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Wed 7 May 2014 10:29 AM

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The business of errands

Hani El Sherbini explains how Mashaweer is finding success by helping other small businesses complete their daily errands

The business of errands

As any entrepreneur, SME owner, or member of a start-up will tell you, time spent on menial tasks is time wasted on important projects.

Many a man hour is lost to journeys across town to deliver a product, deposit a cheque, or dry clean a favourite suit.

The same can be said for people’s everyday lives, especially in a place like Dubai, where time is of the essence, and some ‘life admin’ seems to take an age to complete.

But such a scenario also provides opportunities, and it’s against this backdrop that Hani El Sherbini launched Mashaweer – a personal errands service which can lighten your load and complete your time-consuming tasks, no matter what they are.

Mashaweer – recongisable by its yellow and black branding – was launched in 2012, and has since helped growing numbers of customers save time and energy with its team of messengers which cover the length and breadth of Dubai.

El Sherbini, hailing from Alexandria in Egypt, originally trained as a civil engineer and later entered business as an importer and exporter. But despite spending most of his working life in the GCC, he explains it was his long-standing memory of an experience in the US that prompted him to start his latest venture.

“My brother in law and I first tried this kind of service in the US in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” he says. “We thought it was a nice idea, and then it started to pop up in other parts of the world.

“As time went on we noticed that it still hadn’t arrived in the UAE, which is where I spent a lot of time, so we thought we would present it to Dubai.”

Putting his plan into action in early 2012, El Sherbini launched Mashaweer in July of that year. Being new to the industry, the entrepreneur admits there were many hurdles to overcome.

“When we started out, every step was a challenge,” he says. “You have to learn a lot in the short space of time so that you can keep moving things forward.

“Recruiting was a problem. Probably the biggest problem. We had to hire messengers to run around the whole of Dubai. When you hire them, they have to know the entire city by heart, which is very difficult.

“That kind of knowledge is not really available here. People know certain parts very well, but don’t know other parts at all. So we had to tour Dubai with them so they could get to know the whole place. It took us about three months to do this training, which put us behind schedule.”

Despite this, El Sherbini suggests the time spent training his team was an important part of the business’s success, establishing the kind of standards necessary to build a strong reputation, and ensuring each customer received the same level of service, no matter what their requirements.

Requirements which have, so far, proved to be varied.

“To call our team messengers is not quite accurate, because they have to do so many different jobs,” he says.

“They have to be focused throughout the day and have to be able to change their mindset from one type of job to the next immediately – from one type of client to another, one type of responsibility to another.

“Each task is different and they need to be able to adapt to each one and perform their job perfectly. Pick this up from the tailor, and after you deliver it go and buy grociers, and then collect a cheque and deposit it. It requires a lot more focus than you might think, and can be a challenge for them, but they do it extremely well.”

No expense has been spared to ensure Mashaweer’s staff can carry out their tasks quickly and accurately, with each courier given mobile phones with GPS enabled.

“This way we can track them and their errand, and they can find their way easily,” says El Sherbini.

“It also means we can locate the nearest guy to a pick-up location, so we can assign the order to them and be confident that somebody is with the customer within 30 minutes.

“There’s also an application on each handset to help us connect with the messengers. Plus, every step of the errand, the customer gets notification – they get an email when something has been picked up, delivered, and so on. The customer is always aware of what state the errand is at.

“The standards are easy to establish, but the hard part is maintaining them. We think we’ve got it right though, and it’s important that we’re not only about delivering. We also sort things out for people. Our messengers don’t just turn and leave if there’s a problem. They stick around and try to solve it.”

The dedication to their service and to the customers has paid dividends. El Sherbini says the business is “picking up a lot” with more and more people signing up to use Mashaweer every week.

Among those flocking to its banner is an increasing number of start-ups and SMEs looking to save time by outsourcing some of its tasks.

The reason for this, according to El Sherbini, is simple.

“For a start-up, any kind of errand outside the office is time away from doing the important parts of their business, so we’re really offering something which helps them focus on their important work.

“There are a lot of people who work from home and do things like arts and crafts, for example, and they need to deliver their items, but it’s hard for them to go out and deliver things themselves. Mashaweer is feasible for them.

“There are also a lot of new web-based businesses who have expertise in that field, but don’t know about delivery and logistics. That provides an opportunity for us as well, to fill that gap and help them out.

“E-commerce and IT start-ups are great, but somebody always has to do the job on the ground, otherwise these businesses won’t be able to work. This is a gap that we identified and are filling.”

He adds that Mashaweer’s services are not only suitable for tech-based business owner, but also more traditional businesses.

“For the traditional businesses to have their own in-house messengers is very costly. If you bring together the costs of doing everything that we do, you’re looking at several thousand dirhams every month just to do errands. Probably around AED200 per day. We can help do these jobs at a much smaller price.”

Being resourceful with money is something El Sherbini is well versed in, having had to build a service on a small budget.

He explains that financial limitations mean, he didn’t set any major targets for Mashaweer, preferring to see how people responded to their service.

“We definitely had to be careful with money – just like any start-up,” he says. “But we also had to make sure we had enough people to do the job well.

“We didn’t set any targets when we started out – we just said ‘ok, how will it work? Are our prices right? Will people accept it and use it?’ It’s working out for us, and now things are different. Now we’d like to expand.”

He reveals that Abu Dhabi is the logical next step for Mashaweer, as well as building operations within Dubai, while returning to the theme of caution.

“We have to manage expansion carefully – we don’t want to jeopardise the quality of service.”

Having moved from business-to-business into business-to-consumer, El Sherbini has had to learn a lot of new skills during his journey with Mashaweer, gaining experience along the way.

When it comes to assessing his own character, he can pinpoint what has helped him succeed in various fields.

“Personally, I’m a bit persistent,” he says. “If I have a good feeling about something, I will keep trying and trying until it works. That’s something that’s important for entrepreneurs – you can’t give up easily.

“It’s not easy to be a start-up at all, but that’s the challenge. If you keep going, examine the market and what needs there are, and find a way to do something different, then you can find success.

“You just have to be ready to work for it and keep going all the time.”

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