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Sun 9 Dec 2018 12:29 PM

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Entrepreneur of the Week: Greg Hucker, CEO of Maharati

The digital marketplace aims to meet the necessities of the gig economy

Entrepreneur of the Week: Greg Hucker, CEO of Maharati
Greg Hucker, CEO of Maharati

Why did you launch?

I started Maharati to meet the global changes that technology is bringing into the employee-employer relationship. I wanted to build a digital marketplace that meets the necessity of flexible hours and job freedom, but that could also help address regional and global issues.

It’s currently estimated that youth constitute 51 percent of total unemployment in the MENA region, whilst globally, 30-45 percent of the world’s working age population are currently unemployed, inactive or underemployed. Maharati was envisioned as a platform that would encourage youth and adults to create and grow an online community workplace – the workplace of the future.

Why does the market need another e-comms platform?

In the Middle East, whilst ride hailing, food delivery and home services are commonplace as part of the gig economy, freelance workforce marketplaces are in their infancy, so there is a huge opportunity for Maharati to establish itself in the regional landscape. With over 33 percent of today’s workforce participating in the on-demand freelance economy, it appears an inevitable outcome for the region to adopt a modern freelancer marketplace.

It’s also great for the regional community on both sides of the marketplace. All companies can use Maharati in an on-demand nature, to bridge skills gaps and scale quickly when projects are awarded. Individuals can benefit from the gig economy; such as students looking to develop their skills, stay at home moms wanting work flexibility, and employees looking to replace their nine to five office hours for a nomadic, digital lifestyle.

What do you expect Maharati to grow into?

We ran an internal mind-mesh and the team put forward some amazing ideas about our visions and goals. From the outset we wanted to increase the regional workplace participation rate and reduce the global underutilisation rates. Maharati is striving to become the largest online community of digital skills and we’d love to usher in the new generation of workers and produce the first Arabic freelance millionaire via the platform.

Are you looking to raise more funding and by when?

Yes. We are in the process of raising our first round outside of our current private investors. It would be great to close out the round to see in our new strategies for 2019.

How difficult was it for you to raise funding?

In some ways, our initial private funding was relatively straight forward as most of the investors were known to me, and we’d been brainstorming the Maharati concept for some time. We did some market research which validated our own projections and just made it happen.

I wanted to build a digital marketplace that meets the necessity of flexible hours and job freedom

What were some of the challenges you faced while raising funding?

Our current round is at an interesting time in the market, so our challenges are probably the same as most regional startups. It’s finding funding from sources that believe in you as an entrepreneur, that share the vision and can help you scale as quickly as your forecast. I have also found it’s pitching a fine line between being “in” the region and competing or dominating at a global level.

What are some solutions to the GCC’s funding gap?

Ultimately, there is a lot of capital held in funds across the GCC, but right now it does feel that those funds are investing in late rounds of established brands with much smaller risk profiles. It’s a delicate dance, as always, on both sides of the funding coin. The GCC is creating great opportunities through accelerators and early stage hubs, and I believe this mentorship and guidance is key to not only assisting in the raise process, but also refining startups from the outset to be more investible.

What are some of the biggest challenges you currently face?

As with any marketplace, it’s creating the network effect. On-boarding the right balance of Maharati community users on both the demand and supply side to enhance the utility of the network for all users. Once we achieve the effect, it’s then about two sided incentives. How do we keep both buyers and sellers in the market-place? These are our biggest challenges and opportunities, and also part of the fun of running a startup.

What more needs to be done in the GCC start-up space to support SMEs?

For Maharati specifically, more initiatives in the banking sector revolving around cross-border and marketplace payments would create an edge not just for us, but the regional e-commerce sector. Maharati is a borderless platform but payout processes and technologies are still very traditional and fee driven.  From a higher-level view point, being such a young country, there continues to be fantastic opportunities for growth, ideas and initiatives. It’s going to be a very exciting landscape in the leadup to 2020 and beyond.

What are your future plans?

We have some cool stuff in the pipeline from a technology and community perspective. As we are already in over 130 countries, it’s going to be about leveraging what we’ve already started with Machine Learning and some AI to really evolve into the workplace of the future.