Karim Aly calls himself a serial entrepreneur. After co-founding Ecobility in 2008, he saw it become the second best SME in Dubai, according to the 2011 DubaiSME rankings. He sold it and, this month, launched another tech start-up, Task Spotting, at the ArabNet Digital Summit in Dubai. Mr Aly, a 35-year-old Egyptian, is the company’s chief executive and co-founded the app with Dirk Stevens, the head of business development. Here Mr Aly reveals more about the Dubai Media City-based company.
You launched Ecobility, an incubator and a venture capital fund for green businesses in Dubai, at the height of global financial crisis. Why did you exit?
I exited at the end of last year because it was a good time. I have been running it for the last six years and it was time. We nurtured the company for long. But starting it when I did was a learning experience. It was difficult surviving the downturn. It was my first experience as an individual and entrepreneur. Clean technology is high on everyone’s agenda when things go well, but not otherwise.
Why start Task Spotting?
After I completed my MBA with Insead in France, I was looking at new ideas as I always try to do that. I am a consumer and we are extremely important for retail businesses. Everyone has a customer service nightmare story. I was thinking of ideas to connect businesses with people, and was looking at the smartphone crowd ready to provide them. With this app, the brands and retailers can get real-time feedback. Market research gives them retrospective views, and it is important to find out a problem in real time and fix it. Businesses use our cloud dashboard to create campaigns, what we call missions, which can comprise a series of tasks such as questions or photo requirements. The crowd, the actual app users who interact only on the app, then answer questions or take photos and the information is sent to the business through the dashboard.
What kind of research did you carry out before launching?
We spoke to dozens of businesses across several sectors: food and beverage, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, banks and government agencies that offer services.
What kind of investment did you make?
My co-founder and I have invested more than US$100,000 and we want to raise around $3 million in the first round of funding that we will open next quarter and will close in the last quarter. That would help us grow the business and hire people, and deploy them around the region. Some retail markets, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are highly fragmented. Despite the troubles in Egypt, I am confident about the market there. The number of consumers in Egypt is large and every manufacturing company has a presence in Egypt.
Why should consumers use this app?
For cash rewards, or to have their voices heard. They can also become brand ambassadors. We will deploy three-to-four-member teams in each market to build the community of spotters, that is consumers who are interested in engaging with the app. Some of the consumers might want to donate their earnings to charities and we can help with that. The participants can make between Dh10 and Dh75 to complete each mission, and it does not take more than a few minutes. The money can be accumulated in an e-wallet, collected via PayPal or collected as cash at the 200 payment points in the UAE.
What were the challenges?
Finding the right talent, currency issues and generating the interest of large organisations to work with a start-up were the usual difficulties.
What is your business model?
The app is free to download, but businesses will pay Task Spotting based on the volume of responses received and it will be shared with the spotters. We already have 1,000 downloads and 300 missions. We will launch 500 more in the next two weeks. All you need to do with this app is to build the community. We have five employees, including myself, and the development team has another 20 people.