Zbooni (Arabic for ‘my customer’) is a homegrown UAE payment and SME enabler since its inception in 2017, helping businesses thrive by overcoming major financial and operational pain points.
It uses a B2B mobile app as a platform for merchants to start and facilitate hassle-free digital commerce with their customers.
The company uses a number of tools to achieve that, including a secure invoicing technology, speedy digital store set-up for their clients, and software development.
In 2020, the company achieved upwards of 600% growth at a time when COVID-19 was decimating business.
In January 2021, investors plugged in an additional $5 million into Zbooni, adding to the $1.5 million it raised in 2019.
Interested in such bona fide performance and stakeholder confidence in the company, AMEinfo interviewed Ramy Assaf, CEO of Zbooni, and discussed the business behind the success of his company.
Zbooni, why and how it works
There are a number of logistical reasons why SMEs need Zbooni.
“SMEs have largely been disenfranchised and alienated when it comes to bank services. For businesses to go online and start accepting payments from a customer, the traditional journey has been rather challenging to the extent that it often discourages SMEs from participating,” started Assaf.
For example, as part of obtaining a merchant’s ID which identifies the business as a beneficiary transaction, SMEs, in some cases, have to provide two years of audited financials in the UAE.
“So that’s a show-stopper right there. What if I have been in business for only 6 months?” asked Assaf.
He continued by saying that most financial services offered by banks largely cater to big companies and retail groups.
“SMEs are left in the shadows. These services are not designed for them. The playing field is not equal,” he pointed out.
SMEs vying for a robust online presence and e-commerce solutions will not only need payment gateways but also software to create product catalogs, attractive digital marketplaces, and quick and friendly experiences at the checkout.
“And those software solutions are not super SME friendly. You usually go to one place to get a payment solution and another to get software that enables you to sell. You have to combine them like a Frankenstein and hopefully, you additionally have IT support and a web developer to do that,” said Assaf.
“These are all complications haunting businesses and this is the opportunity we saw, to combine these things together, get SMEs online and up and running, solve for payments and software, make it very easy, put it on a mobile device, and get it all going in one single day.”
Zbooni takes a page from the Amazon model
Not everything you buy from Amazon is made by Amazon, and Zbooni has taken a page from that model by aggregating merchants under one platform.
Zbooni, however, is not yet involved in product logistics such as last-mile delivery and shipping but is now looking to engage third-party providers and partners on board.
“We have a marketplace merchant ID that allows various merchant types to use the platform. We work with the bank, get a merchant ID, and allow sub-merchants to make use of it under our rules. We thus become the merchant of record as the marketplace operator and we do regular and timely settlements with our merchant base,” explained Assaf.
“We have merchants that performed traditional bank transfers and cash transactions and are now looking to digitally transform while others are startups and SMEs seeking to allow for a secure checkout on social media channels like WhatsApp, or Instagram or accept Visa, Mastercard, Apple Pay, and other cards, and we can accommodate for both types of merchants.”
Who are the merchants doing business with Zbooni?
Assaf said that Zbooni has 2500 transacting merchants with some doing $5000 per month in revenues and others well in excess of that.
“In fact, 40-50% of our merchants are not selling physical products, but rather non-tangible services like legal services, yoga, accounting, and others,” revealed Assaf.
“The other 50% are product-selling merchants. We are a B2B operation but we do sit in the middle between the seller and the buyer and so we have a responsibility towards end-users to ensure the best UX at the checkout.”
How are the millions in funds spent?
Zbooni raised $1.1 mn in 2019, and $5 mn in 2021.
“The money is partly allocated towards building the technology and the product and adding more features, and we’ve made serious investments in that regard because it’s something we’ve built from the ground up and it takes expertise, engineering, trial and error to provide a richer experience for both users and merchants,” said Assaf.
“We constantly look at providing more frictionless ways for merchants to do business, and aim to provide speedy, highly efficient, world-class UX for their customers when finalizing payments.”
Zbooni will also use the funds to open new markets, and since January 2021, it started new operations in Saudi and Jordan.
The expansion will help it optimize and maximize margins to drive more profits.
“We’ve had a 500-600% growth in 2020, and it’s not from burning more money. We are growing organically at 40-50% month on month,” said Assaf.
“Venture capital knows we’re growing at a healthy pace, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to raise funds.”
Data and security
Assaf said data plays a critical role, helping the business understand how people use the platform, how to segment merchant types and user types, and to make the product more impactful for them.
“We use data to protect the system, meaning there are going to be people who will attempt to misuse the system and we can identify anomalies and weed out abusers with our machine learning technology allowing us to track behavioral and real-time data,” revealed Assaf.
“We value the story that data tells us, but as to the microdata or granular profiles we have and collect, we have no interest in selling it and are in fact very protective of it.”