Muhammad Chbib can barely contain his excitement. He’s on his iPad, flicking through the products on Desado.com, the new Dubai-based online source for design and decor that he founded and launched on December 10. He scrolls down and points to some intricate jewellery.
“You have this handmade jewellery, which is built to order. This is art,” he enthuses. “It is made by André Meyerhans, who is a world-class architect. He chose to work with our site because the quality of what we do matches his standards. Then you have these extremely quirky foldable chairs, called Flux. The chair comes flat; you open it, put it together and you have a chair. It’s a fantastic idea. This is the kind of stuff we want to bring to the region. Could you walk into Home Centre or any other shop here and find something like that?”
Elsewhere on the site are designer headsets by Angle & Curve, furniture from The Urban Yogi, contemporary Chinese glass art, pop-style iPhone protectors, deliciously simple tableware by the Swedish brand Lob Design, outlandish men’s underwear by Antivol and quirky kitchenware from Black + Blum. “How can you look at that and not smile,” Chbib says of the brand’s James the Doorman bookends.
New products, or ‘events’, are added and removed in rotation, with new items being introduced on a daily basis. Products stay on the site for a minimum of four days, which means you have to act quickly if you see something you like.
Desado’s aim is to provide people in this region with access to unusual, well-crafted, well-priced design. “People here are used to the mainstream,” Chbib says. “You go out to a restaurant and 50 per cent of people are wearing the same thing, because there are no alternatives. You go to people’s homes and they look the same. There is very little choice that is fundamentally different and also affordable. We are trying to fill that gap.
“You have so many malls but you have similar products in all of them. There’s nothing that allows you to make an individual statement. Obviously, you can make a statement if you invest US$500,000 [Dh1.8million] and enlist the help of an interior designer to create something unique, but there are a lot of things that you can bring to a broader audience that don’t exist here and that are not expensive.
“Design does not have to be expensive. You can have a nice piece that’s designed well, of high quality, made in China by someone who is creative. And that, for me, if the quality is good and the design is excellent, is as good as something designed by an Italian or a Norwegian or a Dane. People need access to that.”
Of Syrian origin, Chbib went to business school in Germany, where he was born and raised, and was a classmate and friend of Oliver Samwer of Rocket Internet fame. A natural born entrepreneur, Chbib launched his first start-up soon after graduating, and then moved into consultancy. He relocated to Dubai in 2004 to work for McKinsey & Company but maintained close ties with the start-up industry.
“I got a call in 2010 from the investors behind the fashion website, Sukar.com. They were looking for someone to take over the CEO role; someone a bit more senior with some grey hair! When I joined
Sukar, we were 25 to 30 people and I took that to almost 130 people before I decided to leave and do something new. Then I started on Desado.”
Chbib is a self-confessed stickler for details, prone to double-checking (and then triple-checking) everything. He is also near-obsessed with the idea of consistency. And the results are there for all to see on Desado.com, which is intelligently-designed, thorough and as easy-as-pie to navigate.
“When I first sketched it out, I wanted something that was warm and welcoming and told people straight away that this was not standard,” he explains. “Everything is very clear and very crisp. There’s very little confusion. It’s very clear where you should go if you want to find certain things. I hate websites where you have 150 alternatives to click on. Also, the website should move to the background as soon as you see the products because we want people to focus on the most important aspect of why we exist. We want them to enjoy their shopping experience.”
Chbib is very clear on one thing – at Desado, the customer is king. Even though he is the company’s CEO, he will often pick up calls intended for the customer support team to talk directly to his customers and find out what their issues and concerns are. He’s also been known to join drivers in the dispatch lorries as they carry out their deliveries.
While the heterogeneity of the Middle East means that Desado’s customer base is incredible diverse, everybody has one thing in common, Chbib maintains. “They want excellent stuff, with excellent service, and they don’t want to be fooled. If you promise something, you keep your promise. When I went to Sukar, I reduced delivery time dramatically and I didn’t promise more than what we ever delivered. That’s the trick.”
So far, it’s a formula that seems to be striking a chord. Before it had even been launched, Desado had 12,500 “real likes” on Facebook and 40,000 pre-registered members. Chbib is predicting that the number of registered users will grow by between 25,000 and 50,000 every month and reach nearly three quarters of a million within a year. Within two days in operation, the site received 100 incoming orders.
“People spend, on average, around seven to eight minutes on the website, which is a lot for a site like this, which means they really like the products. It is a very socially-enabled site. We want people to come here and browse and take a look at what we have. Even if they don’t buy anything, we want them to see this as a creative platform where they can get ideas.”
A few weeks into the launch of Desado and Chbib is already planning an Arabic-language version. Expansion across the GCC and then into the Levant and North Africa is also on the agenda. Desado originates from the Spanish word “deseado”, meaning desired, and ultimately Chbib wants his site to be a first port of call for people all across the region looking for “sexy”, non-mainstream design items.
“When people desire something, we want them to come to us first. And once they are here we want them to browse the site, like it, share it with friends, and maybe buy. We want millions of people in the Middle East to come to our site and make it their own.”