x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

Geeks cash in on IT support

After starting out as a repair service for consumers, the start up Geeks has expanded to business customers and has its eye on the Saudi market

Geeks founders Mousa Yassin, left, and Fathi Al Sharif Antonie Robertson / The National
Geeks founders Mousa Yassin, left, and Fathi Al Sharif Antonie Robertson / The National

There is often an assumption that the key to a successful start-up is “the big idea”. It is the moment when the penny drops, the light bulb goes on above your head and suddenly the seed for a multimillion dollar business is planted in your brain.

The reality, of course, is usually rather different; a successful entrepreneur has to have a degree of determination, desire and discipline to actually go out and find the big idea rather than wait for it to fall into their lap.

That determination comes from different places. Careem co-founder Magnus Olsson was determined to build something meaningful after recovering from a potentially life-threatening brain surgery. His business partner Mudassir Sheikha’s primary motivation, meanwhile, was to create a billion-dollar company, with the two only coming up with their game-changing ride-sharing business much later.

For Mousa Yassin and Fathi Al Sharif, the co-founders of Geeks, it was as simple as setting themselves a new challenge after becoming disillusioned with well-paid but comfortable jobs in Dubai.

“When you are working in a large corporation it is very easy to feel a bit stagnant after a while,” Mr Yassin says.

“Even when you are in a job that is paying you a lot, there is that urge to do something different and more challenging, to create something meaningful to the world. It starts off with that feeling, and then you go looking for start-up ideas. That is how it played out for Fathi and me at least.” 

The two would-be entrepreneurs did their research and eventually found their big idea within consumer IT, a field Mr Al Sharif was familiar with thanks to his day job with Microsoft.

“People are becoming more and more dependent on technology day by day, with more and more products coming into our lives. Plus business IT needs are changing rapidly from what they were even five years ago,” says Mr Yassin.  

“Our idea was to start a business to support people through this transition.”

The original idea for the company, hatched in late 2014, was to provide a quick and easy service to repair consumer devices such as smartphones and laptops, with one crucial difference — such repairs would be done by a trained specialist, or “geek”, who would come to your office or home and do the job on the spot, where possible.

“We found that if you had a problem with your phone or laptop, typically you would have to go out of your way to take it to a repair shop in a place like Deira, which would often take a long time to get to, and where you could pay a lot of money without being certain of the quality of the repair job you were getting,” says Mr Yassin.

“We thought, let us try and see if we can come to people’s location, and try and offer a repair service within 30 minutes or less.”

After a trial website and mini-campaign drew an encouraging response, the two entrepreneurs started up Geeks with their own savings, recruiting a team of trusted IT professionals, supported by a software platform developed by Mr Al Sharif that would automate the operational cycle, assigning incoming customer requests to the professional with the right speciality in the nearest location.

Geeks went live in December 2014, enjoying promising success in its first year. By the end of 2015, the company’s 10 geeks had served 6,500 customers in Dubai, fixing 3,500 phones, 2,400 laptops and 600 tablets.

The company was able to maintain its business momentum into 2016, handling around three times as many requests as it did in its first year.

By that time, however, Mr Yassin and Mr Al Sharif were looking for ways to develop the company and tap new revenue streams. In mid-2016, Geeks started going after business customers as well.

“Many businesses in the UAE, especially SMEs, cannot afford to hire dedicated IT staff, but will often struggle with basic issues such as how to set up email, how to create a basic website, where to host a server, what laptops to buy and so on,” says Mr Yassin.

“And from our perspective, working with businesses has the advantage of generating more recurring revenues. Plus many of these requests we get from businesses don’t need to be carried out by a geek on the premises, but can be done via remote support instead.”

By this time, Geeks had begun to attract the interest of outside investors.

The company announced $600,000 worth of seed capital in June 2016 in a funding round led by Dubai-based Wamda Capital, together with fellow Dubai-based investment group Equitrust and Rabea Ataya, the chief executive of regional recruitment website Bayt.com.

This funding enabled Geeks to increase the number of geeks on its books, its original fully in-house team now increasingly outsourced to trusted third-party professionals.

The new money also helped the company to scale up its platform to handle an increased number of requests, particularly from business customers, and to help improve the operational efficiency of the geeks on its books.

That pivot towards business customers seems to be paying off; a year later, the new business line now accounts for around about 40 per cent of the company’s revenue.

The new strategy — and uptick in revenue — has certainly pleased Geeks’ backers. The company is in the process of finalising $1 million worth of bridge funding in the coming months, with Wamda Capital once again leading the round.

“We were early backers in Geeks and continue to back the company primarily because we believe the founders and team are exceptional and are delivering results beyond expectations,” says Fares Ghandour, a partner with Wamda Capital.

“Furthermore, this is a massive opportunity and the existing tech solutions to consumers as well as SMEs are broken and inefficient. Geeks is introducing efficiency to a broken industry.”

Geeks is by no means alone in trying to fix this industry, with plenty of other companies looking for a piece of the pie in the consumer and business segments.

Mr Yassin remains confident that Geeks can remain ahead of its competitors thanks to its technology-driven and customer-centric approach.

“We are constantly measuring ourselves on how fast we can deliver our services, without scrimping on the training we give our geeks and the quality of parts that we use for repairs,” he says.

“We have also been careful to invest a lot in our platform, making it scalable to handle ever larger numbers of requests, but also to collect data on what works best for different types of businesses in different locations, and how we can deliver such services at a compelling price point.”

The next step in the Geeks story is perhaps its most ambitious yet — later this year it plans to move beyond its home market of the UAE, and into Saudi Arabia.

“Right now we are in the middle of setting up a centralised support team in Jordan that will take care of all of our remote support services and customer support, especially on the business side of things,” says Mr Yassin.

“Not only is it a lot cheaper to have such a function in Jordan than to have it here in the UAE, everyone there is an Arabic speaker, which will support our expansion into Saudi Arabia.”

The company plans to roll out services in the kingdom on a gradual basis, beginning with an initial launch in Jeddah later this year, with a view to launching in the capital later in 2018.

“We felt it would be wiser to start in a slightly more relaxed environment like Jeddah to be able to understand the legal aspects and the cultural aspects, before getting into a bigger and more challenging environment like Riyadh,” says Mr Yassin.

“There are several issues that any business faces when entering Saudi, but the market opportunity is unparalleled in the rest of the region.”