘The Top 50 Most Promising UAE Startups – 2016’ by Forbes Middle East, selected as an Endeavor Entrepreneur, and most recently won the ‘Technology Firm’ award at MENA Insurance Review’s Insurance Awards 2017. These awards among others, are a recognition of our efforts in bringing a higher level of transparency to the marketplace, and a vote of confidence in our growth strategy.
Tell us about Souqalmal.com – how did that come about?
After moving to the UAE, I realized there was no platform available where I could compare my personal finance options. It was evident that there was a gap in the market. There was clearly a need to introduce a conveniently accessible and unbiased platform where users could do their research related to banking products all in one place without having to get in touch with individual banks. The concept was to create a platform which not only allows an increased level of transparency to the banking industry in UAE, but also promotes a level of financial literacy never seen before. And in May 2012, Souqalmal.com became a reality.
Today Souqalmal.com is the biggest financial and insurance aggregator / comparison site in the UAE and Saudi Arabia allowing users to compare retail banking products like credit cards, loans, accounts and insurance. Since Souqalmal launched its insurance aggregator portal in June 2016, it has become the fastest growing retail car insurance portal in the country.
What do you consider the entity’s secret to success?
One of the key attributes that led to Souqalmal’s success is our in-depth knowledge of financial products. Sound knowledge of the financial services industry has been crucial in helping us build a credible business, where we make it a point to educate our users about various aspects of personal finance and debt management.
A customer-centric business strategy has also helped fuel Souqalmal’s growth over the years. We constantly endeavor to create services, products and content that reflect what the consumers are looking for.
To top it off, I believe passion has been integral to our success. I think you can have the best idea, the most suitable team but if you do not have the passion to execute and build – one will give up very easily. Entrepreneurship is an incredibly tough journey to take on and perseverance is a must.
Being a woman in leadership position, how do you think women in tech and digital media can be empowered?
In the digital and tech industry, you cannot grow if you fight change rather than embracing it. Running a FinTech business and recently diversifying into the InsurTech space, I can say with confidence that you cannot stay on top of your game without evolving your business to meet the rapidly changing needs of customers. Digital disruption is one of the key drivers of growth in our industry and there’s no way of ignoring it.
How can technology itself empower women?
Technology has helped bring women on equal footing with men. Strong tech and digital skills are now in demand in virtually every industry. And with the world moving towards digitization in new aspects of business, tech-savvy women have better opportunities to succeed in business, than ever before.
I think it has given a lot of us the ability to become entrepreneurs from our living room and slowly build our business. The internet has opened up the world to small scale businesses of women who have other important responsibilities like the family to take care of. It takes away the fear of trying out a business and allows women to become financially strong by giving them the ability to monetize a hobby and allow consumers to access a whole of new products on the market.
What advice would you give to young female entrepreneurs about starting up a business?
I cannot stress enough on the importance of having a mentor, especially for young entrepreneurs. When I was selected as an Endeavor Entrepreneur last year, it was not only a great honour, but an incredible opportunity to take Souqalmal to the next level. The Endeavor organization selects and mentors high-impact entrepreneurs from across the world, and enables them to build thriving companies..
Endeavor’s mentorship has been instrumental in helping take Souqalmal to where it is today, and I look forward to its ongoing support, both in terms of access to global investors and helping us unlock long-term and sustainable growth for our business.
Women starting off in business must also be aware of the personal toll running a business can take on you. It is a full-time round-the clock job and there are no days off. Be sure about your commitment before you embark on this challenging, but immensely rewarding journey.
Anything you wish to add?
I’m very proud of the Souqalmal team for all that we have achieved so far, and more importantly for building a great platform which has become the indisputable go-to source for consumers looking to get quick access to unbiased and accurate information on personal finance and insurance products in the UAE. That being said, we will continue to strive towards improving our services and more importantly, keeping up with what our users want.