Ahmed Al Khatib is the founder and chief executive of MarkaVIP, an invitation-only online shopping club, which sells designer goods at a discount. He speaks about the company and his experience working for companies such as Amazon and eBay during their start-up years.
You worked with brands such as eBay and Amazon during their start-up years. What did you do?
It was more consulting …. I worked on the data centre by assisting in building the network infrastructure and the server infrastructure to be able to meet demand. In high volume and high transaction e-commerce environments, downtime can affect business. The goal was to set up an environment that would be robust 24/7, so the bulk of the work was on making sure the environments were solid and secure.
You then worked for a few other companies, including Zazzle.com. What do you do after that?
I came here to the UAE. I was hired by an internet group here to help launch some of their e-commerce businesses here. I was with them for four or five months and then I realised how strong this market can be. I thought it was a good idea to start my own company.
And that's when you started MarkaVIP in Jordan?
Yes, we started researching early on about the regulatory environment and what would it take for a company to be successful, what's the easiest and fastest thing that we can launch. We settled on MarkaVIP and started raising money in late August [last year] and we landed our first investment deal in September. It was a very small seed round. We launched in November. Within two months we put a team together, a platform and we launched.
How many countries does MarkaVIP operate in now?
We're in eight countries, all the GCC, Jordan and Lebanon and we plan to go after North Africa very soon.
Which market shows the most promise?
The most promising is Saudi Arabia because of the number of people online and the GDP per capita. Surprisingly enough Jordan and Lebanon represent 30 to 40 per cent of our revenues and our sales … because we're local there … and we're offering products that otherwise they would not be able to find in the offline markets.
Luxury brands are freely available in the UAE, so how will you compete with shops here?
With the established brands we're selling we're not competing with the offline brands because we're working with excess stock and maybe past seasons, so we're an additional distributional channel for these brands. The other thing is that 50 per cent of the brands we offer are up-and-coming brands in their respective countries, which are not present here in the Middle East.
Is there room for another online discount website in the UAE?
Group buying is saturated, but our business model is completely different. We're selling a physical, tangible product that you can use on a daily basis and give as a gift. It's a high-quality brand.