The personal touch: Twenty-first century concierge

Meet the four enterprising Emiratis looking to reinvent the home concierge service industry
By Shane McGinley
Mon 01 Oct 2012 09:58 PM

Picture the scene: you’ve just lost your brand new $9,000 watch, which you’ve only just bought and can’t remember where you put it. Too busy to retrace your steps, you wish there was someone trustworthy you could call on to go search for the valuable timepiece. While such a request may sound outlandish, it is the kind of task many time-conscious executives would happily pay a dedicated personal assistant to carry out for them.

Thinking a bit more about what small tasks other executives might be willing to pay to free up their time, four young twenty-something Emiratis decided to put their idea to the test and set up a company catering to the day-to-day needs of busy executives like themselves.

The resultant company was named Allinque Personal Assistance and the four local founders — Ahmed Al Ashram, Faisal Lutfi, Khaled Ghubash and Mohammed Kazim — began evolving the idea as far back as 2008. At first, members were recruited through word-of-mouth but the service quickly became popular and by 2011 they had hundreds of regular members.

“We target executive levels from junior to director level… just before the CEO, who has his own PA,” says Lutfi. “People who don’t have enough time to do the day-to-day things.”

“That is how we came up with the idea. We are all full-time boys and we leave the office after sunset and on a Saturday it is hard to go running around. We set it up because we knew there was a need for it as all our circle of friends have the same problem,” he adds.

In fact, Allinque was conceived while the partners were holidaying in India and were thinking of ways to make the trip run smoother. Out of their comfort zone and away from Dubai, that’s when they hit upon the idea of how great it would be to have a personal assistant who could arrange and handle everything they needed for the holiday and, at the same time, take care of their personal needs back home.

When the company was formed, the concept of home concierge services in Dubai was a new phenomenon, mainly due to the fact that concierge services were mainly focused on special groups of people in hotels or malls.

While companies such as Quintessentially book tables at top-class restaurants and can arrange tickets for exclusive clubs, the founders decided to focus more on the day-to-day time-consuming tasks and offer them for a reasonable monthly fee. “What we do is get your work done… Anything you don’t have time to do we will do,” says Al Ashram.

Following their Indian adventure, the team decided to put a plan together and looked at the various different target markets to focus on. “It is not just for mid-management executives, it is for single mothers and busy entrepreneurs who do not have time. Basically it is busy people,” says Ghubash.

The service is based around a dedicated phone and IT system set up to match the personal assistants who research and carry the tasks with the clients who need servicing. “We have an IT system that recognises peoples’ phone number so they are greeted directly by name,” says Al Ashram of the personalised service.

“Our model is expandable and our rollout is in phases. As we see there is a need for market capacity we can expand easily… The IT system is easily expandable and so is the office expandable, but it about getting the right PAs. In terms of having a maximum capacity, it all depends on the market’s appetite for the service,” he adds.

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At present the team has four full-time personal assistants, a management team, a business development team, IT support, a messenger, a human resource manager and an overall general manager.

The company was given support in setting up by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development (MBRE) and while they were self-funded at the start, they do have some tips of advice for those thinking of jumping into the world of entrepreneurship.

“Don’t start with friends,” Al Ashram says straight out. “We had problem with our first IT system provider as she was one of our friends… It’s hard to push friends for deadlines,” he concedes. “We had to start from scratch with another IT provider.”

Lutfi also believes testing of the system before going live is very important. “We had 90 people test the service and we gave them free membership and at that phase it helped us create our new IT system and what was important,” he says. “Test your market before you launch the product as the initial product we had in mind was different from the result, in terms of the flexibility of the system and what you can do.”

In terms of breaking into the market, the fast-growing firm has found a combination of old and new marketing strategies is often the best way forward to engage with your target market.

“We started off basically by feedback and word of mouth… We are spending on social media and radio… We think they are the best mediums for now,” Al Ashram says. “We had it by invitation only for a while but we are flexible… Now is the time to increase.”

In a bid to attract multiple clients, the marketing team is also looking at company-targeted approaches. “We are looking to target corporate where we know people are busy,” says Ghubash. “People who are busy and they can afford the service, so we are going to target corporations directly and it is part of our marketing campaign.”

One of the fundamental traits of the company is also confidentiality, adds Lutfi, who adds that the details kept on record can also be used by its clients in an emergency. “We have a level of confidentiality that is comprehensive… We have a record of everything, so if you forgot your passport at the bank we can fax it to them.”

Lutfi says the mix of tasks the company’s personal assistants carry out varies considerably. “The usual is for bookings for massages or restaurants… There are daily requests, such as doctor’s appointments or flowers delivered to their lovers or friends.” And what ever happened to the lost watch?

Lutfi points out that a personal assistant took a list of the places the client had visited over the last four days and the watch was eventually found in a prayer room. Sounds like a job well done.

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