With exactly half of the UAE’s expatriates and 56 percent of nationals making monthly payments towards personal loans, according to the latest financial health check survey by National Bonds Corporation, little wonder why compareit4me.com, a Dubai-based price comparison site for financial products, has enjoyed rapid growth since 2011.
Recently, the company launched the region’s first car insurance comparison portal, saving their customers almost AED 1 million only in the first month of operation.
“We felt that we had reached a point and had enough stability in our core business, where we could comfortably look at additional lines of revenue and new ways to differentiate ourselves,” explains Jon Richards, CEO at compareit4me.
The team also looked at the more mature markets to see what was driving both user and financial growth, quickly realising that car insurance was the stand out product. More importantly, they assessed whether their new product could actually have an impact on, and ultimately disrupt, the way car insurance was not only compared, but bought in the UAE.
The portal allows users to get instant prices from online insurers and compare and buy their insurance online via credit card or cash collection. As such, it has faced no competition in the local market, which enabled the company to launch it with the least amount of friction and to penetrate a larger portion of the market with less investment.
Richards adds that the impact on consumers’ experience has been immeasurable. “Perhaps most exciting, however, is the fact that 85 percent of people who have bought policies through us, didn’t choose the cheapest price.
“We see ourselves as more of a value comparison, rather than a price comparison site.
“For us, what we want to help customers do, is pick the best policy at the lowest possible price rather than simply buying the lowest level of coverage, which could leave them exposed in the event of an accident.”
However, success doesn’t come without challenges. Richards explains that developing the proprietary technology for the new product and creating a completely new concept for the region was difficult, despite having well-established international examples.
“We really had to consider the nuances of the UAE insurance market,” he explains. “Even after the launch, we have continued to iterate and push new changes on a weekly basis, as we learn from our customers and users on the site.”
In August 2015, Compareit4me Group raised $3 million in venture capital funding led by STC Ventures, the venture capital arm of Saudi Telecom, and with backing from Wamda Capital. Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority completed the investment group.
Richard explains that the success of his core business - helping users find and compare financial products including personal loans, credit cards and bank accounts - smoothed out the process of getting high-profile investors on board. “As a matter of fact, due to our existing revenue we found ourselves in the fortunate position of having many potential investors willing to provide funds.
“We have used that money to build brand awareness, to grow our team and to diversify our business away from pure lead generation into e-commerce.”
Following the launch of the new product in the UAE, Richards has already set his eyes on the eight other regional markets they operate in, starting with Saudi Arabia. “Even though we are only a couple of months into our UAE launch, we are already preparing the ground work to launch in KSA.
“Although the majority of the technology is portable, there are a lot of country specifics that we will need to incorporate. One obvious example is that the KSA site will be Arabic only, while another is that the way insurance is priced in KSA is a little different to how it is here in the UAE.
“That means we will need to ask the customer slightly different questions and we’ll also need to expand our price calculation engine.”
With the company growing at a rapid pace, Richards, and Samer Chehab, co-founder and COO at compareit4me.com, aim to maintain their deep and personal engagement in the running of the business. However, they have grown their team from 20 to 43 people in just a few months.
“It is actually really satisfying to now see that things happen without us,” says Richards. “It still amazes me to see meetings taking place that I didn’t ask for and to have operations and tasks happening, progressing and developing without our oversight.”
They relied mainly on their own networks, rather than using recruitment agencies, to find the right candidates for newly-opened positions. “In my view, there are two kinds of hires that you will need to make,” explains Richards. “The first is to bring in people who have skills and experiences that you don’t, who will add to and improve the decision making process.
“The second group are people that can actually do the things that you used to do really well. These people free up your time and give you the bandwidth to step back from operations and focus on leadership and guiding the business through its next stage of growth.
When it comes to keeping his growing team in tune with the company’s vision, he says, having a very flat and informal structure is key. “Even though we are now 43 people, we have an open plan office and generally everybody can see and hear what is going on at any given time,” he says. “We make a point of celebrating even small successes and that allows each team to understand what another is doing and what they have achieved.
“We are reaching the point where we will need to take on more physical space.
“We considered taking a separate satellite office, but we decided that in order to maintain and foster the culture, we would instead take further space in our existing building.”For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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