By Lubna Hamdan
Founder and CEO Omer Gurel wants to help the industry overcome short-term discounting by rewarding loyal customers and keeping them coming back for more
He’s not your average entrepreneur. Since he was 19, Omer Gurel has launched as many as seven ventures, ranging from a waste tire and crude oil recycling factory to the world’s first organic and biodegradable cigarette brand.
More recently, he co-founded 1001 App Software Solutions in Dubai, which designs delivery apps for groceries and mini markets, but today his latest start-up Repeat takes up the majority of his time. The smart loyalty platform is helping restaurants overcome heavy discounting while rewarding repeat customers. After raising $2.5m in a Series A round in October this year, Gurel set out to scale the business across the UAE followed by the wider GCC by 2020. In less than a year since launching, the app has so far onboarded over 500 restaurants and is estimated to breakeven in the UAE in the first half of next year.
How did the idea for Repeat come about?
My wife and I were on a brief vacation near my home city of Izmir and we would have dinner at the same restaurant for three consecutive evenings when on the last day, I jokingly told the owner that I should get a discount because of the frequency of my visits to his establishment. He immediately replied by saying that I deserved a 25 percent discount which he offered to us without another word and a big smile on his face. This was my light bulb moment, when I said Eureka! It was at that moment that Repeat started taking some shape and form in my mind.
Why does the market need Repeat?
We are helping the F&B industry overcome its addiction to heavy discounting with two-for-one offers or buy-one-get-one-free vouchers and the like. Ask any restaurant owner or operator what they think about such schemes and they will all agree that they are good in the short-term but bad for the long-term. They practically give food away for free, a practice that literally eats into their margin. And they don’t build loyalty because customers visit them simply to have free food, usually at the busiest time for the outlet, and once the offer expires, or is no longer valid, they don’t come back.
Repeat is unique because it is the world’s first smart loyalty platform for restaurants that dynamically rewards customers for their frequency and spend. Repeat ensures that the best prices in a restaurant go to the best customers. We have created a win-win situation for both consumers and merchants whereby restaurants increase their revenues while giving incentives and rewards to their most loyal customers according to their frequency and spend. The sooner you visit a restaurant again the higher the reward you receive as a customer.
For restaurant owners, we effectively provide an always-on marketing solution that promotes their businesses and helps them increase revenues by helping them bring customers back sooner through tailored rewards based on how often they visit and the size of their bill.
We offer enhanced customer insights, complete control of their profile in real time, and flexibility to set up their own tier structure and pricing based on branch-specific variables and performance.
What makes Repeat unique among other players?
Repeat’s end-user benefits are also unique; it is a free app, unlike most F&B loyalty programmes which require hefty upfront investment. Repeat gives power to the end-users because the more often they visit their favourite restaurants, the better price they get and, the higher their bill, the better the value they receive. And there are no limits in terms of how many times they can use it at a specific restaurant or the menu items they can select.
So, basically, through Repeat’s personalised pricing system, a person who goes back to a restaurant after three days gets a better price than someone who goes back after three weeks.
Similarly, somebody who spends AED2,000 a year in a restaurant gets a better price than somebody who spends AED500 per year. In this way what we bring to the market is a very fair way to price their product according to their customers’ behaviour and we call this the price integrity principle.
What is your business model?
Our business model is highly scalable because it offers a unique solution to a large number of potential customers. Our solution can be adjusted to the individual needs and requirements of each establishment and, in this way, it is appealing to a diversified audience of restaurant types.
The success of our business is directly linked to customers’ commercial success, so we feel totally committed to them because their fortunes are linked to ours. And it works both ways, because our customers feel the same due to the tangible returns they get, which can be as high as 18 percent in revenue increase for all transactions going through the app. So far, and in less than a year of going live, we have onboarded more than 500 restaurant partners. We have two monetisation models, one based on a monthly flat subscription fee and the other based on a commission fee on all transactions going through the app.
Tell us a little bit about your funding journey. How is the business funded and what has been your experience in attracting investors?
In total, through our seed and Series A rounds we have raised and received commitments for a total of $4.5m. Investors understand that Repeat is truly transforming the way loyalty management can positively impact the bottom line of merchants worldwide. The global loyalty management market is currently growing at a CAGR of 23.3 percent. Investors understand numbers and believe in our potential as we are set to expand by 100 times in revenue and deliver our shareholders ten times ROI by 2024.
Has it been easy? No.
But investors can tell if you have an idea that solves a real problem and if you have a team of experts in their field who are fully aligned behind the mission and vision of the company, then if you are persistent, they eventually back you.
How has your start-up been performing since its launch?
We started with one client and four people less than 12 months ago. Today, we have more than 500 restaurant partners, 60,000 app downloads and a team of 45 people in Dubai and Turkey. Based on current growth trajectory, we will be operationally breaking even in the UAE during the first half of 2020.
Any expansion plans in the UAE, GCC and beyond?
We will be using this funding to expand in the UAE market and to solidify our international expansion strategy. After these milestones are achieved our aim is to start raising our Series B funding round by first of April 2020 to start expanding to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait by Q2 2020 and London and New York by Q3 and Q4 2020, respectively.
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
The best advice I ever received in my life was from my grandfather at the age of 15 and that was to always do a to-do list every morning. It keeps you focussed and results oriented.
What is it really like being an entrepreneur?
Well, in my case, I have always been an entrepreneur, so I don’t know what it’s like in any other career or life path.
However, I can tell you that, for me, the defining aspect of being an entrepreneur is about spotting an opportunity, weighing it and then going for it literally with your life. Entrepreneurship is about always being on the lookout for an opportunity, for innovation, persistence, grit, blood, sweat and tears and everything else in the middle. It is about intensity and the will to make something out of nothing.