Ronaldo Mouchawar is standing at the entrance of Souq.com’s cavernous warehouse in Dubai’s Al Quoz district, getting patted down by one of his own security staff.
“There’s always rumours flying around,” the chief executive smiles, batting away a question about a recent report that suggested his firm might be bought by American internet leviathan Amazon. “You see, we touch on so many people.
“There was a recent study in the UAE that 50 percent of online shoppers have bought on our site, and we know from our traffic that 50 percent of the population come to the site once a month.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the only route in and out of the Souq.com fulfillment centre looks more like an airport security barrier than a passageway. Despite only being opened just over a year ago, the warehouse is packed to the rafters with flat-screen TVs, tablets, clothing, diapers and jewellery.
For Souq.com itself, it’s not just products on the shelves that are starting to stack up — the numbers are looking pretty good as well. It’s by far the Middle East’s biggest e-commerce site, and quite possibly the region’s biggest website full stop. It sells well over 200,000 products, with a network of almost 75,000 traders. It grew last year by 170 percent and has expanded ten times over in the last two years alone, with around 22 million visits last month.
Small wonder, then, that investors have been beating a path to the firm’s door. Launched in 2005 as an auction site linked to internet portal Maktoob, the site has already raised $150m in financing, with $75m received from Naspers just two weeks ago. With Naspers already having a 36 percent stake in the company prior to that investment, and with the South African firm remaining a minority partner, that deal values Souq.com at $577m, at the very least. Not bad for a firm that started out with only five employees less than a decade ago.
But you get the impression from Mouchawar — a tall, affable Syrian who co-founded the site alongside the Jabbar Internet Group’s Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury — that the story is just getting started.
“If you look at what’s really transacted online as opposed to offline in the region, we still have a huge gap to fill,” he says. “There’s 1.5 to maybe 2 percent in this market sold online, whereas elsewhere in the world is double digits — in the UK, it’s maybe 18 percent.
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