Despite growing at a rapid pace, founder and chief executive Mona Ataya says she would do it all differently if she could start again
Generation start-up: Mumzworld founder eyes faster delivery and growth
Talk to Mona Ataya, the founder and chief executive of Mumzworld, and you get the sense everything at the company happens fast.
As the head of the Middle East's largest online shopping site for mother, baby and child, Ms Ataya talks quickly as she reveals the start-up's journey of rapid growth.
It's also very hard to secure time with her because she is so busy. But there is a reason for this – she is at the helm of one of the fastest-growing start-ups in the region.
Mumzworld launched in 2011 with just four employees and 15,000 products on its website.
Today it has 130 employees and 140,000 products listed on its English and Arabic websites, which include 20,000 exclusive items. Mumzworld has also completed four rounds of funding with another set to close in the first month of 2018.
“We are growing at a pace that is the fastest in the region, doubling in growth terms every year," says Ms Ataya. "We are an eight-digit business in US$ and have over a million mothers registered with us and access to over 3 million mothers through our network, so we have the largest reach of mothers in the Arab world."
In 2016, the company relocated its offices to Dubai Design District and shipped its wares to over 20 countries. This year the venture has evolved further, branching out onto mobile and opening its own warehouse in Dubai Investment Park to speed up the selection and delivery of items to customers.
Mumzworld's employees can now pick, pack, quality check and then get an order on its way to the customer within hours of a purchase being made online.
“We moved into our own warehouse facilities in June,” says Ms Ataya. “This has been our biggest struggle and pain point since we launched. It’s what kept us up at night; it’s what hurt us as a business.”
She says having their own facility reduces the dependence on third parties that have sometimes let the company down in the past.
“The problem with e-commerce is that you are very dependent; you are dependent on banks and payment gateways to be reliable; on courier services to be fast and accurate and on suppliers, that tell you they have 1,000 units of a product, to actually deliver it. If one of these touch points fails, the customer experience fails and ultimately the buck stops with you as a brand," she says.
"We’ve also had problems with cross-border shipping. Last Eid, two containers got stuck at the Saudi border for two weeks. These are things that are unforeseeable, out of our control – so what have we done to fix that?”
This is where the new warehouse facility comes in, something Ms Ataya acknowledges is a more expensive option than relying on third-party providers but ensures an efficient delivery.
Since opening six months ago, 89 per cent of their orders now reach the customer within 24 hours.
“When we started it was two to three days,” she says. “For the last mile we have 25 drivers in Dubai. We need 200 to fully operate ourselves but we work with boutique courier services to give us a more personalised service and larger ones as well because you need to. But the ecosystem is also becoming more mature so you have more players competing for quality and price.”
Ms Ataya has certainly witnessed the region’s e-commerce system evolve in recent years.
When the firm launched in 2011, e-commerce was in its infancy with just a handful of big players, such as Souq.com, in the market.
“I knew that it was virgin territory,” she says. “So in virgin territory it’s more difficult because you are pioneering, but as a pioneer, you are determining your destiny, you create the ecosystem. So I knew from a business standpoint it was a very important idea.”
But launching the business was not only about spying an entrepreneurial opportunity; Ms Ataya, a former founder and senior executive at the Middle East jobs site Bayt.com, of which she is still a partner, also went ahead because she saw a real need for the service from her perspective as a mother of three boys.
At the time she was frustrated by the lack of products available to mothers in the UAE and regionally, often struggling to find products or local information for her elder twin sons, now 13 and her younger child, now 10.
“I was a mum on one side and the entrepreneur on the other,” says Ms Ataya, who is Lebanese by nationality but was born and raised in Kuwait. “My first children were twins so I had endless questions just as every mother does and I did not have localised information to help me.
"The market was very fragmented so if I wanted a double stroller, I had to go to a mall and the malls are endless so finding what you want is limiting and frustrating.”
From an entrepreneurial mindset, however, she says she recognised her business idea was important because "e-commerce is the biggest trend of the decade".
“It’s a US$1.9 trillion industry and it has had a 29 per cent compounded annual growth rate in the past few years globally," says Ms Ataya, who has been very much part of that growth rate.
But despite expanding at a face pace, Ms Ataya stresses that the customer has always remained the focus. While her business was built on a social story – her own need to find the right items and information for her children – Ms Ataya still understands how busy mothers are and how they do not have time for failed deliveries or faulty products.
“The vision was simple,” she says, “to create this one-stop marketplace that gave mothers access to the single widest choice of quality products that they can search, compare and buy with transparent, everyday prices – no ups and downs every day of the year. It was about telling the mum 'I’m really giving you the best price I can as a retailer.'”
The focus on getting it right first time, means the company's loyalty metrics are high with 45 per cent of mothers returning again and again, according to Ms Ataya.
But of course, not every delivery goes to plan, something Ms Ataya says the firm works hard to rectify.
“We say: 'Listen we failed you, so forgive us and we’ll give you a 10 per cent discount.' We’ll try to accommodate every situation based on the individual circumstances,” she says, adding that the company's return rate is less than 3 per cent.
Ask her about 2018 and the focus on accelerated growth continues, along with the determination to optimise the customer experience.
“Expansion is critical for us so very fast growth and expanding across the region – we will continue to strengthen Saudi," she says, adding that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are the company's two biggest markets.
"Our customers want same-day delivery so we need to optimise that and they want products that enrich children’s lives. We need to use business intelligence to not only preempt customer needs but be ahead of customer needs.”
To help achieve its ambitions, Mumzworld is now embarking on its fifth funding round.
Its first, in 2011, was a seed-funding round that saw capital pooled from the founders: two silent partners, as well as Ms Ataya and Lena Khalil, a former investment banker.
A Series A round in 2012, led by Alghanim Industries, brought regional investors on board, followed by a 2013 round for women only that locked in eight women from entrepreneurs to stay-at-home mothers with professional backgrounds.
“That was the round I was the most proud of to be honest because it was giving back to the region and really helping women be involved and help shape the community,” says Ms Ataya.
This was followed up with its biggest round to date - a Series B round in 2015, led by Wamda Capital. The next fundraising amount - set to close early next year - will be "significant" says Ms Ataya.
”We are still accepting term sheets so we will look to close this round by the first month of 2018 but we are well ahead in that," she adds.
With so much success in such a short period, it is surprising to hear Ms Ataya talk of the changes she would make to her business if she had her time again.
“When we launched the ecosystem was very young; there were so many uncertainties, so many unknowns. I didn’t know that I couldn’t find technology talent locally and I didn’t know I would have issues with every single touch point – the couriers and the payment gateways," she says, adding that she would have opened her own warehouse on day one and migrated on to mobile sooner.
"The online ecosystem is changing so rapidly that we are constantly learning and evolving with it. If we had the power of hindsight we would probably change 90 per cent of the decisions we made when we first started Mumzworld."