Himmi Bangia discovered she had a knack for online discounted shopping, so she launched a discount website (which she bootstrapped) that is growing at an impressive rate.
How did you get the idea for Barakatalan and why did you decide to launch it?
As with all things, a little luck and a lot of hard work went a long way for me. I hit a few roadblocks with my job and I had always felt I was yet to find my calling. In the process of reflecting on my core interests and passions, I decided to explore my knack for online discounted shopping. Like every working woman on a budget, I had a personal equation when it came to financial management which I felt was something many shoppers could relate to.
And then came along the need to create a community-oriented shopper satisfaction platform, which led to the birth of Barakatalan.com. I had to overcome many silent voices within me, telling me she can’t do it and shouldn’t go through with it, before I started my very own deals and discounts website with an exclusive focus on the Middle East region.
Where did the name come from?
Barakatalan is a combination of two Arabic words. Barakat+Alan. Barakat means ‘growth/increment’. Alan means ‘now; a growth, right now, is what we strive to achieve for all users of our platform. Our aim is to bring “barakat” in the purchasing power of our customers with an immediate effect so that they don’t have to wait for long periods to fulfill both their needs and wants in the same virtual shopping trip.
How difficult was it to attract funding for the company and did you bootstrap it at first? Tell us a little bit about your experience when it came to funding.
Many a times, a dream is just the beginning. Practical aspects of a start-up are always looming and need to be addressed in a quick and efficient manner. Being a good planner, I had set aside a nominal amount from my salary as savings for a time of need (in the same manner that I had organized amounts from my salary for shopping). In addition to this, my family and friends had contributed and supported my ambition.
During the course of the initial stages of investment planning, I had realised that I would lose control over my start-up with external investment at this early stage, and there was a relatively low requirement of funds too, so I had to think long and hard about my other options. I had then approached friends and family and proposed a strategic investment plan to five of them who could contribute three percent of their salary for five months until the business broke even.
My aim is to create a playbook of my business in the MENA region, expand gradually and then help the company expand. I will then consider external investments.
What is your business model?
We are a coupons and deals aggregator - we list deals and coupons from big trending and leading ecommerce stores and companies across a range of categories like fashion, food, travel, sports, books and many more on our website. Pursuant to this we additionally promote these deals through various online marketing techniques- like Search Engine Optimization (SEO), email marketing, social media and other streams to drive sales for our partners and associated companies on which we earn commissions on their sales.
What are some of your biggest challenges at the moment?
A couple of hurdles come to mind like having the right attribution model. We are not attributed to all the sales brought by us and are not provided with the right proofs. This challenge exists in all developing markets and gets resolved with time like in the US. We also have a vision to move towards a personalised deals platform and for that, there is a need to educate clients and advertisers, for which an inherent investment of time and effort is required. Also, human resource challenges are always present when it comes to the selection procedures, time, effort, training and skill development. Getting the right people with the right skills is something to invest in. While partnering with advertisers or other partners, quick approvals from partner companies is based upon having a large follower base and high traffic on the site. But as a start-up with low traffic in the initial stages, persistence is key for us. Showing up and actively growing traffic consistently will, with time, ensure the intended smooth functioning.
What are your predictions for the region’s e-commerce industry?
Ecommerce in the Middle East is still in its infancy when compared with other regions around the world. This could mean a lot of room for growth, and a majority of predictions state that online sales will rise in the next few years.
Do you think online retail will eventually completely replace brick and mortar retail businesses?
With the continuous expansion of online retail, some retail owners may worry that e-commerce will eventually replace physical shopping centers. But brick and mortar retail isn’t going anyway; rather online retailers are opening physical storefronts. Amazon, the largest and most well known online retailer, launched its first store in November in Seattle. It’s rumored the online retail giant plans to open up to 400 stores nationally.
I believe the complete consumer experience does include the physical stores or at least virtual experience which provides all the aspects of storefronts like trying clothes, exchange and more. Because you can’t get a haircut online, or enjoy a dining experience or entertainment involving physical activity or social interaction online. Brick and mortar retail with store fronts is not going anywhere. However, all experiences are enhanced with the ease and effortlessness of accessing some features from the comfort of your home. Online platforms like ours help bring the rest of the world right to your palm.
How is Barakatalan performing at the moment and since launching?
We are experiencing 70 percent growth month-on-month and are making around 70 percent as gross profits. We have tie-ups with 150 advertisers from this region and 200,000 subscribers to our newsletter. Today, we have grown to seven person team from one. With this pace of growth, profit margins and an enthusiastic team, I am sure we will be the market leaders in a year’s time.
What are your future growth and expansion plans for the business?
After capturing the Middle Eastern market, we aim to create a global presence for the site in the next 5 years, with the attention of working women - shopping enthusiasts like me - who are looking for great deals, and would need a quick fix for their material appetites. My goal is to encourage customers to shop to their heart’s content, smoothly and with all the price information they need to make it a fruitful venture.
If you could go back, what would you have done differently in your career or in the setting up of Barakatalan?
I think I should have started believing in myself a lot before and founded barakatalan much earlier, but everything has a time they say. So, I am thankful that today a little later but I am doing what I love. Once you step out from the confines of your own preconceived notions, you’ll encounter an entirely different version of yourself, one that can achieve anything.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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