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Fri 22 Jun 2018 03:19 PM

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Arabian Business Entrepreneur of the Week: Koi's Ghassan Muradweij

With Uber and Careem effectively sewing up the ride-hailing app market, Koi has its sights on a different slice of the action

Arabian Business Entrepreneur of the Week: Koi's Ghassan Muradweij
Ghassan Muradweij

After over a year of operations, Dubai-based ride-hailing app Koi has relaunched as a limousine platform, connecting car providers with online travel agencies in the city.

Named after the 32 carat diamond, it was co-founded by former investment banker Ghassan Muradweij, who says the self-funded start-up could not adapt to the competition of rivals Uber and Careem, but that it could tackle a common challenge in the travel industry.

He explains where Koi will head next.

How did the idea of Koi come about? How did that change?
Koi initially launched as a ridesharing app similar to Uber and Careem.

We believed in the vision that the large e-hailing companies were following and the disruption they were creating by having a car at your doorstep in minutes. 

After operating for over a year, however, we realised Koi could solve a bigger problem that the travel industry – online and traditional – was facing with the limousine business.

Today, most online travel agencies have high-tech websites and mobile apps for their customers and are always moving forward in terms of technology.

But they still fail to provide good transportation due to the lack of technology available with their car providers. Koi offers seamless technology to connect limousine companies with those agencies.

What is your new business model, then?
Around eight months ago, we decided to shift completely from a B2C ridesharing app to a B2B-focused business. 

So we started building a B2B system that integrates and links with our existing B2C application. We wanted to give all our clients the access and clarity that individuals are getting through the B2C platform in terms of tracking drivers and getting notifications on the start and end of rides and a lot more.

All of those features aren’t available for online travel agencies when they deal with a traditional limousine company.

Attempting to crack an industry where two giants have already claimed territory was a huge task”

We have agreements with multiple limousine companies to have drivers exclusively working with Koi. Our aim is to create a platform where we can help bring a technology element to all the limousine companies in Dubai and beyond.

We want Koi to ultimately become a platform where companies register their cars and drivers exclusively to us, without us having to lease the cars, as the limousines will be guaranteed rides.

What are some of the challenges you right now?
It definitely hasn’t been an easy journey. Attempting to crack an industry where two giants have already claimed territory is a huge task.

We were lucky enough to have a good team of advisors and partners with the foresight to know that we needed to change and adapt quickly in order to survive.

Our challenge still remains to bring the traditional limousine business to a fully controlled, high-tech business model.

Are you worried about regulations that ride-hailing apps have encountered in relation to competition with government taxis, for example? Is there a plan?
We have successfully completed the RTA and Dubai Smart Government integration.

It took a while to get everything right, but we appreciate all RTA is doing towards creating the best limousine experience and make sure the people of Dubai are always safe in the process.

We hope to be part of their growth plans and help bring all limousine companies online.

Our challenge remains to bring the traditional limousines business to a fully controlled, high-tech business model”

What are your plans for expansion now?
One day at a time. I believe what we are attempting to do and the area we are targeting is relatively untapped and has huge potential. 

We launched our B2B system around a month ago and we already have more than ten big clients with another 20 to come in the next three months.

As of now, we only operate in Dubai, but we are targeting to offer rides in the top five cities around the world by the end of 2018.

Were you ever afraid to set up your own business? More importantly, how did you overcome that fear?
Humans, by nature, are creatures of comfort. We crave what is familiar and comfortable. Setting up your own business breaks all these rules.

At the end of the day, we just pictured where we want to be and what we want to be doing ten years down the line. That made our choice easier.