Interview with Maachla.com Co-Founder

Today we are starting something different. Previously we used to write about startups in Kuwait in general manner and without going into details. Today we will start something new, we will sit with the founders and chat a bit about their startups and their experience as entrepreneurs.

Our first interview is with one of Maachla.com  co-founders, Osama Alothman.

1.What is Maachla?

Maachla is an online supermarket based in Kuwait.

2.How and when it all started?

It all started when we found out that most supermarkets in Kuwait don’t have a home delivery service nor an online presence, so in 2008 we decided to solve this problem through an online platform called Maachla (Maachla in Kuwaiti means the stuff you buy from the supermarket). Basically, we started as an online sales channel and a home delivery solution for supermarkets, however this model has changed later (more about that in questions#7).

3.How does Machla differentiate it self from other online grocery  delivery websites?
4.How big was your  founding team when you first started? and how big is it right now?

We started as 5 co-founders (Rashed Khazal, Bader Alrujaib, Mohammad Albahar, Ahmad Khazal and I), however only 3 are considered active on the day-to-day operations, the other 2 co-founders are more like an active investors, they are involved in making some major decisions. So we started as 5, then we added 7 more employees (both as drivers and on-sight operation) when we got our first partnership deal. Now we have 22 employees in addition to the 5 co-founders.

5.How did you fund your project?

From our own pockets, now the startup is running on it’s own cash flow.

6.Who was responsible of developing the product/website?

We started developing the website with a website development company, later we recruited the guy who developed our website as a full-time employee.

7.Did the idea or business model changed (Pivot) during the 4 years of operation? 

Yes, we made one major change (pivot) to our business model. Our first business model was to work with supermarkets as partners, but we found out that this model doesn’t work because in Kuwait the board running the supermarket changes every year (in Kuwait supermarkets are owned by the residence of the city and managed by a board of members elected every year). And when the new board arrives, many things changes that usually affect our business substantially. We decided to make a major change and go with a new business model. Now we are literally an online supermarket, we have our own inventory warehouses and sometimes our own branded products.

8. Who works full-time in the company? 

All of the co-founders are working part-time. We recruited a CEO to follow the day-to-day operation. We were more involved in the early days, now we just need to followup.

9. How long it took you to move from the concept idea to launching the website live?

Around 18 months

10. How do you split roles and work load between founders?

We split roles into three parts: Operation, Technical and Marketing. Each one of us (the 3 active founders) was responsible of one of these departments. I’m in charge of the operation department and I take most of the major decisions by my-self except for special major decisions.

11. How do you manage your time between your daily job, your startup and your personal life?

Having a full-time job and being married are defiantly affecting the time and effort I’m giving to Maachla. It’s very difficult to give 100% if you have a daily job. I encourage people to quit their daily jobs after 1-2 yrs of establishing their startup and focus 100% on it. Or better to focus 100% on it from the beginning. You need a lot of courage to quit your job, but this what it takes to build a great company.

12.What you’ll say the major difficulties starting an online business in Kuwait?
  • Establishing and creating the company took us around 6 months!!!
  • Getting permissions to recruit employees from outside Kuwait
13.What type of things you learnt from working in Maachla.com that you’ll never learn from your full-time job?

I’ll say meeting and dealing with huge companies and experienced people. Maachla gave me the opportunity to create an amazing professional network. Also I’m dealing with many huge companies that applies high quality standards when dealing with customers, logistics, employees, marketing and managment. I’m learning a lot from working with these type of companies in a daily basis.

14. Do you have any advice for someone that is considering to start their business?
  • Yes, having 5 co-founders in a startup is a lot. Try to start in a 2-3 co-founders team. It’s much easier to move and make decisions.
  • You need to work in your startup everyday, at least in the first 1-2 years of your business.
You can find more about maachla in this TV interview, also you can follow Osamah in twitter at @oalothman and maachla at @maachla .

(Disclosure: Osamah is also one of my best friends 🙂 )

That was our first founder interview. I hope you found it useful, but I feel the questions still can be much improved. Please leave a comment or send me an email if you have any suggestions on the questions that I should add next time. Also please contact me if you are a founder or if you know a founder of a Kuwaiti startup, I’m very interested to get in touch with them and conduct a similar interview. (you can send me an email at startupq8@gmail.com or find me in twitter @a_alshalabi)
One last thing, I need some help with doing these interviews that I wish we can do more often, if you are interested to offer me some help, also please contact me at startupq8@gmail.com.
Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. Great and very insightful interview. Thanks to both of you guys. I think one question I would’ve liked to see is when and why, during their early days, did they decide that “Yes this is a great idea and we will keep going with it”. How long did it take them to decide this? What were their thresholds or criteria to decide this?

    Reply
  2. Mohammad MJ

     /  August 21, 2012

    Excellent, keep up the good work guys!

    Great advice to focus on the business full time. Takes courage to quit your job but working under pressure and with some risk can pay dividends!

    Reply

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