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Exclusive: UAE startup Finalrentals to expand to KSA this month, bringing Saudis a seamless car rental experience

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.

Akhtar created his company in 2018 with $40,000: "Everything that we are today is because of that $40k." Since then. the company has focused on creating a seamless, convenient user experience for the client across both the web and their app While COVID has slowed down their operations, business has been bouncing back since July, and the company is now expanding to Saudi this month

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.

  • For people living in the UAE for extended periods of time who prefer renting a car on a monthly/long-term basis with no strings, subscriptions and Ts and Cs attached, we offer them just that, with free pickup and delivery as well as pro-rata based billing and well as no early cancellation fees.  
  • Short-term rentals are still a large piece of the car rental cake, represented by tourist demand, for example. We are the only platform where you can book for daily, weekly and monthly basis with a specially-designed interface and booking flows based on the car rental duration. This makes it very easy for the client to plan their rental as well as their journey.
  • Airport locations are the most important and very strategic locations when it comes to the car rental business. We cover all airport locations in the UAE and a lot of our business comes from these locations (post COVID this will be recovering slowly but surely).
  • Omnichannel technology in place: Most of the car rental portals in the UAE offer their website as a hook to download their app to book a car and most of the web portals are used as enquiry engines and live chat engines to gather customer info and then convert that into a booking. Finalrentals allows you to book on the web, on the app and on mobile, and we do not force the user to download the app because our tech is omnichannel and the customer can use any channel to book since our technology is seamless.
  • The Supply: A majority of car rental portals in the UAE are allowing almost any rental company to be a part of their platform. For us, customer service is one of the most important aspects, which is why we work with the top 10 best car rental companies in the UAE – the companies with enough supply and better customer service, cleaning and operational standards. We choose our suppliers very carefully, regardless of how many requests we receive on daily basis. 
  • The Repeat Customer: Based on the seamless mix of offerings and the clear path to complete a booking, I think that is one reason why we have almost 44% of our clients are repeat customers, and this number is growing very rapidly.

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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!

Read: 5 tips for travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic