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Sat 2 Feb 2019 02:09 AM

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Entrepreneur of the Week: Seez founder Tarek Kabrit

The mobile app claims to reduce the time you spend searching for a car from 17 hours to a few seconds

Entrepreneur of the Week: Seez founder Tarek Kabrit
Tarek Kabrit

Imagine living in a world where an artificial intelligence (AI) chat box negotiates a car deal on your behalf. Thanks to technology application Seez, we are now living in that world. The app, which speeds the car buying process, was founder by Tarek Kabrit, who wanted to create a kind of ‘Shazam’ app, but for cars instead of music.

Where did the idea of Seez come from?

I was walking down the street when I saw a Mini Cooper that I would have liked to buy. But I realised that I had no way of finding out how much it cost, let alone what make or model it was so I could Google it. [But]the car owner appeared and as we started chatting, he told me it was for sale, which got me thinking: there must be a better way we can learn about cars we see on the street, just as music app Shazam recognises the names of songs played. Over time, Seez evolved from a car recognition feature to an intuitive app that completely automates the entire car buying process, saving the time it takes to find your dream car from an average of 17 hours to just 6 seconds, with minimal effort required.

What does the name stand for?

‘Seez’ is a play on words. It contains ‘see’, which refers to our car image recognition. It also stems from the phrase “seize the moment” so you can seize the best car deals.

What differentiates Seez from other existing car purchasing platforms?

Seez uses the latest technology to fully automate and optimise the car buying process. As soon as you take a photo of a car using the car recognition feature, our AI recognises the car make and model, estimates the fair price and its depreciation, and then searches across 16 websites to display where it is advertised. Our AI chat bot Cesar then starts contacting and negotiating the price with hundreds of sellers on your behalf. All of this gives the user 10 times more reach than if they were to search each website manually, and this entire process takes our technology milliseconds.

What are your expansion plans?

We are expanding into three new countries every year to become the leading car buying platform in emerging markets. When we launched in Kuwait in 2017, we experienced 30 percent month-on-month growth. As we have a light operational structure, it’s easy for us to expand into new geographies. Further expansion plans include Turkey, South Africa and Oman.

What are your growth expectations in Saudi?

In Saudi, we had expected to achieve double the growth we witnessed in the UAE. But so far, it has exceeded expectations, with three times the growth in only three weeks. We are experiencing 300 percent growth in active daily users. It’s still early days but the signs are extremely positive.

Most of your hires (at least on the website) show that you have employed from the region. Many companies complain that there is a lack of local talent when it comes to advanced tech jobs. What are your thoughts on that?

We try to strike a balance between hiring regionally and hiring internationally. We have four Danish AI experts who lead the AI development, combined with our local AI talent. I believe when you are hiring top talent, you shouldn’t feel limited by geography. We are big on team culture. Over the holiday season, the team were encouraged to take a paid-for “experience.” They all enjoyed this with loved ones or friends. Some went skiing, took a staycation in a luxury villa or dined at a Michelin star restaurant.

Do you see other companies (or competitors) following Seez’ footsteps in terms of adopting AI technologies and basing the company on that?

AI has been embraced by many industries and I’m sure more companies will continue to adopt AI into their applications. Even if another company was to follow in our footsteps, our team has unique AI capabilities. We developed the world’s first AI car negotiation chat bot. Our AI is continually evolving to become smarter to make recommendations on cars that are based on your user profile. Over the years, we have collected comprehensive car market data to train our AI and we are proud to work with many of the big automotive brands to provide them with this data. We recently published our annual report which details top car listings by make and origin, market supply, least depreciated models, and supply and demand.

What are some of the challenges that you’re currently experiencing with Seez?

In many areas, we have invented products and services that didn’t exist before, such as AI driven data analytics and AI predictive insights. There is an educational and learning process for our consumers and brands to understand how these new products really work. Recently, we launched our car leasing feature so we explained how leasing cars was differed from buying, and the value behind it. There is a time investment that goes into this but we believe it pays off in the long run.

What are some challenges in the regional start up or SME ecosystem and what are some solutions, in your opinion?

Funding and finding top talent locally still remain crucial for early stage start-ups. Scaling in MENA is also a challenge. When people think of scaling a start-up in MENA, they think of the region’s 380 plus million people and think this will be a “big enough” market. In reality, this is fragmented across 22 countries, whereas in the US, for example, it’s one country. I would advise business owners looking to scale to create a business that is operationally light, pick a segment that has a high margin of returns and have a solid team in tech and business.

Was it difficult to get funding?

Prior to founding Seez, I worked for 17 years in private equity and venture capital in many of the big companies. Coming from the VC world, I knew most of the investment players well. I knew what they look for in start-ups and I “spoke their language.”

It’s never easy to raise funds and it always takes longer than what you aim for. We feel fortunate to have raised a $3 million seed round from exceptional institutional investors. Everything looks very promising for our Series A in Q1 of this year.

Some people claim entrepreneurship has been romanticised for too many people (particularly the youth) who are unaware of the hardships of the journey. How has your experience been and do you agree with the former?

Entrepreneurship can be fun and light if you are “playing house” and doing “fluffy” business. But to build a real, scalable business with hundreds and thousands of users that makes money, while also managing a team from diverse backgrounds, is challenging. Despite demanding roles throughout my career in investment banking and strategy consulting, nothing could have prepared me for the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship.

When do you expect to be profitable?

When you build an app or technology platform, scale matters. We have been laser-focused on building an amazing product and continually working to add additional features that really add value and reduce inconvenience. We recently launched our new car leasing feature and have other features launching this year. Given our current growth rate, we expect to be profitable by next year.