Ammar Akhtar, Founder and CEO of Finalrentals, talks to us about how his car rental company is distinguishing itself from the competition in a crowded sector, as well as the challenges a self-funded startup often faces.
Here at AMEinfo, we are constantly fascinated with the amount of new mobility startups that are constantly popping up in the region, and particularly in a country like the UAE.
Finalrentals, an online platform for car rentals, is the latest on our radar. The car rental sector in the UAE is already quite competitive, but this new company launched in 2018 is striving to make a name for itself regardless.
"It is without a doubt that the UAE is gifted with some amazing entrepreneurs and startups doing awesome work in the mobility sector," Ammar Akhtar, Founder and CEO of Finalrentals, tells AMEinfo. "However, based on the business models or their own visions and choices, I can safely say that no one has packaged car rental marketplace solutions like we did."
Hoping to learn more about this company and its bold aspirations, AMEinfo spoke with its equally as bold Founder and CEO, who broke the news that his company is expanding to Saudi Arabia this month.
(Interview edited for length and clarity)
Can you tell us more about how your company came to be and the market need you were trying to address?
I moved to the UAE from Pakistan in 2007 as a solopreneur and a web developer. I think destiny may have had a hand in it, as my first project was to build a website for Budget Rent a Car, which is one of the largest car rental companies in the UAE. It was my first official gig in the UAE market and I was excited. The assignment was eye opening for me as it helped me understand the car rental side (the operations) as well as eCommerce side (the booking engines). When the project was launched, it was a great success, and I then went on making websites for Thrifty, Dollar, Autorent, and many other car rental companies in the region.
The experience provided me with this amazing opportunity to understand the car rentals industry as well what the customers are looking for and where the pain points were when it came to online bookings and what can be improved. I kept on learning from and recording these incidents and experiences for over 11 years, where I formed an agency creating online booking engines for car rentals.
After a long wait of 11 years, it was 2018 when I decided "ok, I am going to innovate the car rental industry for sure," and thus Finalrentals was born. We aimed to bring transparency to online booking, making long-term and monthly car rental possible on the web and app, while making sure customers get a car in real time and with the best prices (that is how the word Final came into the brand name). These were the three basic pain points of car renters at large.
The UAE is already saturated with mobility startups, particularly in the personal automobile segment. What is Finalrentals' USP that will help it stand out among the competition?
It is without a doubt that the UAE is gifted with some amazing entrepreneurs and startups doing awesome work in the mobility sector. However, based on the business models or their own visions and choices, I can safely say that no one has packaged car rental marketplace solutions like we did.
Foreign expats are used to rent a car based on location. We offer location-based car rentals from than 400 locations in the UAE. That makes us the largest car rental marketplace in terms of locations.
What has your entrepreneurial journey been like so far, and what were the greatest challenges you faced (and are currently facing)?
I have been a full time entrepreneur since 2005. Before moving to Dubai, I was running a mobile game development company in Pakistan called Micromiles. I sold that company/technology to a local software group called Softflux, before moving to Dubai.
I always dreamt of creating an organization and creating jobs. From the solopreneur days in Dubai to the lean startup that we are today, it has been a journey with many ups and downs. After I launched Finalrentals, I almost went bankrupt in the first 6 months as it was the first time I was running a startup. Without monthly retainers and AMC (asset management company) payments in place, I didn’t know how to run it. It has taken me a while to understand how the economics work as a startup when you have not raised any funding from external sources.
The greatest challenge was the transition from an agency to a startup. The second biggest challenge is how to market which I face everyday and try to fight my way out of. But I suggest that entrepreneurs try to run their startup as lean as possible and find innovative ways to market their product.
Can you share with us any information on how funding for the company has been handled?
I started Finalrentals with my personal savings, precisely $40,000 that included building the tech, the app, the salaries and everything in between. Everything that we are today is because of that $40k.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business, and how are you dealing with it?
COVID has been a rough storm for the travel industry and car rental is a big part of this industry. We have seen the number of rentals sold per day drop to a single digit in the months of March, April, May, June. But July has been kind and as we get closer to a possible vaccine I think the industry is beginning to bounce back.
Lockdown months were very tough, but thanks to our lean methods of doing business, there were no pay cuts, no lay offs and no panic. We have used the lockdown period to strengthen our tech and our skillset as well as our UI/UX which will help us greatly when the world returns to nromal again. We will come out stronger than ever.
Where do you see your company in 5 years?
I love Finalrentals from the bottom of my heart and I wouldn’t want to do anything else but this. I hope to see the company going truly global and to be recognized as a global force to reckon with. I'm truly blessed to be working with some brilliant and amazingly gifted young individuals who work tireless alongside me to make a dent in the world.
The exciting news is that we are going live in Saudi in less than 3 weeks time. Fingers crossed!