Why the decision to launch Eyewa?
We’ve always been problem solvers in our previous roles and realised it’s something we both really enjoyed doing. Both of us have suffered from poor eyesight all our lives and have always felt that there was a gap in the market in the way our eyewear needs were addressed. We decided that this was the right problem for us to solve and that’s how Eyewa was born.
E-commerce platforms for eyewear in the Middle East were non-existent and there was no easy way to shop for eyewear - the retail stores felt too clinical, impersonal and most of all inconvenient. We envisioned a need for a simpler shopping experience that could be accessed from the comfort of your home. Additionally, as this was an industry that had successfully been disrupted in several countries internationally, we felt this would be a great opportunity here.
What makes Eyewa different from the many retail websites in the UAE?
Eyewa is focused on a single vertical. We only sell eyewear products, mainly colored contact lenses, clear contact lenses, sunglasses and eyeglasses. This allows us to be experts in our categories. We offer the most choice, this means that we have 100 percent availability on most brands of contact lenses and we bring unique independent brands of eyewear to the region to complement our existing offering. We also offer a customized user experience adapted for eyewear shopping online and create extensive content to advise customers on products and trends.
Where did the company’s name come from?
Eyewa is a play on words. It has the word “eye” in it, so it sounds like “eyewear”, and “aiwa” in Arabic is an enthusiastic “yes!”
This name not only defines what we do but also matches our identity of being a young and dynamic brand targeting the Middle East.
Do you find the UAE e-commerce retail market too saturated?
The UAE e-commerce market is very far from being saturated. If you look at the online penetration of retail not only in the UAE but in the entire region, it is significantly lower than international benchmarks. The recent acquisition of Souq by Amazon and the launch of Noon are just sparking the beginning of the growth of e-commerce in the Middle East. They are investing significant amounts to educate customers on shopping online. This allows specialised vertical e-commerce players like us to come in and offer a more differentiated offer in our categories and convert these customers.
How do you deal with competition?
We are pioneers in the online eyewear e-commerce space. We do have competitors, be it other eyewear e-tailers, generalist e-commerce players or physical optical chains. We focus all our efforts on bringing the best possible products to our customers, generating useful content for them to find relevant products and then impressing them with an exceptional level of customer service to ensure that they have the best experience when they purchase from Eyewa. We believe that focusing on customers is what will allow us to stay ahead of competition and continue gaining market share.
How has Eyewa been performing so far? Can you share some figures?
Our first order was in August 2017, and at the time, we were three team members working from in5, a co-working space in Dubai. Today, almost a year and a half later, we are a team of 31 in offices across three countries. We have been averaging a double digit monthly growth rate since the beginning, and have been increasing our offering to several thousands. We have also been significantly improving our service level, reaching a very high net promoter score. The recent fundraise we announced of $7.5 million will give us even more fuel for our expansion, both from a geographical perspective and a product/service one.
What are your main challenges at the moment, and how are you tackling them?
One of our biggest challenges as a startup that is growing fast, is managing the growth of our organisation. We went from a handful of team members to a several dozen in a matter of months. Not only is it hard to find the right team members at the pace of our growth, but it is also hard to build processes and structure while maintaining our entrepreneurial mindset. However, this is something that we care about dearly, and we pro-actively invest a lot of our time and resources in building a strong organisation with the right processes and culture mix.
Where did the funding come from, and how did you secure it?
The funding came from institutional investors from around the world, each one bringing a unique experience that will benefit Eyewa in its future growth. We have international investors like GS Shop from Korea, one of the largest e-commerce players in their country that brings a wealth of experience in building an e-commerce at scale, and 500 startups that helps you build a culture of growth through their accelerator program. We coupled that with local venture capitalists like Wamda Capital that bring a deep knowledge of e-commerce in the Middle East or the likes of Usus Al Khawarizmi from Saudi Arabia and Faith Capital from Kuwait that will help us better navigate the operations in their respective countries.
What are your expansion plans for Eyewa?
We plan on expanding our footprint across the region and setting up fulfilment centers in other GCC countries like Kuwait and Oman to be closer to our customers there. Our ambition is to be present across the entire MENA region in the long term. We also plan on expanding our product offering to give our customers the widest choice in eyewear compared to any other retailer in the region.
What is your vision for Eyewa and what do you see it growing into?
From the start, our vision was to become the largest tech-enabled eyewear specialist in the Middle East. It is to improve the region’s access to eyewear, give people more choices for them to express themselves, and help them deal with their eyesight issues. In practical terms, that means that we will expand our services and products in the eyewear category, and get closer to our customers across the MENA region.
If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently with the business?
Over the last two years, we have been exploring a lot of ideas and opportunities in the eyewear market. This sometimes leads to a loss of focus and we found ourselves investing time on a lot of opportunities that in retrospect were not that important for our business. We have learned, with time, to let go of some exciting opportunities to focus on those that will bring the most value to our customers.
What is the best entrepreneurial advice you’ve ever received?
“Raise more money than what you need”. We heard this from several successful entrepreneurs in the MENA market, and it’s great advice for two reasons.
Firstly, when you have more capital, you can launch more projects, make more mistakes, learn and reiterate faster. This ultimately means that you can scale more, which is extremely crucial for tech and tech-enabled startups, as very often, we operate in markets where the winner takes it all, and therefore the value of being there first and staying there last is paramount.
Secondly, fundraising is a lengthy process, and raising more means that you can spend more time on the execution cycle before having to go back to fundraising.[We] recommended raising enough funding for at least 18-24 months of runway.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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